The 10 best fast Volkswagen Golf models of all time

From G60 and R to GTI and VR6, we take a look back at some of the Golf's finest moments

07 May 2019 - 17:41 By Thomas Falkiner
The original Golf GTI meets the iconic Golf GTI Clubsport S
The original Golf GTI meets the iconic Golf GTI Clubsport S
Image: VW

The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most revered cars of modern times, especially the performance models that have been attainable poster cars for numerous generations. In chronological order we take a look at some of the Golf's finest and fastest iterations. 

1: 1976 Golf GTI 

When talking about fast Golfs you've got to start at the very beginning. First unveiled to the public in 1975 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the original Golf GTI caused a sensation when it went on sale in 1976. Powered by a 81kW 1.6-litre (later on a 1.8-litre) fuel-injected motor and tipping the scales at a scant 810kg (unladen), it could rocket to 100km/h in nine seconds flat. Top speed was a whisker over 180km/h. The Mk1 GTI became an instant classic, not to mention giant-killer, that could topple many a dearer sports coupé.

The first Golf GTI that started it all back in 1976.
The first Golf GTI that started it all back in 1976.
Image: VW

2: 1986 Golf GTI 16V

When Volkswagen released the Mk2 Golf critics were quick to point out that the GTI had lost some of its sparkle due to an increase in kerb weight. To hit back at the haters, the company in 1986 unleashed the GTI 16 valve, which benefited from a higher revving motor that produced much more power than its standard 8-valve sibling (102kW versus 82kW). 

The GTI 16v brought high-revving thrills to the Golf Mk2 range.
The GTI 16v brought high-revving thrills to the Golf Mk2 range.
Image: VW

3: 1989 Golf Rallye G60

The Golf Mk2 platform bore many special editions of which the Rallye G60 is probably the most interesting. A homologation special (5,000 were made for motorsport), the Rallye wore rectangular headlights, redesigned bumpers plus widened front and rear fenders. Beneath the bonnet lurked a 1.8-litre 8-valve motor force-fed by Volkswagen’s quirky G-Lader supercharger system that helped make it deliver a healthy 119kW and 226Nm of torque. It also had a Syncro all-wheel-drive system for better grip in slippery conditions.

The Rallye wore chunky wheel arches and rectangular headlights.
The Rallye wore chunky wheel arches and rectangular headlights.
Image: VW

4: 1989 Golf G60 Limited

Quite possibly the rarest and most sought-after performance Golf ever produced, the G60 Limited was basically a visually-subdued version of the Rallye G60. Apart from its 15-inch BBS RM012 alloy wheels and subtle blue radiator grille trim most people could be forgiven for thinking it was just a run-of-the-mill GTI. Yet it was until the arrival of the Mk4 R32 the most powerful road-going Golf Volkswagen had ever made thanks to its supercharged G-Lader 1.8-litre 16-valve motor that produced 154kW and 252Nm. Only 71 were built. 

The super rare G60 Limited was the fastest production Golf model until the Mk4 R32 arrived on the scene.
The super rare G60 Limited was the fastest production Golf model until the Mk4 R32 arrived on the scene.
Image: WikiMedia Commons

5: 1993 Golf VR6

Evolution was proving unkind to the Golf GTI and the third-generation version was fat, slow and downright underwhelming. So Volkswagen went back to the drawing board and came up with the Golf VR6. Fitted with the firm's innovative narrow-angle 2.8-litre V6 (basically a staggered-six if you really want to get technical) motor, this all-new range-topper significantly upped the Golf Mk3's performance ante with 128kW and 235Nm. 

The VR6 offered multi-cylinder performance.
The VR6 offered multi-cylinder performance.
Image: VW

6: 2002 Golf R32

The Golf Mk4 is where Volkswagen started making its best-selling hatchback great again. While the GTI made a return to past form thanks to turbocharging the VR6 transformed into the R32: a sleek all-wheel-drive tarmac shredder that gave fans of the Wolfsburg marque a reason to stand up and celebrate. Lovely to look at, the R32 came with myriad special features including 18-inch OZ Aristo wheels, König sports seats plus unique front and rear bumpers. A 3.2 VR6 engine served up 177kW and a whopping (for then) 320Nm. Incidentally, the R32 was also the first-ever car to be offered with a dual-clutch gearbox. 

The Mk4 R32 is quite possibly the best looking performance Golf ever built.
The Mk4 R32 is quite possibly the best looking performance Golf ever built.
Image: VW

7: 2007 Golf GTI W12-650

This one-of-a-kind concept model was built to showcase what the Golf Mk5 platform was really capable of when pushed to extremes. Something of a VAG parts-bin special its claim to fame was a Bentley-sourced 478kW twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre W12 motor mounted amidships. The front anchors came off an Audi RS4 while the rear axle and brakes were stolen from the mighty Lamborghini Gallardo. The gearbox was the same as the one doing duty in the ill-fated VW Phaeton. Top-speed was a claimed 324km/h. 

The 478kW GTI-W12 was one of a kind.
The 478kW GTI-W12 was one of a kind.
Image: VW

8: 2010 Golf R

The formidable Golf R was born in 2010 and has since been that annoying thorn-in-the-side of sports car owners the world over. First seen in the Golf Mk6 the R combined all-wheel-drive traction with a more powerful version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged EA113 motor that was used in the Golf GTI Mk5. High-pressure fuel injectors, a redesigned cylinder head and strengthened conrods meant that it kicked out out 199kW – or 188kW here in South Africa due (supposedly) to our hot climate and poor quality of fuels.

The Golf R became something of a sports car killer.
The Golf R became something of a sports car killer.
Image: VW

9: 2012 Golf GTI Edition 35

The Edition 35 was an interesting machine that kind of bridged the gap between the Golf GTI and R. While the regular Golf GTI Mk6 used the newer EA888 2.0-litre turbo motor, this anniversary edition came bolted to the EA113 that powered the aforementioned R. Except here it was detuned to deliver 173kW and 300Nm through the front wheels. Although a DSG gearbox was optional, an electronic XDS differential lock came standard. 

The Edition 35 plugged the gap between the regular GTI and range-topping R.
The Edition 35 plugged the gap between the regular GTI and range-topping R.
Image: VW

10: 2016 Golf GTI Clubsport S

The Clubsport S is to the Golf what the GT3 is to the Porsche 911 – a stripped down, track-ready rocketship designed to deliver maximum driving thrills. To save weight the rear seats were deleted along with the spare wheel and accompanying toolkit. In addition to this, the Clubsport S also got a much more aggressive suspension setup, a mechanical limited-slip differential and rode atop ultra-sticky 19-inch Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres. Power came from a tuned version of the turbocharged 2.0-litre EA888 motor that muscled out 228kW and 380Nm. Top speed was a claimed 260km/h. Only 400 were made.

The Clubsport S was officially the fastest production front-wheel-drive car around the Nürburgring until the Honda Civic Type R stole its crown in 2017.
The Clubsport S was officially the fastest production front-wheel-drive car around the Nürburgring until the Honda Civic Type R stole its crown in 2017.
Image: VW

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