2021 VW Golf GTI Clubsport 45 vs '83 Mk1 Golf GTI – how have fast Golfs changed?
Pitting the latest and greatest against the original Mk1
You're probably well used to Volkswagen bringing out special editions of the Golf GTI every five years – each named after how many times the Earth's orbited the sun since the Mk1 GTI first rolled out of Wolfsburg in 1976.
Now we're in 2021, it's the turn of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 to take its turn on the gilded podium of modernity – it's the most hardcore version of the Mk8 Golf GTI, and it gets some stickers and an Akrapovic exhaust. The Mk1 Golf GTI has neither of those.
Watch the video below to see how the two distant relatives compare – or read on for more thoughts on this father vs teenage son battle.
What are they?
The '45' takes a regular GTI Clubsport and adds different stickers down the sides and an Akrapovic exhaust
The Mk8 Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is a £40,000, 300hp, 400Nm, 166mph family hatchback with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that's good for a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds.
This is one of the last Mk1 GTIs made – it's from 1983
The Mk1 Golf GTI (I guess it wasn't really called the Mk1…) was a £22,000 (adjusted for capitalism), 112hp, 147Nm, 114mph family hatchback with a 1.8-litre petrol engine, good for a still impressive 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds. Yes, I know they weren't all 1.8s, but the one I drove was, so ner.
What do they feel like inside?
Look at this then scroll down a bit…
The Clubsport 45 feels utterly modern, in all the best and worst ways. It has a luxurious cabin of suede and leather, lovely bucket seats that hug you in all the right places, a digital dashboard packed with info and an infotainment system designed by Pol Pot's in-house user experience team.
… which interior do you really prefer? Tell us in the comments. Dimpled gearknob just visible next to my rucksack…
The Mk1 feels spacious, airy and puts a smile on your face the second you slip into its barely-bolstered driving chair. The bodywork feels as if it ends at the height of your genitals, leaving everything above on public view through the huge glass windows. The rear window is especially ginormous, leaving you completely free of the need for parking sensors. It makes the Mk8 Golf feel as open as a North Korean AA meeting. Oh, and it has a tape deck, and various sliders and buttons to control the flow of air. You don't even have to wait 30 seconds for the car's software to boot up before you can de-mist the windows. Progress indeed.
What're they like to drive?
Big wing, big pipes, big rims
Let's start with the crass topic of speed. The surprise is that the Mk1's 112hp feels actually quite potent still, and although the engine's slow to rev by modern standards, you get to 60mph reasonably quickly through the long-throw five-speed box. It's a joy to accelerate hard in, and you can get some childish chirps from the front tyres out of junctions. The reason it feels brisk is that it only weighs 860kg. That's a whole quarter of a tonne less than the modern Alpine A110.
Despite the Mk1 feeling light on its feet and reasonably quick, the Mk8 GTI Clubsport 45 feels as if it's re-entering the earth's atmosphere with its arse on fire. It's sodding quick by any modern hot-hatch yardstick, helped by the coked-up ferocity of the gear changes from the automatic gearbox. It's fast enough that you'll swear out loud from time to time.
What about the handling?
There's a joy to trundling along a 60mph country road in the Mk1 GTI that you just don't get in modern cars. Part of it stems from that feeling of involvement that old cars give you – the great view out, can't-be-rushed gearbox and someone-forgot-to-connect-the-pedal brakes all combine to give a driving experience that's still utterly joyful in 2021.
The handling is, it's fair to say, a bit unconvincing by modern standards. It wallows over bumps and struggles to control its little body weight, showing just how far suspension's developed since 1983. And the steering rack is slow and you have no power steering, so you have to think about what you're doing – which is nice. Especially when it comes to slowing down – you're best off braking a good few countries before your next corner. I'm sure you can probably get it to slide about, but I wasn't about to crumple Volkswagen UK's treasured low-mile Mk1 by clipping a rogue pile of dung.
Look at the Ps in the wheel design. So cool. If your Dad came home with one of these in 1983 you'd feel so happy
That couldn't be said of my behaviour in the Mk8 GTI Clubsport 45. With dynamic dampers, an electrically controlled mechanical differential between the front wheels and modern tyres, it can tear apart a country road like a dog with your mum's favourite cushion. The driving mode selector changes the behaviour of everything – including the diff. So when you put the car in the 'Special > Nurburgring' driving mode, you're left in a laptime-chasing hardcore hot hatch with a fairly punishing ride, but so much grip and such a great connection to the road that you're left breathless by the end of a 10-minute blast.
Yet the modern car isn't all serious – you can slacken off the stability control and caveman it into corners with the tail wagging loose like a broken mechanical dog. It's fun.
Do they feel at all similar?
Both fantastic cars, both Golfs, both… very different
No, not really. In the past 45 years we've seen car design, build quality, engineering and everything else automotive leap on hundreds of generations – so the two GTIs feel completely different.
If there's a common thread between them, it's that they're both seriously fun cars to drive – something that suggests Volkswagen really *did* nail the hot hatch recipe when it introduced the concept to the world back in the seventies.
Either way, if you have a Mk1 Golf GTI or a Mk8 GTI Clubsport 45, you're a very lucky person.