SEVENTEEN years ago, Volkswagen created a motoring sensation with a vehicle christened the Golf. With worldwide sales totalling more than 12 million, the Golf hatchback has been reincarnated a third time. Unveiled at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show, the new Golf was launched in Hongkong last October. There are 11 different versions of the new Golf, ranging from the entry level 1.4CL to the top of the line 2.8 litre VR6, in addition to the 1.9 litre turbo diesel variant. However, the phenomenal success of economical European hatchbacks has never caught on in Hongkong and to keep things simple, VW dealer Harmony Motors is limiting the offering to one version. In view of the rather negative coverage accorded to the apparently asthmatic 1.4-and 1.8-litre powered Golfs from a number of British motoring journals, Harmony Motors has wisely opted for the slightly more energetic eight-valve 2.0 litre GLi model. However, for a really sporty powerplant, Hongkong's hatchback hot rodders will have to cool their heels, as the 174 bhp VR6 will not arrive for some time. If, like most drivers though, you are content with simply cruising along Gloucester Road rather than careering around Macau's Guia circuit, then the five-door Golf GLi is an adequately powered and roomy enough chariot with which to go about your businessin. Churning out 115 bhp at 5,400 rpm and 166 nm of torque at 3,200 rpm, the Golf GLi will go from 0-100 km/h in 11.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 194 km/h. The four-cylinder engine produces a fairly robust performance in the top range, but lower down has too much noise and not enough power. However, with this latest Golf offering, pick-up and power is not the name of the game, but rather safety and environmentalism, and this is where VW has gone for the votes. Aside from the mandatory catalytic convertor, the Golf contains no parts produced with chlorofluorocarbons and the use of solvents has been reduced with the adoption of a water-based painting process. In addition to marking and coding plastic components for eventual recycling, more than 60 parts are already made from recycled production leftovers, as is 40 per cent of the fuel tank's composition. On the safety front, the Golf features 30 per cent more rigidity in the doors through reinforcing side members. To better protect against side-impact deformation, the car is fitted with a new box section beam running under the dashboard and steering column and joining the front right and left body panels. Inside, the car's dashboard, central console and instrument binnacle can best be described as stylishly simple. Switches, gauges, and LED dials have been kept to a relative minimum - there is no confusing this car with the flight deck of a 747. In keeping with this approach, the four-speed automatic gear stick sits close to the floor, yet remains close at hand. The height of the driver's fabric upholstered seat is manually adjustable and is both comfortable and restraining. At the back of the Golf, 60/40 folding seats can enlarge the tailgate luggage hold from 400 litres up to 1,350 litres. Externally, the major body changes have been made to the front of the car, with teardrop shaped headlights, a more subtle grille and a generally a much rounder and smoother rendering. Large thick roof pillars, particularly at the back, give the Golf a sturdier and stronger feel compared to other hatchback designs. Despite this, passenger and driver vision has not been compromised and the Golf remains a fairly open and airy vehicle to ride in. The VW Golf GLi is available from Harmony Motors at its original launch price of $217,000. Add to this $11,000 for that all-important air-conditioner and a $3,500 radio cassette price, and you have a reasonably well-priced 2.0 litre four-door hatchback.