Volkswagen's hot Golf history in pics

By topgear, 27 February 2020

It’s been over 40 years since the first Golf GTI rolled off the production line, and now the latest has arrived: the new MkVIII GTI.

The original was the work of a six-man team headed by Anton Konrad, and over time has become one of the most iconic hot hatches of all time. Here, we’ve decided to have a peek back through the hot production Golfs that have graced the streets, from the original, classic GTI through to the rather good R via a few outrageous concepts.


Despite being unveiled at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, Brits had to wait two years to get their hands on VW’s 110bhp 1,588cc four-pot.

The minuscule MkI only weighed 810kg, which meant it could hit 95km/h in nine seconds and reach 160km/h. In ‘82 a 1781cc model joined the lineup.


Nine years after the inaugural hot Golf, the GTI’s second coming was ready. It got a new chassis, 110bhp 1781cc four-pot engine and swollen, slipperier styling. 

MkII G60

As well the normally aspirated GTI, VW threw a supercharged G60 model into the lineup. It produced a then-blistering 160bhp. 

MkII Rallye Golf

Built as a homologation special, the Rallye got a supercharged four-pot engine, four-wheel drive, flared arches and rectangular headlights. Around 5,000 were built and they cost twice as much as a standard Golf when new.

MkII Golf Limited

The Limited counts itself among the most rare hopped-up factory Golfs. It’s got 210bhp, goes to 142mph and it’s stuffed with top-spec options - all are four-door models (save for two three-doors) and have 15-inch BBS RM wheels, a twin-headlight grill, tinted taillights and special badges.

Pic courtesy of


Now sinking into comfortable middle age, the third generation GTI got a 2.0-litre engine when it landed on the forecourt in 1992. Thanks to 188 extra kilos of heft, it wasn’t as agile as the MkII. Even the 148bhp 16-valve engine, which appeared in 1993, couldn’t help matters.


Fitted with snazzy semi-v 2.8 and 2.9-litre VR6 engines (they’ve got one cylinder head but offset pistons) the Golf VR6 got to 95 in 7.1secs.

MkIII 20th Anniversary GTI

To commemorate 20 years of GTIness, VW gave us this – it got chequered Recaro seats, lots of red detailing and 16-inch BBS split rims. 


When VW launched the fourth generation GTI in 1998 it offered a model for all performance tastes. Two engines were available in four different states of tune.

MkIV R32

In 2003, VW fitted a Golf with a 240hp 3.2-litre VR6 engine. It also stuffed in every conceivable option available to the MkIV’s platform before sticking an R32 badge on the front.

MkIV V6 4Motion

As well as a 204hp 2.8-litre V6 engine, the 4Motion got super-grippy four-wheel drive.

MkIV GTI 25th Anniversary

Built to celebrate the GTI’s release, the limited 25th Anniversary models were made up of 900 petrol-powered cars and 900 diesels.

MkIV GTI 20th Anniversary

No, we’ve not got ourselves in a muddle - the 20th Anniversary was actually released after the 25th. It was built to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the GTI in America. 4000 were shipped to the United States and 200 to Canada.

MkV GT Sport

Effectively the Lamb Bhuna of the Golf world, the slightly spicy sub-GTI came with a 1.4-litre twin-charged petrol engine or a 2.0-litre diesel lump when it launched in 2009. It got the GTI’s brakes and its suspension was lowered by 15mm.


The success of the fruity 25th Anniversary Edition inspired the faster-still MkV. It got a 2.0-litre TFSI engine with a 6spd gearbox and 15mm lowering springs. You can spot a few nods to MkI GTI, too - there are tartan chairs and a traditional red grill surround.

MkV Pirelli

Built in collaboration with rubbersmiths, Pirelli, the hot MkV GTI came fitted with a warmed over 2.0-litre TFSI engine, which made 30hp more than the standard GTI, getting it to 95km/h in 7.0 seconds. Unsurprisingly, it also had Pirelli tyres.

MkV R32

With 10hp more than its predecessor thanks to a tinkered inlet manifold, the 3.2-litre VR6 engine makes 250hp and 320Nm of torque. 0-100km/h takes 6.5secs or 6.2secs if you ticked the DSG gearbox option. It also got four-wheel drive and enormous 345mm brakes.

MkV GTI Edition 30

Another five years, another anniversary edition. On sale at the end of 2006, the Edition 30 had 30 extra horses than the standard GTI, a front spoiler and tinted rear lights, a la Golf R32. Colour coding, 18-inch wheels and exclusive trim materials were also standard, and you got a fancy little Edition 30 plaque. Which is pleasant.


Fitted with a mid-mounted twin-turbo W12 from a Bentley Continental, Audi R8 rear subframe and a Lamborghini Gallardo’s rear axle and brakes it stands out as the most preposterous Golf ever. It was built for the Worthersee GTI Festival in just eight weeks. 


Essentially a thoroughly facelifted MkV, the VI GTI got the Scirocco’s direct-injection EA888 2.0-litre turbo four-pot, which upped power from 200hp to 210hp on the previous generation. 

MkVI Golf R

Launched in 2010, the R’s got 60hp more than the MkVI GTI, 18-inch wheels and four-wheel drive. 100km/h comes in 5.7secs and it’ll carry on till 250km/h.


Sat on the VW Group’s MQB platform comes this, the seventh generation of the GTI. It was available as a 220hp/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot, or a 230hp ‘Performance Pack’ version. You wanted the latter. 

MkVII Golf R

At the time of its release, the fastest, most powerful production Golf ever built. The R had a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine making 300hp; 30hp more than the last Golf R.

It’s also had 4WD and would crack 100km/h - in DSG form - in just 4.9s.

Golf R Estate

Like a regular Golf R, only more practical and therefore better. 

Golf GTI Clubsport

The Clubsport is a sort-of halfway house between a regular GTI and the AWD R. It has 265hp from the usual 2.0-litre turbo four (a 35hp increase over a GTI PP), but a maximum of 290hp is available for 10secs at a time when you floor the throttle.

So in practical terms, it loses little to the 300hp R. It remains FWD, but has had a bit of suspension work done and its diff retuned for better handling. 

Golf GTI Clubsport S

A Nurburgring record holder, and with 310hp, the most powerful front-wheel drive production Golf ever. Lacks rear seats. 

Golf R Variant Performance 35

A nod to the 35 years VW has been gathering enthusiasts together in Worthersee, this snazzy R Estate concept has a smidge more power than standard (350hp), but the real news is the stereo. It’s vast - 12 speakers and 2,500 watts. Right then. 

Golf GTI Heartbeat

Another Very Powerful concept Golf to celebrate the GTI’s 40th. This one has 400hp - all routed through the front-wheels, naturally - Bilstein coilovers and a massive stereo.

Golf GTE Concept

2015’s Worthersee concept featured the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Polo R WRC car; an engine that has helped Volkswagen claim the WRC crown. It’s slotted up front under that long, swooping bonnet and packs 300hp, and is backed up by a pair of electric motors.

One of these electric motors has been positioned up front, inside the housing of the 6spd dual-clutch gearbox, while the second sits on the rear axle. Both motors produce an equal 115hp, but unequal torque: the front motor kicks out 330Nm, the rear 270Nm.

Total torque stands at 670Nm, and Volkswagen assures us that wherever possible, the concept runs purely on electricity up to a range of 50km.

Things get more interesting when you choose not to run purely on electricity, because when you select the ‘GTE’ mode, you get the full, banzai, 400hp. That means 0-100km/h in 4.3secs and a top speed of 280km/h. 


Named for VW’s TCR racer. Not limited-production, nor as serious as the Clubsport S (bit more power, slightly stiffer suspension, bigger brakes), but an awful lot of fun all the same.

Golf GTI Mk8

New Golf GTI isn’t revolutionary - you’re looking at the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol as the last car, making 245hp, with either a 6spd manual or 7spd auto ‘box. Tartan seats, golf-ball gear lever, job done. Read all about it by clicking on these blue words

Related Articles