As the humble hatch turns 50, Windrush takes a look back at the hits and misses of a classic car in the making.
Interestingly, everyone has a favourite model, and it isn’t always the one favoured by the press. The way the Golf gets under our skin is often down to the model we wanted as children, the one you saw Clarkson drive on 'Top Gear' or even the one that was newest when you started your driving career. Here we take an unbiased look at every generation: we will leave you to judge which is best.
Golf Mk1 1974-1983
Believe it or not, the Golf followed the Beetle and the front-engined, front-wheel-drive and hatchback styling couldn’t have been more different. Offered in various forms including a diesel, a cabriolet and, of course, a GTi, the first generation Golf had a model for everyone. But, as we are all enthusiasts, let’s look more closely at that GTi. Using a 1.6 engine lifted from an Audi 80, it had 57% more power than the 1.5 already fitted to the Golf, giving it a top speed of 113mph and a 0-60 time of 9 seconds. While that was fast for the time, it was the handling, speed and practicality as a package that saw the Hot Hatch generation begin, and ensured the Mk1 GTi would become an icon in the motoring world and a regular in classic car storage facilities.
Golf Mk2 1983-1991
This Golf was larger, more complex, and better equipped that its predecessor but still retained a feeling of familiarity that captured the hearts of the world. By the end of 1990, more than 12 million VW Golfs had been built in total and, when production of the second generation drew to a close in 1991, a total of 6.3 million Mk2 Golfs had been assembled.
The Mk2 GTi came with a 1.8, 8-valve motor (112hp) and a 1.8 16-valve (139hp). Late model GTis had enhanced body styling, now known as the Big Bumper cars, a model still highly sought after today. By this time the Golf GTi was a hero of Pop Culture, favoured by city-slicker Yuppies and was the star of many celebrated commercials.
Golf Mk3 1991-1997
The Mk3 Golf matured the much-loved hatch, but with that it lost a lot of its character. The dashboard wasn’t quite up to the quality expected and the overall feeling was one of averageness, where previous models had excelled. However, the Mk3 did continue the trend of fast Golfs with the new VR6 model with a 2.9 V6 upfront giving a top speed of 140mph and a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds. The GTi was also offered, this time in 2.0 8v (115hp) and 16v (148hp) guises, but the increased weight and average dynamics of the Mk3 meant this generation of GTi was more miss than hit.
Golf Mk4 1997-2003
Volkswagen stepped up with the Mk4. A supremely high-quality interior, exceptional levels of equipment and sophisticated looks saw the Golf back on par. Even today the Mk4 remains a common sight, testament to their exceptional build quality and performance, models still command high prices. Performance Mk4 Golfs come in at both ends of the spectrum. The first GTi revealed was a 2.0 with a lowly 115hp and not much sporting prowess, and some wondered if the Golf GTi was dead. But, then came the 1.8 Turbo GTi with 150hp and nigh on 140mph performance. The wonderful R32 was also launched, with 4wd and a whopping 3.2 V6 under the bonnet. Such a large motor meant 241hp, 155mph top speed and just 6 seconds to 60. Finally, there was a 25th Anniversary GTi with every option included and a 180hp, turbocharged 1.8 engine.
Golf Mk5 2003-2008
The Mk5 was a new high-point for the Golf, with advanced construction, technically-impressive engines, and a mature ride for the class. The new Golf may not have had the hewn-from-granite interior of the Mk4, but it made up for it in every other aspect. The GTi was also in for high praise, with a boisterous 2.0 turbo engine producing 197hp. It was celebrated for having the brilliance of the Mk1 and Mk2 but with proper usability, making it one of the most usable performance cars of its time. The interior had a tartan cloth, again a hark back to the Mk1 GTi and the chassis offered a softer ride than the overly harsh competitors which allowed the driver to feel the road when pushing on, while also being able to enjoy the daily grind in relative comfort. Also worthy of note is the complex 1.4 TSi engines offered in this generation – supercharged and turbocharged to allow the use of a smaller capacity engine to provide cleaner emissions and great performance.
Golf Mk6 2008-2012
The Mk6 was unusual in that it was only produced for four years, largely because it was more of a re-worked Mk5 than a completely new model. That said, it still won top honours at the 2019 World Car of the Year awards. Crash safety was also at the top of the class, winning 5-stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests. The Mk6 was also the first time the Golf R was seen, a car that marked the end of the 6-cylinder fast Golf with its 2.0 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. But we needn’t have worried, as this motor offered a mighty 266hp, 20hp more than in the Mk4 3.2 R32. 0-60 took just 5.5 seconds, 4wd kept that power in check and the latest DSG gearbox was praised for its fast changes and enthusiast nature. A GTi was also offered at this time with a version of the 2.0 turbo engine producing 210hp (56 less than the R) but still offering 146mph and a 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds. If you wanted to be Fast and Frugal the Golf GTD may be for you. It is plenty fast enough, but with the added bonus of diesel economy (a claimed 44mpg).
Golf Mk7 2012-2020
The Mk7 was all about economy (initially), weighing a useful 100kg less than the Mk6 and with more efficient engines, the new Golf offered reduced emissions with greater economy. The R continued, too, this time with a huge 300hp and great lease deals at the time (on both the hatch and estate variants) saw these fly out of the showrooms, creating a waiting list for new cars.
The GTi was well catered for, too with the GTi, the GTi Performance Pack and the GTi Clubsport and Clubsport S offered on the Mk7 platform. The Performance Pack was an option on the standard GTi and gave an extra 15hp (up to 242hp) and 15nm of torque as well as bigger brakes, limited slip differential and a new interior display. The Clubsport and Clubsport S was something else altogether. The S was called the 911 GT3 of GTis, posted a 7.47 lap of the Nurburgring, and was rare with only 150 examples coming to the UK. 306hp. 6-speed manual, bespoke dampers and a host of other additions make this a very special Golf. Note: An updated Golf 7.5 launched in 2013 with some revisions.
Golf Mk8 2020-date
Something we haven’t touched on yet is the demise of actual buttons in the Golf, in favour of touchscreens. The Mk8 Golf received a lot of negative comments from press and owners alike, who bemoaned the fact simple tasks (such as adjusting the heating) was now deep in a digital menu and hard to navigate. In fact, many say the 7.5 was peak Golf and the latest is a step backwards. Other VW models are making a return to buttons for some tasks, so perhaps the Mk9 Golf will do the same. For now, let us tell you about the Mk8 R and GTi. The GTi remains one of the best usable performance cars on sale with 242hp, but now the GTi is only available as a 5-door only, so no more 3-door GTi. The Clubsport remains available, as does the R, with 315hp and 420nm of torque. Press reviews praise all for their performance but warn of poor infotainment and low-quality materials in the cabin.
As we conclude this piece, Volkswagen has just announced the Golf Mk8.5. The GTi is a 5-door, DSG only, and the entire range gets revised styling. More power has been eked out of the hybrids, and (for the ICE fans) two petrol and two diesel options are available at launch. Also worth celebrating is the option of a 6-speed manual across the range, but not on the GTi. Yet. No word from VW either on the return (or otherwise) of good old-fashioned dashboard buttons…
A classic car deserves classic car storage
It is reported that over 35million Golfs have been built since launching 50 years ago, and 2.3million of those were GTis. Volkswagen also claim over 300,000 R models have been sold since launch. Whatever model is your favourite, the Golf is a genuine automotive icon, accepted and loved by all and long may that continue…but please give us the buttons back!
If you are a Golf enthusiast but just don’t have anywhere to store your collection, Windrush Car Storage offers state-of-the-art facilities for classic car collectors. Our classic car storage centres in London and the Cotswolds allow you keep your classic car collection safe and secure while you continue to indulge your hobby!
Drop the Windrush team an email to ask about our electric and classic car storage service. We’re ready to help you on email@example.com