The VW Golf is the quintessence of German automotive engineering: A no-nonsense, high-tech car for the masses with an image that's as neutral as distilled water. No one looks silly driving a Golf. It's a classless car.

Today's Golf IV is several orders of magnitude safer, more comfortable and more practical than the classic 1970s Golf I. It's available in several versions, and there's a myriad of possible add-ons: more powerful engines (or super-low-consumption direct injection diesel TDI engines), power windows, classy stereos, plush and/or posh seats, navigation system and whatnot. This palette is topped off by the designated sports version, the GTI. Incidentally, the Golf GTI is the most frequently-stolen car in Germany.

Getting a brand-spanking-new black Golf IV GTI as his 18th birthday present, driver's licence in pocket (you need to be 18 to drive in Germany), is nearly every German 17-year-old boy's wet dream. I, frankly, don't care much, I drive around in my mother's scruffy Golf II.