While most other markets have had the redesigned ‘Mark V’ Volkswagen Golf hatchback since 2004, and a new Jetta (Bora) sedan derivative since ’06, the fourth generation Golf hatchback is still being produced.

Here in Brazil, the redesigned Golf V has never been launched so the locally-produced Golf IV has just been restyled front and rear, leaving the side panels untouched. Sales had been slumping but VW expects the update will double volume within the next six months. The automaker told just-auto that customer preview clinics indicated that the restyle will boost the car from 21% to 44% as the first choice of buyers shopping for a medium compact hatchback in a sector that includes GM’s Chevrolet Astra, Ford’s Focus, Peugeot’s 307 and Fiat’s Stilo.

As with the German and Belgian-built European models, the Brazilian-built Golf IV – which was exported to the US to supplement the dominant Mexican-built Jetta sedan version  – changed little since launch in 1999.

VW do Brasil green lighted its design department in São Bernardo do Campo, in São Paulo City, to update the ‘old’ model due to interest from VW units in Canada, Mexico and Argentina who wanted to continue importing it, as long as it was updated and the low price maintained.

Exports to the US ended in 2005 (the Mark V Golf finally arrived there last year badged as the Rabbit with the Jetta’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine), though the Brazilian Mark IV Golf’s export sales exceeded domestic volume in the last four years.

The frontal revamp brings a new bonnet (hood), headlamps, grille and bumper and differs from the latest Chinese version (which now has the Bora nose).

Brazilian VW executives say – off the record – that the latest Brazilian Golf’s styling previews the new VW family look set to appear with the Golf V-derived Tiguan SUV. At the rear, the Brazilian car has restyled tail lights and a wider tailgate.

Mainstream powerplants remain the flex-fuel 1.6-litre (101hp) and the petrol-only 114hp 2-litre. Equipment has been upgraded across the four versions but prices have been slashed between $200 and $1,700.

Power of the 1.8-litre turbocharged GTI version has been boosted from 177hp to 190hp. Top speed with the manual gearbox is officially 231km/h, making it the fastest Brazilian car ever when running on the 98-octane ‘super plus’ petrol available from less than 10% of service stations here. The GTI ride on 225/45-17 tyres, the widest ever fitted in a locally-made car, and equipment includes ABS, EBD, ESP and electronic differential lock.

All Volkswagen Brazil-built cars now have factory-fitted security tracking via a mobile phone network in an attempt to cut down high theft insurance costs. The system was first used on the Golf in 2005, when it was the most-stolen car in the country. Insurance premiums have since dropped 40%.

Fernando Calmon