When it comes to hot hatches nothing can compare to the legacy of the Golf GTI. It was the original and the best – something that had never really been done before, but it became the template for the generation of sporty hatchbacks. Through seven generations the Golf GTI has stayed popular, but does it match up to its ancestor's iconic status?
Despite being developed with fuel efficiency in mind, the GTI's full potential was soon spotted by Volkswagen bosses and as soon as it went on sale, it captured hearts around the world. It was powered by a tuned version of the 1.6 litre petrol that was used in the Audi 80GT. It pumped out around 108bhp which may not sound a lot by today's standards, but back then it was quick. So quick, in fact, that it was dubbed the fastest Volkswagen ever when it was unveiled to the world press.
It wasn't just the performance that made it stand out. VW engineers had lowered and stiffened the suspension, meaning it could tackle corners. In fact the only down side was the all-round drum brakes that made slowing down a little unnerving.
If we take a look inside the Golf GTI Mk1 it may seem pretty basic, but it was ahead of its time for a '70s car. There are some nice touches like an instant MPG read-out and light indicator, which tells you the best time to change gear. Even the placement of the radio and heating controls are within easy reach of the steering wheel, making this a car that was very much focussed around the driver.
Fast forward forty years and step forward the Mk7, which, on paper, looks like a completely different animal. Park the two side-by-side and the latest generation looks like an overweight cousin – bigger in every sense.
Short of a few GTI badges, alloy wheels and subtle body styling there's little that screams it's a hot hatch. You have to look closely for signs of tribute to its ancestor – like the red stripe that ran around the edge of the grille on the original and now runs across the headlamps and grille, and of course the trademark golf ball style gear stick shared in both models, not to mention the tartan seats.
The interior remains very much focussed around the driver, just like the original. The flat-bottom steering wheel shouts the GTI's sporty intent, as well as the hint of red stitching and GTI badging. But of course, no-one buys a GTI for its interior. This is a car that's all about the way it drives.
The history of the Golf GTI hasn't always been smooth – some have been good, some have been not so good. But with the latest version, this Mk7, it's Volkswagen back to its best. It's powered by a 2 litre TFSI engine which is good for 0-60 in around six and a half seconds, and a staggering top speed of 152mph.
The word "legend" is a term that's a little bit over-used these days, especially when it comes to cars. But with the Golf GTI it fits the bill absolutely perfectly. Yes, the Mk 7 may be bigger and more powerful, but if you look closely, you'll see the DNA from the original.