The Volkswagen Golf GTI virtually invented the hot hatch market in 1976 and ignited one of the most ruthlessly fought sectors of all. Volkswagen is now preparing the Mk7 and plans to once again have the fabled hot hatch crown.
The first hot Golf was created by an enthusiastic bunch of Volkswagen engineers working after-hours in the early 1970s. They were given the green light from management to unveil their inspired efforts at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show, where the tweaked Giugiaro ‘folded paper’ styling and red highlighted grille were well received. The GTI was born.
The UK market didn’t get GTI Golfs until 1977 and even then, only 34 left-hand-drive examples made it over from Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg factory. But its fate was sealed as tales of its sportscar-humbling abilities on the Continent spread quickly.
By the time right-hand-drive cars were delivered to British customers in 1979, many other manufacturers had cottoned on to the successful recipe of a putting a peppy high-revving engine into an agile front-wheel-drive hatchback body. These cars were fun to drive and practical enough to take you and your mates for a blast in the country, while sun worshipers could get their GTI kicks in a cabriolet edition.
The hot-hatch game has moved on a fair bit since then. The Mk1 GTI’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder produced 112bhp – just over a third of the hot-hatches sold today – and with only 810kg to haul, it covered the 0-60mph benchmark in 9secs and could top 110mph flat out. It was a hit and proved a tough act to follow for the 1984 Mk2.
The second generation picked up where the original left off, peaking with the 139bhp 1.8-litre 16-valve model. Interesting and sought-after derivatives include the supercharged G60 and the wide-arched Syncro-equipped four-wheel-drive Rallye, which cost nearly twice as much as an ordinary GTI.
After the first two iconic models, the Mk3 and Mk4 GTIs were fairly disappoining. The Mk3 was an underpowered letdown and the Mk4 was too dull and heavy to be called a driver's car. A couple of lovable diamonds did make it out of the wilderness years, keeping the hot Golf legacy ticking: the 2.9-litre V6-engined Mk3 VR6 and the all-wheel-drive 3.2-litre V6 Mk4 R32.
The GTI mojo was found again in time for the Mk5. It looked right, was powered by a sweet 197bhp 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, had a superior air of quality and offered the driving involvement to rekindle the original car's fun-factor. It stood up well to the VXR, ST, Type R and Renaultsport-badged competition and was often called the best all-rounder in an increasingly power hungry market.
Another V6-powered R32 topped the Mk5 range; all-wheel-drive traction and 247bhp gave it spades of cross-country ability, while subtle styling tweaks over the GTI smacked of class and quality. The Mk5 introduced us to the successful pairing of hot Golf and fast-swapping DSG gearbox – creating an even more efficient package.
Volkswagen didn’t mess with the recipe for the Mk6, simply giving it a very thorough face-lift. A new 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder produced 207bhp in GTI spec and replaced the thirsty V6 in the all-wheel-drive halo Golf – now called the Golf R and boasting 267bhp. The performance Golf cabriolet made a return too – in both GTI and R trim.
The 2012 Paris motor show witnessed the unveiling of the all-new Mk7 GTI. The latest car is fresh from its tyres up: based on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, with sharper styling, a brand new 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine offered for the first time, with a choice of two states of tune – offering up more performance and fuel economy.
The new Golf GTI will officially be unveiled at the Geneva motor show next March and be battling for hot-hatch supremacy soon after.
Our gallery is a reminder of the hot Golf legacy to date.