12 September 2011

BOTTLED IT!: Volkswagen Golf GTi MK3

The first two generation Golf GTis were great Hot Hatches. Then came its successor and became like Elvis Presley in his later years.

THE Volkswagen Golf GTi is largely responsible for pioneering the Hot Hatch.

The recipe was pretty simple, slot a more powerful engine into a practical, family hatchback. Lower the ride height, fit a spoiler and subtle cosmetic modifications. Hey presto! The GTi was born. VW created a quick, performance car in a practical and affordable package for the motoring masses.

The Golf GTi was a runaway success when it came onto the streets in 1976. With a quarter of Golfs that left the VW showrooms were GTis. With them selling like hot cakes. It caught on and inspired other manufacturers like: Ford, Peugeot, Fiat and Vauxhall to make their own Hot Hatches. Where they could be adventurous in making a cooking version of their bread and butter motors. But also where they can also be raking in big profits.

Volkswagen emulated the success of the second generation Golf GTi (1983-1991). By simply building on the strengths from the original (e.g. having a 16V DOHC engine). VW did the job with ease on filling in the original's big boots. Especially with competition from the: Peugeot 205 GTi, the Ford Escort XR3i and the Vauxhall Astra GTE on the scene.

Then came the MK3 GTi in 1991 and VW simply blotted the copy book. When a manufacturer makes a car it replaces, it should usually be better than the outgoing car. The 1990s Golf GTi fell short of the mark. Considering how good the previous GTis were, expectations were high on the MK3. Enthusiasts and the motoring press were underwhelmed with the new Golf GTi.

For starters, the third generation Golf looked lardy and frumpy and lost its crisp, clean lines from its predecessors. The Golf (as a standard car) always had the emphasis on refinement, solidity and common sense. The third generation Golf was no exception and carried on the tradition.

But when it came to making the GTi, it was a triumph of safety and refinement over performance and handling. With the stronger emphasis on it from VW on the MK3 Golf made it heavy and bulky. The GTi ate all the pies and piled on the pounds. It lost its verve as it became fatter, softer and wallowy.

Top Speed
MK1 Golf GTi
1.6/1.8, 4cyl
MK2 Golf GTi (8V/16V)
1.8, 4cyl
MK3 Golf GTi (8V/16V)
2.0, 4cyl

As the statistics will tell you, the MK3 Golf GTi may as well be more powerful, and faster at the top end than its forebears. But that's missing the point, as the the heavier bodyshell blunts the acceleration. Furthermore, it comes at a detriment to the car's handling as well.

VW didn't put enough power into the Golf GTi to make it quicker off the mark. That's where it's more important because it will get shown up by its predecessors. When you're racing at Santa Pod or at a set of traffic lights. Prior to the porky Golf hindering the performance, it also effects the handling as well.

To sum it up, the third generation Golf GTi was something of a disappointment from how good the previous ones were. Why didn't it fill the boots in of its forebears? The MK3 Golf GTi didn't carry the ethos of past GTis. It was really a warm hatch than being a Hot Hatch that lacked vigour.

Despite that, they sold well. That was largely due to the strong image VW had and the cachet of GTi badge. From the reputation built up by the previous GTis. Of which gave the MK3 Golf GTi genuine kerbside appeal and why many people bought one.

The Golf GTi continued to be a slob in the form of the smoother MK4. It remained to being more of being solidity and refinement over performance and vigour. The GTi by then just became a badge on VW's "Hot Hatches". The Hot Hatches from the 1990s that was worthy of the GTi badge came from Peugeot, with the 306 and 106 GTis.

Few predicted Volkswagen to re-invent the GTi following the disappointment of the third and fourth generation Golfs. Of which they did to the public's surprise and delight with the MK5 Golf GTi (2005-2008). As it captures the imagination and spirit of the Golf GTis from the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, VW have built on the success of the Golf GTi. Staying on form as seen with the present Golf GTi (2009-onwards).

MK5 and beyond: The most recent Golfs have recaptured the spirit and live up to the GTi badge.

1 comment:

  1. What happened to your other blog, the one with the Blackburn Rovers commentary in it?


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