Charl Bosch
Online Motoring Reporter
5 minute read
29 Apr 2021
8:57 am

VW Golf 8 GTI: Evolution of the hot hatch icon

Charl Bosch

Fierce competition over the last 45 years has not dented the Golf GTI's standing as the yardstick hot hatch.

The South African-spec Mk 8 Golf GTI being offloaded at the Port Elizabeth harbour ahead of its market debut in the third quarter of this year.

The third quarter of this year will see the unveiling of the long and eagerly awaited eighth generation Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Revealed as far back as February last year, what is always seen as the hot hatch yardstick produces 180kW/370Nm from its 2.0 TSI engine, fed to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or a new toggle switch operated seven-speed DSG.

Shown by Volkswagen South Africa being offloaded at the Port Elizabeth harbour yesterday (27 April), the local market GTI will exclusively be offered with the DSG ‘box. Top speed is pegged at 250 km/h with the 0-100 km/h sprint taking 6.4 seconds.

Accounting for 29% of the local hot hatch market, the GTI is a local market icon as it is worldwide and with 2021 marking its 45th anniversary, we now turn back the clock to where it all began.

Mk I

The initiator of the hot hatch, the GTI went on sale in 1976, four years after the original Golf.

Its designation standing for Grand Touring Injection, it featured subtle exterior and interior tweaks, sat 15 mm closer to the ground, boasted upgraded brakes as well as the now trademark golf ball gear lever.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Where it all began. The original Mk I Golf GTI

Nestled up front, it originally derived motivation from a fuel injected version of the otherwise carburettor-fed 1.6-litre engine. Producing 81kW/137Nm, the 810 kg GTI could get from 0-100 km/h in nine seconds and top out at 182 km/h.

While 1979 brought a five-speed gearbox, 1982 saw the introduction of a new 1.8-litre mill. Delivering 82kW/150Nm, the GTI now dispatched the benchmark sprint in 8.2 seconds with the top speed remaining unchanged. Despite the Mk I ending production the following year, the gauntlet had been thrown down and an icon born.

Mk II

Affectionately known as the jumbo, the Mk II GTI debuted a year after the standard Golf in 1984, first with the same engine as the Mk I, albeit with 155 Nm, before the introduction of a 16-valve head in 1987 that saw output increase to 102kW/163Nm.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Jumbo in every sense of the word, the Mk II GTI proved just as popular, especially the latter 16v model.

Despite being heavier than the Mk I, the Mk II, in 16v guise, accelerated from 0-100 km/h in 7.9 seconds and topped-out at 209 km/h.

It was also during this time until production ended in 1992 that a selection of special edition models were introduced; the supercharged GTI G60 and Golf Rallye and the G60 Limited that made a monstrous, for the time, 155 kW.

Mk III

A sleeker Golf debuted in 1991 with the GTI joining in 1992. Widely panned for being overweight and devoid of the first two models’ magic, the GTI sported a bigger engine, 2.0-litres, but with an output of 85 kW and a top speed of 198 km/h. With 0-100 km/h taking 10.1 seconds, it is still the slowest accelerating GTI ever made.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Sleek Mk III Golf looks didn’t hide the slowest accelerating GTI to date.

An upgrade in 1993 brought a more potent 16-valve engine with 110kW/180Nm which allowed for a top speed of 216 km/h and 0-100 km/h in a more satisfactory 8.3 seconds.

The increased output and better performance was offset though by the availability right from the start of the 2.8-litre 128 kW VR6 and in 1994, the more potent 2.9-litre VR6 outputting 140 kW.

Mk IV

The arrival of the Mk IV is generally regarded as the lowest point of the GTI. Despite being the first to feature turbocharging, the downsized 1.8-litre 20-valve unit produced an unimpressive 92 kW without the assistance of a blower.

The addition of the device upped the output to 110 kW in 1997 and then 132 kW four years later in the GTI R, the first GTI to offer a six-speed gearbox.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Despite being the first turbocharged GTI, the Mk IV is often regarded as the low point of the GTI lineage.

With a top speed of 222 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 7.9 seconds, the GTI, in R guise was still level pegging with the Mk III and in a battle with one of its own; the four-wheel-drive R32 that made 177 kW from its 3.2 V6 and which followed the Audi TT in being the second model to use the innovative six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.

Mk V

Viewed as the generation that restored lost faith in the GTI, the Mk V arrived in 2004 to universal acclaim. Outfitted with the new 2.0 TSI powerunit, it punched out 147kW/280Nm that allowed for a top speed of 235 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Mk V GTI is generally considered as the model that revived the GTI magic lost with the Mk III and Mk IV.

This generation also the saw rise in popularity of the DSG ‘box which cut the benchmark sprint time to 6.9 seconds despite being slower at 233 km/h.  Just over two years later, a special edition GTI Edition 30th arrived, producing 169 kW that helped made it the fastest ever GTI with a top speed of 240 km/h.

Mk VI

More of an evolution, the momentum of the Mk V continued into the Mk VI that debuted in 2009. Using the same 2.0 TSI mill and choice of transmissions, it made 155 kW and the same 280 Nm, which meant a top speed of 240 km/h with the manual, 238 km/h with the DSG and 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The MK VI continued where the Mk V left-off.

The introduction of a 35 year anniversary model in 2012 though raised the bar significantly with an output of 173 kW, top speed of 247 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 6.6 seconds.

Mk VII

With the Golf VII in 2012, the GTI cemented its place as the hot hatch favourite in South Africa with sales from 2013, including the facelift Mk 7.5, of 13 000 units.

Producing 162 kW originally, the 169 kW GTI Performance model morphed into the standard GTI come the Mk 7.5, with the output of 180 kW originating that same year in the then new GTI Performance.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

With the Mk VII and facelift Mk 7.5, the Golf GTI cemented its position as South Africa’s favourite hot hatch.

The Mk VII also saw the creation of three special edition models; the 195 kW Clubsport, the most powerful GTI ever made, the 228 kW Clubsport S and the final encore, the TCR derived from the touring series of the same name that made 213kW/370Nm.