Celebrating 50 Years of the Volkswagen Golf: A Tribute to a Timeless Icon

Celebrating 50 Years of the Volkswagen Golf: A Tribute to a Timeless Icon

Ng Chin Hui
31 May 2024
The Mk 8 GTI is a car that is greater than the sum of its parts; it’s a proper piece of engineering and a fitting tribute to 50 years of automotive excellence.

In 2024, we celebrate a milestone that has shaped the automotive landscape for half a century: the 50th anniversary of the iconic Volkswagen Golf. Originally conceptualised in 1974 as a humble people carrier, the Golf has cemented its status as a global automotive icon, capturing the hearts and minds of drivers worldwide with its blend of practicality, innovation, and sheer driving pleasure.

The story of the Golf began at a time when compact cars were often seen as basic transportation, lacking in style and excitement. Volkswagen set out to change that narrative with a revolutionary concept: a compact car that was not only practical but also fun to drive. The result was the Volkswagen Golf, a car that would redefine the segment and set new standards for years to come. Today, we pay tribute to a car that is affectionately known to enthusiasts as the quintessential hot hatch.

The Golf GTI: A Hot Hatch Revolution:

In 1976, Volkswagen introduced a variant of the Golf that would become legendary in its own right: the Golf GTI. Born out of a desire to inject excitement into everyday driving, the GTI combined sporty styling with a potent, fuel injection engine, agile handling, and a top speed of 182 km/h. It was the birth of the hot hatch segment, and the GTI quickly became a symbol of driving enthusiasts' passion for performance and practicality.

Which Generation Is Best?

If the team (or any petrolhead) had to pick a favourite of all eight generations, it would undoubtedly be the fifth, or otherwise widely referred to as the Mk 5, which was launched in 2004. It marked a significant milestone in the GTI's history and revived the essence of the original GTI while incorporating modern advancements in technology and performance. For many Singaporeans, the Mk 5 was the car that paved the way for consumers to embrace the concept of a hot hatch—broadly capable, classy, and rewarding to drive.

How Does the Mk 5 Golf GTI Drive and Is It Still Relevant?

The Mk 5 GTI was powered by a 2.0-litre, EA113 turbocharged engine that produces 197 bhp, and gets to 100 km/h in about 7-odd seconds. The engine is very torquey from low-down, and punches linearly through the mid-range—all of which makes it very handy in town. The well-weighted steering rack, while technically electric-powered, feels analogue and hydraulic, relaxed, yet sharp. It is very communicative and confidence inspiring, and you will feel on top of the attitude and balance of the car very quickly. The Mk 5 takes corners with plenty of poise, grip, and suppleness at the same time, which makes it a very alert and rewarding performance car to drive. In today’s context, the Mk 5 is still considered a relatively quick and reliable car to own. Forgive the ageing infotainment system (or lack of), and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell that it is nearly two decades old. Simply a brilliant car.

Tall Order—How Does the Eighth Generation GTI Stack Up?

The Mk 8 GTI was launched here sometime in 2021, and till today, is not a common sight on our roads—no thanks to the high COE prices. The Mk 8 utilises an evolved version of the Mk 5’s engine, dubbed the EA888, which was initially introduced in the Mk 6, and later put into the Mk 7, as well as the Golf R and base Porsche Macan–testament to its dependability. It offers an additional 45 bhp, so it does pull harder, but not by much due to the increase in overall weight of the vehicle. While it may not feel as torquey as the Mk 5 at the low end, there is plenty of energy in the mid and upper reaches of this engine. It is smooth, and very usable across various applications.

The engineers at Volkswagen have also worked their magic on the soundtrack of the Mk 8, which is now louder and bassier. Not sure how much of that is pumped into the cabin via its Harmon Kardon sound system, though.

How does the Mk 8 GTI Handle?

The Mk 8 GTI now comes with electronically-controlled limited slip differential and Dynamic Chassis Control suspension (“DCC”) as standard, which is not something you would find in the Mk 5 (and many consumer cars). This setup worked incredibly well with the dual-clutch gearbox it is paired with, and the car is capable of putting the power down very effectively during hard cornering, clinging onto the tarmac no matter how hard you try to fling it. The steering rack is quick and sharp, but lacks a bit of that tactile “feel” you’d get from the Mk 5; not that we’re complaining though.

That being said, the car’s stability and handling prowess comes with a trade-off in comfort. The average driver may find it a tad too taut even in comfort mode (the softest setting available), especially over undulating roads.

A Fitting Tribute to the Golf’s 50th Birthday?

The Mk 8 GTI is a car that is greater than the sum of its parts; it’s a proper piece of engineering and a fitting tribute to 50 years of automotive excellence. It’s faster and sharper in every way, and so lovely to drive. It’s got the sensibility of a battle-hardened war veteran, and the athletic ability and zest of a teenage sprinter.

It seamlessly combines heritage with innovation, offering enthusiasts a driving experience that is unmatched in its class. While the Mk 5 GTI holds a special place in the hearts of many enthusiasts, the Mk 8 GTI builds upon that same legacy, setting new standards for what a hot hatch can and should be in this day and age. With its timeless design, exhilarating performance, and everyday usability, the Mk8 GTI continues to uphold the legacy of the iconic Golf lineup and remains a symbol of driving passion for generations to come.

Looking Ahead:

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Volkswagen Golf, we look not only to the past but also to the future. The Golf continues to innovate and inspire, embracing electric mobility with models such as the ID.3 and ID.4 whilst staying true to its roots of practicality, performance, and timeless design.

Here's to 50 years of driving excellence, innovation, and unforgettable journeys. Happy anniversary, Volkswagen Golf!

Photos by Ng Chin Hui, James Wong

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