22 Most Popular Volkswagens of All Time
Volkswagen is no stranger to iconic automobiles, but its 2019 Grand California camper is driving toward an iconic history all its own. Generations that went to Woodstock in Volkswagen vans or went camping with their parents in Volkswagen Vanagons are going to love having a toilet, shower, bunk beds, kitchen, and four-wheel drive on their excursions to just about anywhere. But where will it end up in Volkswagen's list of all-time greats? We took a look at Volkswagen's previous successes and found a few that have set a tough standard for the Grand California.
From 1955 and 1974, Volkswagen didn't change so much as a door handle on Italian design firm Ghia's masterpiece. This wasn't a performance car by any stretch — getting all of 43 to 60 horsepower from its rear-mounted engine and topping out at 93 miles per hour. However, with a hand-shaped body and a convertible, it would show of Volkswagen's playful side. Considering that Volkswagen Group also produces Audi and has purchased Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley all within the last 20 years, the Ghia had clearly left its impression on Volkswagen.
There are a lot of "hot hatch" sporty budget subcompacts that aren't available in the U.S. However, the Polo is built for drivers looking to cut costs without diminishing the driving experience and has been a huge success around the globe. While the U.S. is offered the larger Golf, the rest of the world has bought more than 12 million Polos.
For many U.S. families, this was their first introduction to a hatchback. First brought into the U.S. as the Rabbit, the Golf became Volkswagen's best-selling vehicle of all time by selling more than 30 million units since 1974.
The Volkswagen Jetta was a de-hatched Golf when it first debuted in 1979, but this sporty little sedan found a global following. It sold 10 million vehicles worldwide just by being a fun, affordable, stable vehicle.
In 1982, with the U.S. coming out of a decade of oil crises, nobody wanted a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 110-horsepower hatchback. Even the sporty-looking GTI version was still a boxy two-door compact with no space. It sold so poorly that it forced the closure of an assembly plant in Pennsylvania. Motor Trend named the GTI its Car of the Year in 1985, but buyers still liked the Jetta better (mostly because of the trunk). However, its performance became legendary both in Europe and among tuners here, and it only grew more beloved among fans of the hot hatch since.
First sold in 1973, the Passat has been known as the Dasher, Quantum, and CC here. Now built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it has held on as a full-size vehicle in the U.S. market, but has sold more than 16 million units worldwide thanks to a strong presence in China.
Though it's drifted in and out of the U.S., the Beetle (or Bug) has been a global presence since 1933. Despite U.S. flakiness over the iconic Beetle, Volkswagen has sold more than 23 million of them in more than eight decades.
Yes, it was commissioned by Adolf Hitler. But it was also designed by Ferdinand Porsche and made to be a cheap, utilitarian, easily repairable "people's car" that could carry two adults and three kids. When the factory was nearly destroyed at the end of World War II, British army officer Maj. Ivan Hirst took control of it and convinced the British military to buy 20,000 Beetles. Out of darkness came the dawn of a far more optimistic era.
For an imported car to make it in the U.S. market, it has to have unique appeal and be adaptable. By the end of its first decade in the U.S. in the 1950s, it was selling 100,000 units a year and kept adding features like more powerful engines, larger lights, chrome bumpers and more. DDB Advertising's "Think Small" ad campaign helped, but genuine love of the car helped Volkswagen sell more than 21 million through 1980. Even then, the Beetle still sold in Mexico until 2003.
From 1950 to 1979, the Volkswagen Bus with its kitchenette and curtains became a family staple for all sorts of families. Yes, it's known as the hippie wagon built for the Summer of Love set, but it was also an ambulance, work van, truck, and camper. The Westfalia package even gave families pop-up tops, stoves, and other camping equipment to work with. While production for the U.S. only lasted for 30 years, the last Volkswagen Bus didn't roll off the line in Brazil until 2013.
These haven't been sold new here since the early '90s, but these Volkswagen vans were built for conversion. Some factory models were flat-out campers with a refrigerator, two-burner stove, stainless steel sink, cabinets, and heaters. You can still find multiple versions on used-car sites like Autotrader, and replacement parts, including the Westfalia pop-up mesh top, are available on sites like GoWesty.
The Corrado isn't a household name, but this sports couple's 2.8-liter VR6 — a cross between a V6 and an inline 6 — had 178 horsepower and was one bad beast. Fast and stylish, it only stuck around from 1989 to 1995, but the Karmann-built vehicle was highly coveted among both tuners and speed enthusiasts alike.
If you don't remember what 1998 looked like for small vehicles, we'll sum it up in a word: Boxy and cheap. Volkswagen had been just as guilty as other automakers of fueling that trend, but it opted to turn that around by taking its Golf platform, building a Beetle body on it, and putting a flower vase in the dashboard. The New Beetle revived Volkswagen, but nearly 20 years late, Volkswagen opted to put it down for good.
The GTI is sporty and all, but it isn't going to give you 292 horsepower or a 4.9-second 0 to 60. It also doesn't come with standard all-wheel drive that helps it take turns and hug terrain. It fattened up for a bit after its debut in 2003, but switching to a four-cylinder engine helped it slim down a bit.
From 1974 to 1998, this was "The Racing Volkswagen" in the U.S. Named for its success in the Scirocco/Bilstein Cup series, it would later excel in category 1 Trans-Am races and help Volkswagen transition from air-cooled engines to water-cooled. It is by no means as lovely as the Karmann-Ghia, but it paved the way for the GTI by getting people thinking about VW as a sports brand.
From 1970 to 1976, long before VW actually owned Porsche, the two collaborated on this vehicle that had a lovely Porsche body, but had a four-cylinder Volkswagen engine under the hood. Though sold as Volkswagen-Porsches elsewhere, they were sold only as Porsches in the U.S. and actually outsold the Porsche 911 for a stretch after being named Motor Trend's import car of the year in 1970. It didn't last, but Porsche liked the engine enough to use variations of it in the 912 and 924.
If you drove a Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Caravan minivan built between 2008 and 2013, you drove a Volkswagen Routan. Built for Volkswagen during a partnership with Chrysler and designed to help get Volkswagen a corner of the U.S. minivan market, the entire family of minivans sold 12 million vehicles during the Routan's lifetime. The bad news for Volkswagen is that only about 18,000 of those vehicles had the Routan name on them. It's one of the most popular vehicles that Volkswagen has even had a hand in building, even if it wasn't all that popular a Volkswagen.
We'd say the Tiguan has had a surprisingly successful run in the U.S., but no small crossover SUV has "surprising" sales here. Looking to cash in on the success of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and other successful small SUVs, Volkswagen introduced the Tiguan in 2008 and watched sales increase steadily each year. Though there was a drop-off in 2017, that was largely thanks to the introduction of an all-new Tiguan with a longer wheelbase.
Named for the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara, the Touareg was developed by Volkswagen Group, Audi and Porsche as an off-road vehicle that could handle like a sports car. However, the Audi Q7 and the Porsche Cayenne wound up being far more popular than Volkswagen's version. That isn't entirely surprising, as the V6 and V8 Touaregs that came to the U.S. carried features and pricing a bit higher than what folks expected from VW. Though it was discontinued in the U.S. in 2017, it had been in the market since 2003 and helped acclimate the U.S. to the idea of a luxury SUV ... even if Volkswagen wasn't the brand to do so.
Conceived as Europe's answer to the Jeep and derived from the World War II-era Kubelwagen, the 181 was briefly sold in the U.S. at the Thing and made a cameo as a beach wagon in the 1970s. However, from 1968 until 1979, it served proudly during the Cold War until something better could come along.
Volkswagen can connect with a U.S. audience when it wants to, and made that clear with ads for the Atlas set to Simon & Garfunkel's "America." Meanwhile, introducing a bigger, connected SUV never hurts, either. A U.S. car-buying base that is increasingly turning toward SUVs helped boost sales of the Atlas this year and is giving VW some inroads to a broader U.S. audience.
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