The Golf has finally - 28 years and three redesigns after launch - become Volkswagen's best-selling vehicle, overtaking the legendary rear-engine Beetle, which still soldiers on.

Golf number 21,517,415 came off an assembly line at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant in northern Germany yesterday, having finally beaten the Beetle in production figures but still in second place to the 26-million-plus Toyota Corolla.

New VW chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder was on hand to present the keys of the metallic silver milestone Golf to its buyer.

The Golf achieved its record quicker than the rival Toyota, which was launched eight years earlier in 1966 while the Beetle took 56 years to reach 21.5 million units.

That old rear-engine Beetle, suitably updated with fuel injection and catalytic converter, is still built in Mexico; the new Beetle, more or less a rebodied Golf, is also made there.

VW builds 3,600 Golfs a day in more places than just Mexico - Wolfsburg, Brussels, South Africa, Brazil and Slovakia are also home to assembly plants.

The fifth-generation Golf will start its rollout with a minivan derivative later this year while hatchbacks arrive in 2004 and the Bora saloon derivative in 2005.

Early computer-enhanced magazine 'spy shots' don't show anything too radical, as expected from a company that has only slowly evolved its Golf's styling.

Said Pischetsrieder yesterday: "The Golf is the Golf and will always remain that."