Yes, folks as a VW officienado it pains me to admit it but VW lost their way with the Golf GTi,,,
As you will be aware from my other guides, the Mark 1 model (in production from 1975 to very early 1984) was the true iconic incarnation of what the GTi was all about... a subtle (sometimes less subtle bordering on brusque) blend of manouverability, speed, power and FUN! Just for the doubters, YES it is possible to source Mark 1 models in 3 and 5 door on a B-registration. However, they are rarer than rocking horse droppings...
The Mark 2 was a worthy successor, larger, more comfortable, roomier and perhaps more practical. They were also a little heavier by some 200 Kilograms but that was fundamentally due to their increased strength over the more fragile Mark 1s. It emerged with a very similar 1798cc 8v K-Jetronic engine in 1984 which was later revised to the 8v digifant engine, with similar capacity. They offered a fairly linear performance throughout the rev range. Competant but not too involving or exciting in my opinion. These were and indeed are fine vehicles but not my personal preference.
The introduction of the 16v engine in late 1987 was when the future began to look brighter! The 16v models were initially fairly spartan by modern standards, they lacked power steering, central locking and electric windows in the standard package. Some two years later VW introduced a mildly facelifted MK2 Golf GTi 16v, featuring colour coded (big) bumpers, integral foglamps, power steering, central locking and electric windows and lovely '90 spec' Rainbow Trim interiors. These models had 256mm disc brakes fitted at each corner and in conjunction with a 22.2mm master cylinder and larger servo, stopping from speed was not a problem.
These engines come alive at about 3000-3500 RPM and the fun begins...
Personally, I have owned 4 16v Golf GTis, two of which I treated to engine conversions; one became a 2000cc 16v with an AUDI engine and the other a 20v 1.8T AUQ from a Skoda vRS with less than 10,000 miles recorded (running on Emerald M3DK ECU to 350BHP through the mandatory Quaife 020A LSD). I favour the AUDI engine for it's relarively cheap installation costs and greatly enhanced performance against the VW KR code 16v engines - although non-turbo, they are strong yet frugal, easily returning 39.9 mpg as mine did three up to Aberdeen. They are superb vehicles and having taken one off road and into the scenery, I can testify to their incredible strength.
Mark 3 Golfs have traditionally been blessed with electrical problems (driver's side front electric window unresponsive) usually due to water ingress as a consequence of our temperate climate. Suspension and handling difficulties often arise from corroded or failed top mounts and rear beam. Having driven an L registered Golf Mk3 8v, it struck me as relatively solid and competant but just too heavy and this excess baggage sapped all the energy from the engine...
Mark four 1.8T GTi models are not bad but why go to the expense of a turbo engine when a 1984cc 16v is just as good? The 16v eats up the motorway miles just as well as the 1.8T and uses less fuel!
Had a mark five anniversary GTi at Castle Combe, number 30 of a limited edition, this was a good car; the best blend of trackday fun and motoring usefullness... but not really aesthetically pleasing for me.
The later Golf GTis... too lardy, gutless and weighted down with useless fripperies like SATNAV and air conditioning. VW really needs to talk to GTi drivers, not cossetted fresh-faced executive types just out of their hermetically sealed offices, when developing the next GTi. This design concept developed by VW Motorsport Division in 1974.needs to re-focus.
It is for the above mentioned reasons that I believe the Golf MK2 GTi 16v was the last worthy wearer of the GTi crown since 1992.