VW Golf GTI: 1984 v 2016

It's 8am and Wales is offering up its usual mixture of freezing air that locks up your lungs with a thick mist, making everything damp to the touch.

We've driven here to what is, effectively, a deserted pub car park in the middle of nowhere, in the most recent generation of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Today, we will reunite it with its antecedent and pit them head to head around the roads of north Wales.

The 2016 Golf has a subtle hint to the power inside thanks to that characteristic red stripe across the grille, plus the designers have turned up the styling with more sharp edges, a larger air intake and fierce-looking vents.

Unfortunately for the modern car, a delivery driver has just arrived and is currently reversing a 1984 Golf GTI off the back of his trailer. It is stealing our attention.

That distinctive black detail on the rear window appears, the P-slot Pirelli wheels roll into view and the original GTI badge stands proud on the rear – and, of course, the red pinstripe detailing around the grille.

Yes, the Golf has come a long way in almost 40 years, but it's impossible not to appreciate how far ahead of its time this vehicle was.

VW Golf generations test
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VW Golf generations test

The dash is filled with lights for gadgets and gizmos you'd now expect as standard on a modern car. The interior of the Mk7 is crammed with kit in comparison, and I quickly remember just how minimal the classic is.

Similarities remain, though, as the latest edition is still available with the trademark tartan seats and golf ball gear knob – although our original is missing the former in this case...

Although the Mk1 cost a little more than £3,000 in the 1980s, good examples can fetch £10,000 or even more at auction nowadays.
Even so, despite the car's iconic interior, the first-generation Golf doesn't quite drive how you imagine it would – or, indeed, would like it to. Maybe that's why they say never meet your idols...

The gearstick is more akin to a walking stick placed in the middle of the dash, but to be fair to Volkswagen changes are on point for what's a 32-year-old example. And hey, those brakes aren't going to win any awards by today's standards, nor do we think NCAP will be giving it any stars soon.

But the seating position – in what look like amateurish bucket seats but were really one of the first attempts at bringing something sporty to the mainstream market – gives you the confidence you need and wills you to push it harder.

Let's thank the creators of the Golf GTI for giving us the mindset that performance and fun could be accessible to the everyday man and woman. But we also have to praise Volkswagen for continuing down this path to give us what is a truly fantastic car today.

It's transformed itself from a fairly frugal 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with merely 110bhp to a two-litre turbocharged engine with 216bhp standard on the latest Golf GTI.

Boasting a limited top speed of 155mph and being able to climb from 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds puts it in a totally different game to its predecessor, but Volkswagen wasn't prepared to stop there. Now it's gone all out and produced the fastest ever GTI – the Clubsport S – complete with two seats less than you'd expect to find.

With the VW GTI undergoing constant development, here's proof that there's still life in the old dog yet.
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