Built in 1990, the Golf Country was an early foray into the crossover SUV category for Volkswagen and even predated the Toyota RAV4—one of the first mass-market CUVs—by four years. With just 7,735 vehicles produced in two years from 1990 to 1991, the rugged, off-road worthy Golf Mark 2 variant – with lifted suspension and all-wheel drive – is now a collectible modern classic.
Volkswagen introduced the “Montana” concept at the Geneva Motor Show in 1989. At the time, the off-road Golf Mark 2 variant was exclusive to Europe. The crossover was never meant for production, but the surprising demand seen at dealerships drove Volkswagen to manufacture it.
Pre-assembled, all-wheel-drive Golf Syncro vehicles were shipped from Germany to Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz, Austria—the same specialty manufacturer that built the Steyr Puch Haflinger and the original Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Using a largely tubular lower subframe, Steyr effectively lifted the four-wheel-drive Golf Syncro 4.72 inches, resulting in more than seven inches of ground clearance.
In all, 438 unique parts were fitted to each Golf Syncro to earn it the Golf Country designation, including a revised suspension, front and rear bumper bars, a rear-mounted tire carrier, four additional auxiliary front lights and an underbody armor that protects its outboard constant-velocity joints. The 1990 model photographed has had a Thule roof rack and PIAA light bar fitted.
While all this additional weight seems like it would overpower the Golf Country’s 1.8-liter 97-horsepower engine, it doesn’t feel like it from the driver’s seat. The gearing, slightly lower than that of the front-wheel-drive Mark 2 Golf, provided the four-cylinder with enough pep to get around without any drama. The Country model soaks up bumps and ruts in the road with ease. There is pronounced body roll in cornering that may catch modern Volkswagen drivers by surprise—the Country is a Golf that loves to lean in.
Several special edition versions of the vehicle exist including “Chrome,” which featured chrome-trimmed, retrofitted tubular steel bumpers and wheels, along with a better-appointed interior. Only 558 Golf Country Chrome editions were produced, and they were sold at a premium over the already expensive utility vehicles. Rarer still is the “Wolfsburg Edition” which comes with the more powerful 16-valve GTI engine under the hood. Despite being legal to import one into the U.S., there are just a handful of Golf Country models that exist here in any trim.
Overall, the drive experience of the Golf County is nothing if not charming 30 years later.