Autocar - Top 5 RoadTest
Golf GTI Mk1 – one of the top five road tests in Autocar magazine, since 1928.
From Autocar magazine, 2nd March 2011 ©
The tricks time play on us are interesting. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is broadly believed to be both the first 'hot hatch' and the first car to coin the phrase, GTI. It was neither, as owners of any Renault 5 Gordini or the somewhat scarcer Maserati 350 GTi will tell you. Nor was it even accorded the title of 'Hot Hatch' until rather late in life; the test from which the quotes below originate was written five years after its birth and the phrase is noticeable only by its absence.
Nor can the Golf GTI credibly claim even to be the most fun hatchback; we'd always give that particular accolade to Peugeot's 205GTi. All it is, in fact, is the greatest of a genre it did more than any other car to establish.
The genius of the Golf was not its strength in any area, buts its almost total absence of perceptible weakness across the board. Right hand drive versions tended to come with a spongy brake pedal – and that was about it. By the standards of its day it was exceptionally quick and a giggle to drive, but it was also classy, well built and mechanically almost indestructible. There were few environments, from city centre to race track, where it felt it didn’t belong.
Golf GTI Mk1: fifth best road test - ever.
Central to its appeal was its engine. A 1.6 litre, four-pot motor with a single overhead camshaft and two valves per cylinder was not exactly news, even in 1976. What made it special and, indeed, unique among its kin was its use of Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection.
While others stuttered and fluffed while their drivers fiddled with choke settings on cold mornings, the GTI could be buried under a foot of snow in an Arctic blizzard and still be guaranteed to fire up on the first turn of the key. Moreover, the motor was smooth, sweet right through its rev range, and even quite frugal.
Part of the brief for these tales is to judge what impact each car had on those that followed it, but it seems somewhat superfluous to do that for the Golf GTI. The "i" may be a capital now, but the philosophy that brought the GTI to life 35 years ago has survived – not without a few knocks to its credibility on the way, granted - to the present day. And the reason we rate the Golf GTI in 2011 is the same reason why we so feted the Golf GTI six generations ago.
But the reason it makes it into our top five is that, for all it achieved at the time and for all the excellence of most of the cars it sired, it is its influence beyond Volkswagen that makes it a true great. The desire to share a slice of the Golf's success sparked a rush to build hot hatches – cars that were not just fun, but affordable and practical too. The Golf may not have been the first, but figuratively if not literally, it was, is, and always will remain the daddy of them all.
Golf GTI v Porsche 911 v Jaguar E-Type v Mini v Mclaren F1
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