Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI (1974)



For nearly 30 years since it emerged from WWII, Volkswagen had its fortune hinged on one car: Beetle. Although the iconic car was hugely popular,
Wolfsburg knew over-relying on it could be risky. Therefore it attempted to diversify its range by adding 1500 (Type 3), 411 (Type 4) and K70, but all turned out to be less than a success. When sales of Beetle started cooling in 1974, VW found itself ran into loss! Fortunately, in the very same year it finally created a winner: Golf. This car would eventually replace the Beetle as the most important model of Volkswagen. It would be also the best selling car in Europe for most of the time in the following decades… actually until today.

The Golf shared the same 2400 mm wheelbase with Beetle, but that's where similarity ended. Contrasting to its predecessor, it employed a water-cooled straight-four engine, mounted it transversely at the nose and let it drove the front wheels. This space-saving arrangement was not exactly new. In fact, it was pioneered by Mini as far back in 1959 and had become popular when Fiat 127 and Alfa Romeo Alfasud adopted it a couple of years earlier. Volkswagen got the know-how of FF from its newly acquired subsidiary Audi-NSU. The overhead camshaft engines were also designed by Audi. However, the Golf did have some innovations – it pioneered the use of MacPherson struts suspension up front and torsion-beam suspension at the back, a combination so common on small cars today. The semi-independent rear axle might sound to be a regress, but with adequate tuning it actually delivered better handling, weight and space advantages over contemporary struts or semi-trailing arms alternatives. The Golf also got some nice engines, so its dynamics was considered to be remarkable for small cars.



The styling was responsible by Giorgetto Giogiaro. It might lack the romance you would expect from the Italian design maestro, but its folding-paper shape reflected a simple and no-nonsense philosophy that would characterize all generations of Golf until today. As on the aforementioned Fiat 127 and Alfasud, the Golf opted for a hatchback body to enhance luggage utility. This also allowed a short length of 3.7 meters to be achieved. It was considerably more compact than Beetle yet offered more passenger room and more luggage space with the rear seat folded. Both 3 doors and 5 doors version were available, while solid build quality was standard on all cars.

However, had it not introduced the GTI version in 1976, the Golf would not have been so famous or so important to history. The GTI was an evolution as well as a revolution. Mechanically, it evolved from the regular car. With a larger (1.6-liter) and tuned engine, closer gear ratios, stiffer springs, lower ride height, larger wheels and front disc brakes, the family hatchback was converted into a sporty one. Although the changes seemed minor, the result had a revolutionary meaning. It was a new kind of cars, ones that offering the practicality of family hatches but simultaneously the performance and handling of sports cars. It would be known as "hot hatches" later on but many rivals simply followed suit to use the GTI label. (Note: strictly speaking the first ever hot hatch had to be the 1973 Alfasud Ti, but the level of performance it offered was not as outstanding as the Golf GTI, thus it had little influence to the "hot hatch" trend.)



The original Golf GTI was powered by a 1.6-litre twin-carburetor SOHC engine with 100 horsepower. It was soon upgraded to 110 hp with the help of Bosch K-Jetronic (mechanical) fuel injection. The engine delivered not only outstanding power for its size but also exceptional smoothness for an inline-4, thanks to features like torsional dampers. Combined with a lightweight body and a 5-speed gearbox, which replaced the 4-speeder in 1981, it was capable to sprint from rest to 60 mph in 9 seconds, faster than many small sports cars of its time! In 1982, the engine was bored and stroked to 1.8 liters, giving a slight power increase of 2 hp and a fair bit more torque, shaving 0-60 mph time to merely 8.3 seconds.

Not just performance, the Golf GTI was renowned for handling. Its stiff torsion beam suspension resulted in good roll resistance and quick response in corner. Unlike many FF cars of the time it resisted understeer very well and offered the option of lift-off oversteer, which added to its driving thrills. The ride was hard but not to unacceptable extent. It also managed to provide a good steering feel and weighting, something not always easy on a front-driver. No wonder the GTI was usually regarded by motoring journalists as one of the favourite cars in the 1980s.


Evolution


Mk2 (1983-1991)

  Golf Mk2 GTI 16V

The second generation Golf grew bigger – wheelbase was stretched by 70 mm while overall length grew to 4 meters. This moved it away from superminis like Renault R5, Peugeot 205 and Fiat Uno and placed it into the increasingly popular C-segment. Further improvement of build quality attracted many more buyers from classes above, so it was seen as a classless car. The new in-house design kept the trademark boxy profile and thick C-pillars but lowered coefficient of drag to 0.34.

The GTI version debuted in 1984. It kept using the 112 hp 1781 c.c. engine thus performance actually took a slight step backward. 0-60 mph now took 8.6 seconds to accomplish, although the more slippery shape enabled top speed to be raised slightly. Braking performance was improved by fitting disc brakes at all corners. The fine cornering balance and poise of the Mk1 was retained, while refinement was improved by better suspension damping and noise insulation.

In 1986, a DOHC 16-valve head came just at the right time to fend off challenges from Japanese rivals. It lifted output to 139 hp and shortened 0-60 mph to 8 seconds, although its peaky manner was not as welcomed. 1988 arrived the supercharged G60. It used a G-Ladder supercharger and intercooler to boost the 8-valve engine to 160 hp and 166 lbft of torque, which looked good on paper but contemporary road testers found out a less than energetic delivery in the real world accompanied with lots of noise and thirst. Anyway, few G60s were sold.


Mk3 (1991-1997)

  Golf Mk3 GTI 16V

The Mk3 grew further matured, higher quality but also rather dull to look. Its body construction was enhanced for crash protection and this inevitably gained a lot of weight. Fortunately, the GTI got a new 2.0-liter 16V engine with 150 hp. That said, the laurels of hot hatches would be shifted to Peugeot 306 S16/GTi-6 and Renault Clio Williams as Volkswagen no longer focused on keen drivers.

  Golf Mk3 VR6

Instead, its new direction was to go upmarket. This was signaled by the new range topper VR6, which employed Volkswagen's new narrow-angle 2.8-liter V6 with 174 hp. Thanks to its unusual compactness, it could be fitted neatly into the engine bay. Superior torque and smoothness allowed it to rival BMW 3-Series, although it remained a choice of niches.


Mk4 (1997-2003)

  Golf Mk4 GTI 1.8T

The Mk4 Golf continued the upmarket trend. No matter the tight assembly gaps or the superb quality of interior materials, it had actually exceeded the level of BMWs and Mercedes. Meanwhile, it saved costs by sharing platform with Audi A3, Seat Toledo and Skoda Octavia. The car got larger, safer and heavier again. To offset the weight it fitted Audi's 150 hp 1.8-liter 20-valve turbo engine to the GTI. Other upmarket engine options included a 2.3-liter narrow-angle V5 and a 24-valve, VVT version of the VR6 with 204 hp.

  Golf Mk4 R32

In 2002, VW launched the sportiest Golf of all, R32. Based on the VR6, its engine grew to 3.2 liters and produced 240 horsepower. The torsion-beam rear suspension of the regular car was replaced with a new multilink setup to make space for the 4motion all-wheel-drive system. Lower and stiffer suspensions, quicker ratio steering, larger brakes and 18-inch wheels complemented the enhanced performance. This was a 150 mph super hot hatch with sharp handling to match. 5000 units were built during the last days of Mk4.


Mk5 (2003-2008)

  Golf Mk5 GTI

In the attempt to lure back keen drivers from Ford Focus, the 6th generation Golf abandoned its traditional torsion-beam rear axle for a new multi-link setup. Besides, it also adopted a more youthful exterior design, all while without altering its lead in build quality and ergonomics. A 67 mm stretch of wheelbase and increases in just about any dimensions brought a roomier interior. Engines were rationalized with a range of direct injection (FSI) four-cylinders and turbo diesel (TDI). A 170 hp 1.4-liter Twincharger engine combined supercharger and turbocharger cleverly in a compact package. Meanwhile, GTI switched to a vastly better engine, i.e. 2.0TFSI direct injection turbo. With 200 horsepower and 206 pound-foot of torque available from a very wide band, it finally got the performance boost it missed out in the last 2 generations. Now 0-60 mph was possible in 6.5 seconds and top speed was 146 mph. The new GTI combined good performance, refinement, practicality and driving fun – qualities that made the Mk1 and Mk2 so successful. No wonder it became popular again.

  Golf Mk5 R32

The new version R32 could be distinguished from GTI by a chromed fascia and a centrally positioned twin-exhaust. No other Golfs until today could be so elegant! Mechanically, it was a light evolution from the previous generation. The VR6 added 10 horsepower to the top end, but more important a 6-speed DSG gearbox was available, whose seamless and quick gearshifts enhanced both driving fun and acceleration. Meanwhile, the new suspension of Mk5 returned a more forgiving ride than the last R32. An outstanding, if very expensive, hot hatch.


Mk6 (2008-2012)

  Golf Mk6 GTI

As Volkswagen changed its development strategy, the Mk5 Golf had its lifespan cut short and replaced with a mildly reworked version. This means the Mk6 should have been called Mk5.5 instead. The chassis and key components remained more or less the same. Improvement centered on upgrading NVH suppression, ride quality and cabin quality. To reduce emission, all naturally aspirated engines were replaced with downsized TSI direct injection turbo engines.

  Golf Mk6 R

The GTI had its 2.0TFSI engine tuned to deliver 11 more horsepower, though it didn't go or corner much different from the old car. Bigger changes were found on the range topper. The R32 was killed for the sake of emission. Replacing it was Golf R, which employed a 270 hp version of the 2.0TFSI. Again it needed 4motion to handle the extra power. Sadly, it lost the elegant style of R32 and the unmistakable sound and smoothness of the outgoing VR6.

Specifications

Model
Golf GTI 1.6 Mk1
Golf GTI 1.8 Mk1
Golf GTI Mk2
Golf GTI 16V Mk2
Year of production
1976-81
(Mk1 Golf: 1974-83)
1982-83
(Mk1 Golf: 1974-83)
1984-91
(Mk2 Golf: 1983-91)
1986-91
(Mk2 Golf: 1983-91)
No. produced
Mk1 Golf: 6.72 million units Mk1 Golf: 6.72 million units Mk2 Golf: 6.41 million units Mk2 Golf: 6.41 million units
Layout
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, Fwd
Engine
Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl. Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl. Inline-4, sohc, 2v/cyl. Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Capacity
1588 cc
1781 cc
1781 cc
1781 cc
Power
110 hp
112 hp
112 hp
139 hp
Torque
103 lbft
109 lbft
114 lbft
124 lbft
Gearbox
5M
5M 5M 5M
Weight
906 kg
871 kg
936 kg
1010 kg
Top speed
111 mph*
113 mph*
114 mph*
123 mph*
0-60 mph
9.0 sec*
8.3 sec*
8.6 sec*
8.0 sec*

* Tested by Autocar

Model
Golf GTI Mk3
Golf VR6 Mk3
Golf GTI Mk4
Golf R32 Mk4
Year of production
1992-97
(Mk3 Golf: 1991-97)
1992-97
(Mk3 Golf: 1991-97)
1998-2003
(Mk4 Golf: 1997-2003)
2002-03
(Mk4 Golf: 1997-2003)
No. produced
Mk3 Golf: 4.96 million units Mk3 Golf: 4.96 million units Mk4 Golf: 4.92 million units Mk4 Golf: 4.92 million units
Layout
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, 4wd
Engine
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl. V6, dohc, 2v/cyl. Inline-4, dohc, 5v/cyl, turbo.
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
Capacity
1984 cc
2792 cc
1781 cc
3189 cc
Power
150 hp
174 hp
150 hp
240 hp
Torque
137 lbft
173 lbft
155 lbft
236 lbft
Gearbox
5M
5M 5M 6M
Weight
1160 kg
1225 kg
1279 kg
1477 kg
Top speed
129 mph*
138 mph*
131 mph*
153 mph
0-60 mph
8.1 sec*
7.1 sec*
8.5 sec*
6.5 sec*

* Tested by Autocar


Model
Golf GTI Mk5
Golf R32 Mk5
Golf GTI Mk6
Golf R Mk6
Year of production
2004-09
(Mk5 Golf: 2003-08)
2005-09
(Mk5 Golf: 2003-08)
2009-12
(Mk6 Golf: 2008-12)
2010-12
(Mk6 Golf: 2008-12)
No. produced
Mk5 Golf: 3.27 million units Mk5 Golf: 3.27 million units Mk6 Golf: 2.85 million units Mk6 Golf: 2.85 million units
Layout
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, 4wd Front-engined, Fwd Front-engined, 4wd
Engine
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, DI, turbo.
V6, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, DI, turbo. Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, DI, turbo.
Capacity
1984 cc
3189 cc
1984 cc
1984 cc
Power
200 hp
250 hp
211 hp
270 hp
Torque
206 lbft
236 lbft
206 lbft
258 lbft
Gearbox
6M
6-speed twin-clutch 6M 6-speed twin-clutch
Weight
1328 kg
1538 kg
1318 kg
1466 kg
Top speed
146 mph
155 mph
149 mph
155 mph
0-60 mph
6.5 sec*
6.0 sec*
6.7 sec*
5.3 sec

* Tested by Autocar



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