Mk2 Golf GTi – Hot Hatch Perfection

Mk2 Golf GTi – Hot Hatch Perfection

There are few cars as iconic as the mighty Mk2 Golf GTi. The Golf in standard guise was a brilliant car, but when Volkswagen decided to heat things up with a tuned 1.6 engine, it opened up a world of potential for the humble hatchback. Before the Golf GTi, hatchbacks were small, ineffectual ‘second cars’. You didn’t buy a small hatchback because you were passionate about cars, you bought one because you needed to get about in a reliable and frugal manner. The GTi, however, made us desire these small cars. The humble Golf became a car to aspire to, and that’s still the case today. Quite a legacy to cast.

Of course, as the years rolled by, Volkswagen had to evolve the humble Golf. It had set the world on fire in terms of what a small car could be, and if Volkswagen was going to maintain its position on the throne, it needed to do some work. Hence, in 1983, we got the bigger (but still small) Mk2 Golf. It was a more muscular car with a wider, lower stance. It was even more comfortable and practical than the Mk1, and it was built in a way that made rival cars look like they’d been made during arts and crafts lessons at a junior school. We were impressed. But we were also cautious. A new Golf would mean a new GTi, and we liked the first GTi a lot. Any replacement would have a lot of work to do.

Thankfully, Volkswagen got it right with the Mk2 GTi. Rather than try and invent what was in hot hatch terms, a very new wheel, VW instead decided to keep to the mantra of less being more. As such, the Mk2 GTi could only be distinguished from other models by the wheels, the chin spoiler, the extra driving lights and of course, that now trademark red stripe around the grill and also the trim on the bodywork. Other than that, it was business as usual. The Golf was a damn fine car even in base spec, so why alter it too much?

Of course, the Mk2 was a bit more of a unit than the Mk1. It was 10% heavier than the Mk1, but it was 7in longer, it was 2in wider and the wheelbase grew by 3in. The extra level of practicality afforded by that extra 10% on the hips was worth it. Plus, in the case of the GTi, performance wasn’t left to suffer. To counteract the weight, VW dropped in a 1.8 unit rather than the 1.6 of the Mk1. With more power and more torque, the eight-valve launch engine, complete with mechanical K-Jetronic fuel injection, was more than enough.

Volkswagen also opened up the hot hatch sector even further with the Mk2. Other manufacturers were keen to jump on the performance bandwagon, but while doing so they aimed their cars at single men with no need for practicality. This was the ‘80s, remember. Volkswagen moved the goalposts though, and opened up the hot hatch market to families by making the Mk2 GTi available in five-door guise as of February 1985. Game. Changer.

On the road, the Mk2 GTi was well deserving of the name. Despite the added heft, it was still agile and responsive, the 112bhp/117lb ft was more than enough to shunt the Mk2’s 950kg along. Turn in was sharp, the jump up to disc brakes all round meant it was compliant and confident when being pushed, the larger, more comfortable interior made drivers feel safe and secure, and with five doors, the kids come along for the ride, too. It was, quite simply, a triumph, and one that only served to further strengthen the reputation of the GTi.

Volkswagen wasn’t done yet though. In September of 1986, the engineers realised they needed to up the GTi’s game. Rival cars from Vauxhall and Ford were closing in or in some cases, overlapping the performance gap. Volkswagen’s solution? Give the GTi eight more valves – the GTi 16V was born.

With 139bhp and 124lb ft, bigger front brakes and stiffer suspension, the Mk2 GTi was given a new and exciting lease of life. This was the GTi in its ultimate guise, the one to have and the one to beat. It put the Golf back on top of the performance hatch pile. It was good before, but with sixteen valves, KA-Jetronic fuel injection and a chassis to die for, other cars could but dream.

And it was with the 16V that Volkswagen created an icon, a car that would stand the test of time. Now, in 2019, the 16V GTi is a car that’s fawned over, that collectors go weak at the knees for and that petrolheads from all backgrounds look at and appreciate. Yes, the Golf like every other small hatchback, went through the bodykit and big wheel phase, but thanks to being such a well-built and well engineered car, it’s come out the other side as a true classic.

In 1989, the Mk2 Golf took on its ultimate form. This is when the ‘big bumper’ styling emerged, and many will tell you that this is the best-looking Mk2. And while we love the slim bumpers of the earlier cars, we can’t help but agree. The big-bumper cars looked lower and meaner somehow. For us though, we’d have to have a post-1990 model, as this was available in family-friendly five-door flavour.

Production of the Mk2 GTi came to a close in 1992, after which it was replaced by the Mk3 GTi. On its own, the Mk3 wasn’t a bad car, but next to the Mk2, it simply wasn’t worthy. Many owners refused to take the leap, instead hanging onto their Mk2s. Indeed, that’s a trend evident now, with Mk2s fetching serious money, while the Mk3, even mint, languishes in the sub £2,000 market. The Mk2 was evolution at its best. It took the great work of the Mk1 and improved on it, refined it and heightened the driving experience. It was proof that the best can get better, and it was also, as we know now, a classic in the making.

Long live the Mk2 Golf GTi.