Lineage: Volkswagen Citi Golf

It’s a well-known fact that Volkswagen of South Africa built a modernized version of the original Golf (“Mark 1”) right up to the point where it couldn’t cope with safety and emissions standards. The Citi Golf lived from 1984 to 2009 as a youthful and affordable mode of transport in southern Africa. NamWheels gives you some details:

Original Citi Golf

The first models were available in three colours: red, yellow or blue. These cheerful coats were contrasted by white wheels, white bumpers and “citi” lettering on the bottom of their rear doors. Other colours we’ve spotted around Namibia were black and pink. VW only ever built the Citi Golf with four doors.

At first powered by a 1.3 carburettor four-cylinder petrol engine, later Citi “Sport” models got a bigger 1.6 motor and extra equipment. Other high-performance versions included the 1.8-litre Sport models, fuel-injected CTi (1990) and 1.8iR. In the last two years of production, all Citi Golfs were fuel-injected.

Designa, Sport, CTi, Chico, Deco

After establishing itself as a firm southern-African favourite in the 1980’s, the Citi Golf went even more colour-crazy in the nineties with some bigger bumpers here, a new steering wheel there and what would become part of its tradition – “special” editions or models with funky marketing names and name-specific trim.

A friend of the author had a Citi Golf Designa, a progression of the previous Sport model with a fairly punchy 1.8L carburetor engine. Like most Citis at the time, this one did service in a student environment and ferried us across Namibia and South Africa to everything from crazy parties to roller hockey tournaments.

One of the best-known and most-sold derivatives of the Citi line-up was the Chico, a rather basic but very affordable model which also did well in the rental fleets. What Avis, Budget and Co. couldn’t predict was the hordes of (mostly British and German) tourists who rejoiced in the idea of driving “a new Mk1 Golf!”

Years earlier, VWSA marketed their cars at airports around South Africa with funky billboard and the boldly coloured cars in various rental fleets. Initial concerns about the vibrancy of these vehicles were quickly forgotten as some business and leisure travelers would even request certain colours upon renting Citigolfs!

In the late 1990’s, yours truly developed a serious crush on the brand-new Citi Deco which distinguished itself from other Golfies with colour-coded mirrors, seat, steering wheel and gear lever trim. Available in blue, green or red, it was the latter one which had me all excited. The advert (above) even featured a namesake animal of my surname.

Billabong, CitiROX, Sonic, Velociti, Wolf

Citi never stood still, not just from a marketing and special-edition perspective. Between Sonic and Wolf, CTi and R-Line, the evergreen version of Volkswagen S.A.’s Golf Mark One received better engines, drive train upgrades, extra features and a new dashboard to keep it fresh for the buyers and ahead of the pack.

That pack included, in no particular order, Toyota’s Tazz, the Fiat Uno, Mazda Midge, Chevy Spark, Ford Tracer/Laser, Peugeot 206 and Renault Clio and a few other regurgitated cheapies. The Citi not only outsold most of these rivals but trumps them in total sales and production years. It even beat the S.A.-built VW Beetle production figures.

When Y2K hysteria and the millennium hangover had passed, Volkswagen of South Africa was casually starting to look around for a CitiGolf replacement but there was a problem… it was an absolute sales champion. We can’t blame the company for taking advantage of this by hurling even more models at us.

Nonetheless, by 2008 the writing was on the wall as Citi was falling behind in terms of safety and emissions standards; the latter becoming a real issue from January 2008 when South Africa introduced the EU2 norm as a minimum standard. Not many Citi Golf models met this and adapting them would cost too much to keep them competitively priced; especially in a roaring recession.

And so, with much fanfare and (well-deserved) nationwide tears, Volkswagen of South Africa bid farewell to the Citi Golf in 2009 with a huge national roadshow and many Citi-based events. One of those was the VIP and motoring journalist races held around the country and I happened to be invited to the Killarney (Cape Town) leg.

Not as a driver, mind you, as I had just started my motoring journalist career in earnest a few months earlier and the race-prepared Citis were being piloted by three vastly more experienced journos going up against some legendary motorsport personalities like Terry Moss, Giniel de Villiers and Sarel van der Merwe.

It was epic. I remember the day well and also recall arguing about the Citi Golf’s amazing character versus its modern-day shortcomings. We discussed our favourite models and compared Citi stories because let’s face it, everybody’s got one. Mine involve an original red Citi, a white Designa, Wheat Beige Velociti and two GTS Caddy’s.

What made me a bit sad that day was the realization that I would never road-test a new Citi Golf. But I’m grateful for being part of its send-off and thankful for the many colourful miles I’ve spent in its various derivatives. As VWSA or its ad agency would say, “thanks for the memories!”

Citi Golf Timeline

1978-1984 – First generation Golf (Mk1, short for Mark 1) is sold in southern Africa. The range includes two and four door models, carburetor petrol engines, a Diesel version, Cabrio (convertible), sporty GTS and the even more legendary GTi. There’s also a Bakkie / Pick-up version later renamed Caddy.

Original Golf Mk1 in green, an original red Citi Golf (Sport) and last Citi “Mk1” in black metallic 

When I was very young, my Mom drove a four-door Diesel Golfie for a few years but unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos of it in the family albums. It was ruthlessly sold when the drunk driver of a milk tanker smashed into my Dad’s stationary Mercedes 280S… while we were all in it. The Merc was fixed and Golfie was gone.

1984 – In September, the Mk2 “Jumbo” Golf is launched in S.A, at which point Volkswagen of South Africa (VWSA) considered introducing the smaller Polo. In order to save costs they decided to keep the Golf 1 production line and create a very basic (but rather bland) “EconoGolf” for another two years or so.

1984 – However, its intended target market of students, first-time buyers and young families wouldn’t approve of this dull little hatchback. Thankfully, VW management and advertising agency staff (who were previously involved with a colourful Ford campaign) realized this and set to work making this old car young again.

1984/5 – Eventually they came up with the three-colour and white Citi theme complete with funky marketing. The Citi Golf is introduced in late 1984 with its distinctive white bumpers, “Citi” side panels, tailgate trim and (VW) CITIGOLF lettering in your choice of red, yellow or blue paint at a starting price of around R7,800.

1985 – Not long after the Citi Golf is launched, VWSA presents the “Sport” version with a 1.6L engine, five-speed gearbox, quad headlights, wider tyres, black decals, sports seats & steering wheel, rev counter & many other items. The launch colour is black but of course you can also have it in red, yellow or blue.

Mechanical updates over the years are almost impossible to list. But we shall give it our best try!

1987 – A four-speed automatic gearbox is added as an option to the Citi range, thereby hopefully catching a few older clients, serial commuters or those who simply seek the comfort of a two-pedal car. At some point during the year, the Citi logo is changed to CITI (capital letters) and used as a badge on the radiator grille.

1988 – A small specification and design update in September brings new bumpers with lower aprons, a redesigned fender profile, new grille and C pillars with a pressed contour element. Citi Sport goes up to 1.8L with the 1781cc 70kw engine and a five-speed manual gearbox from the Golf Mk2 GTS.

1989 – Optional extras now available to CitiGolf customers include air-conditioning and an anti-theft immobilizer device. A small number of pink cars is produced for a cosmetics company in 1989 and the officially-named “Parfait” colour appears once more in 1991 for a total of 93 pink Citi Golfs.

1990 – Volkswagen launches what will become a South African legend and one of the most powerful first-generation Golfs ever, the CTi. Slightly reminiscent of the original Mk1 GTi, it has an 82kW 1.8L fuel-injected engine and lots of sporty highlights including boot lid mascara, twin tail pipes and “mushroom” design alloy wheels.

1991-1992 – The Citi Golf Designa is sold with a 1.6 or 1.8L engine – it borrows some kit from the CTi like its seven-spoke alloys, sport seats, 3-spoke steering wheel, colour-coded bumpers and exterior mirrors. Designa is available in five colours – Black Magic, Artic White, Diamond Silver, Monza Red and Sapphire Blue.

The range now consists of a 1.3 base version, 1.6 (manual or auto), 1.8 Sport, 1.8 Designa and 1.8i CTi.

1992 – If the CTi was legendary for its hot hatch credentials, the Citi Shuttle became just as loved for a different reason – it was affordable. The low-spec 1.3 carburetor model only had the bare essentials for sensible motorists and came in either white or red. It was succeeded by the equally-thrifty Chico in 1995.

1994 – The Citi Golf Ritz was launched with a 1.6L engine and “classy” trim to celebrate what nobody could have predicted – the 10th anniversary of the Citi Golf. Around the same time, Volkswagen introduced 15,000km service intervals, a three-year warranty and anti-rust warranty to the range.

1995 – Taking over from the popular Citi Shuttle, 1995 saw the introduction of the cut-price Chico models, at first also available with a 1.3L engine. It was labeled as “ by far the cheapest car in SA” with a starting price of about R34,000 and cool colours including apple green and peach.

1995 also saw the introduction of the Citi Golf Blues model with new trim, a cool radio/tape combination and roof-mounted aerial. These features would trickle through to most of the range. As for budget rivals, the Mazda Midge appeared in 1995 while Toyota’s Tazz appeared a year later and endured until 2006 as the Citi’s fiercest competitor.

1996 – Deco is launched in Apple Green, Jazz Blue and Monza Red with matching interior trim like seats, steering wheel, gear lever and door pockets. Chico spec is updated at no extra charge with useful stuff like a five-speed gearbox, rear wiper, rev counter, LCD clock and trip recorder.

This also filters through to the rest of range where posher models get new air vents and a redesigned centre console, a three-spoke steering wheel and quad headlights. The 1.6L Chico “Lux” model also has quad headlights and borrows a set of alloys from the Polo at the time.

1997 – Introduction of the Sonic, a “playful” Citi Golf with a choice of 1.3 or 1.6 engine, alloy wheels, lowered suspension, third brake light, roof-mounted aerial, silver dials and a radio/tape combination.

1998 – A year later, the Bafana Bafana limited edition (800 units) is released. A 1,349cc 52kW engine replaces the 1,297cc 48kW unit in the Chico.

1999 – New fuel-injected engines are introduced. All 1.4L models now use a 1,423cc 62kW unit and each 1.6L Citi Golf has a 1,595cc 74kW engine; both sourced from the Polo range. The carburetor 1.4L is still the cheapest Chico but is joined by a new Chico 1.4i model. Brake and exhaust systems are upgraded.

1999 – Another special edition arrives: the Citi Life 1.6i with five-spoke alloys, sport seats and a CD / radio.

2000 – Just in time for the new millennium, comes along as the first car in S.A. to be launched on the internet. Customers can even order theirs online from September onwards. Range upgrades include quad headlights, front side indicators and warning buzzers for lights, fuel and oil.

2001 – More improvements arrive in the shape of new alloy wheels, central locking, new covers for fuel-injected engines, updated trim, new front wipers and more cabin storage.

2002 – The 1.4L engine is replaced with a more efficient 1,423cc power plant producing up to 54kW.

2003 – One of the biggest milestones in Citi Golf history happens when the range receives a new dashboard. The initial proposal was a modified design from the Polo but this was not approved by Germany so a Skoda Fabia dash was used. Citis also get one-piece front side windows while the exterior mirrors and rear wiper are moved.

2005 – The Citi Golf comes of age and celebrates its 21st birthday. In January, VeloCiTi (1.4i or 1.6i) replaces and Citi Life. The classy interior features leather, quality cloth, silver dials and vent accents, silver seatbelts, silver (golf ball shaped) gear knob and pedals.

It rides on stylish 15-inch six-spoke alloy wheels and sports twin exhaust tailpipes next to smoked rear light clusters. The Rhythm 1.4 model is almost as basic as a Chico but offers buyers 14-inch alloys and a CD/radio as standard equipment.

2006 – Citi Golf becomes even more sporty with the R-Line models. These have lowered suspension, beefier bumpers, 15-inch alloys, red brake calipers and twin tailpipes. The cabin features a three-spoke steering wheel, aluminium inlays, silver dials, silver pedals and red stitches for the seats, gear lever and hand brake cover.

The 1.8i R / R-Line Citi Golf has a maximum power output of 90kW and thus becomes the most powerful Citi and first 1.8 since CTi in 1990. Incidentally, this is the most powerful production Mk1 Golf ever, its 8.6 second 0-100 time and 193km/h top speed trumping even the original Golf GTi’s 9.3 seconds and 182km/h.

2006 also sees a few updates across the range and these include a lower grille and redesigned rear light clusters. These locally designed and manufactured units with their central circle design element were very popular and to this day are a favourite aftermarket modification for older Citi Golfs.

2007 – The 500,000th Golf rolls of the production line on Friday 28 September 2007 at an estimated total turnover of R2.3 billion.

2008 – The Citi’s time is starting to run out as it can’t meet new EU2 exhaust gas regulations in South Africa. The press and public have also made noises for a while about Citi’s lack of safety / driver aids. Nonetheless, VWSA adapts the range to meet regulations but fun stuff like the R-Line had to be dropped after just 375 units because it would have cost too much to adapt it.

After a while, the bargain basic Chico is dropped too, so the new line-up consists of TenaCiti 1.4i 55kW, CitiStorm 1.4i, CitiRox 1.4i (both 62kW) and the 1.6i models CitiRox and CitiSport with 74kW of power. Midway through 2008, the “CitiPlus” insurance package is offered with each new vehicle purchase.

Towards the end of 2008, Citi Golf Wolf 1.4i 62kW is launched with sport suspension, gun metal alloys, side stripes, sporty grille and tinted glass. Interior features are a three-spoke steering wheel, rev counter, sports seats, digital clock and trip recorder, CD/radio, remote central locking and alarm system.

2009 – To address public concern, VWSA fits the Citi Golf with its first ever airbag; for the driver. Special models include the Citi Golf Xcite with big Lightning Audio sound system and Citi Golf Billabong 1.4i 62kW; a special collaboration with the surfing company which sees only 478 units being built.

2009 also sees the revival of another legendary Golf badge, GTS. The Citi Golf GTS has a 1.4L fuel-injection engine (62kW) and classic GTS decals, red grille surround, colour-coded bumpers, 15-inch gunmetal alloys, black and silver cabin trim, sports seats and suspension. It’s available in six colours and a total of 375 units are produced.

Citi Golf Mk1 is the last of its breed. 25 years after its vibrant birth, the Citi Golf bows out with this special edition limited to 1,000 numbered units with lots of “Mk1” logos. It sports a 1.6i 74kW engine and five-speed manual gearbox, 15-inch alloys and chrome side stripes as all cars were either metallic blue or black.

Mk1 also had chrome grill highlights, twin exhaust tailpipes, dark rear light clusters, a CD/mp3 radio, three-spoke leather steering wheel with airbag, golf ball gear lever as well as red trim on all safety belts, the gear lever and the handbrake cover. The last-ever Citi Golf rolled off the production line on 21 August 2009.

A total of 377,484 Citi Golfs were produced. 

Citi to Vivo

Volkswagen of South Africa was well-prepared when the Citi was finally put to bed and simply repeated the car’s amazingly successful formula with the Polo Vivo. Launched in 2009/2010, it took the baton from Citi as Volkswagen’s affordable and no-nonsense car; something most South Africans appreciate and yearn for.

Although not quite as colourful as its forebear, the Vivo has been just as successful and seen fun versions and special editions alike, including an homage to the Citi Golf. The Vivo range was based on an old Polo platform but was updated in 2018 to a newer model with better specifications.

Your Citi Story

Do you have a cool anecdote involving the vibrant Citi Golf? We would love to hear it so please send your stories (and some photos!) to info — at —

Images: Volkswagen of South Africa 
Videos: Youtube 

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