Volkswagen Golf Country – Father of the Crossovers?

Volkswagen Golf Country

The Volkswagen Golf Country hit the market four years before the Toyota RAV4, boasting a four-inch lift, bullbar and all-wheel drive.

You’re looking at what might well be the father of all crossovers. See, the Volkswagen Golf Country arrived on the scene in 1990 after it was revealed as the Montana Concept at the Geneva Motor Show the year before. And it was never actually meant to be a thing.

Based on the Mk2 Golf, the all-wheel drive Montana Concept was never meant for production, just something to get journalists and punters to stop and gawp at VW’s stand at the Geneva Motor Show in 1989. But, there was immediate demand from dealers and so VW pushed it into production.

And it was a hell of a project with the German car maker calling on specialist vehicle maker Steyr-Daimler-Puch to put the whole thing together. If you know your off-roaders you’ll know this is the team that built the Haflinger and the G-Wagen.

It worked like this, pre-assembled all-wheel-drive Golf Syncro vehicles were shipped from Germany to Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz, Austria and the process to make this tiny-tot hatchback into an ‘off-roader’ began.

The use of a largely tubular lower subframe allowed Steyr to lift the Golf by 4.72 inches with a claimed seven inches of ground clearance. In all, 438 unique parts were fitted to each Golf Syncro to earn it the Golf Country designation, including revised suspension, new front and rear bumper bars, a rear-mounted tyre carrier, four additional auxiliary front lights, and underbody armor—down to sleeves protecting the four outboard constant-velocity joints. 

The Golf Country is pretty rare with only 7735 vehicles produced across a two year period (1990-1991). Rarer still is one of the few special editions that were offered, such as the “Chrome,” which featured chrome trim on the 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 Golf Country. Rarer still was the ”Wolfsburg Edition”, which came with the more powerful 16-valve GTI engine under the bonnet.

Unfortunately, there are very few Golf Country vehicles outside of Europe. The 1990 model photographed has had a Thule roof rack and PIAA light bar fitted.

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.