Autoglym – The Top 10 Performance VWs
There’s a famous story about VW’s origins, one which makes its post-war rise to supremacy, to the point where it’s now one of the largest and most successful car makers on the face of the planet, all the more remarkable. The story goes that the company, in the process of being saved almost single headedly by war-time British Army Major Ivan Hirst at the time, was offered to the French, American, Australian and British motor industries, all of whom rejected it. Lord Rootes even went so far as to claim it would fail within 2 years, describing the Beetle as ‘unattractive to the average motorcar buyer, too ugly and too noisy.’ Not a smart move, that one…
1) Mk1 Golf GTI
VW didn’t create the hot hatch with the Mk1 Golf GTI (that honour goes to the Alfa Romeo Alfasud or perhaps the Vauxhall Chevette HS), but it certainly built one of the very best, and the car has since gone onto be a fully paid up automotive icon, easily one of the most significant in the company’s history. The recipe seems so straightforward so as to be blindingly obvious with hindsight, yet for the time, the mid ‘70s, the Mk1 GTI was nothing short of revolutionary; well priced, reliable and powerful, it made millions walk straight past the likes of the MGB and other traditional sports cars, directly to their local VW dealer.
2) Mk2 Golf GTI
Pity the Mk2 Golf GTI and the designers tasked with bringing it to market, would you really want to follow the Mk1, the most important performance car of the 1970s? That VW succeeded says a great deal about its skills and ability to pinpoint precisely what customers want, and it meant that the Mk2 carried on right where the Mk1 left off. The Mk2 was eventually available in both 8 and 16v guise, and with both small and big bumper variants, ensuring a rabid following that continues to this day. A big bumper Mk2 16v in Oak Green remains one of the most sought after of all Golfs.
3) VW Polo G40
The car which enabled the Polo to step out from the shadow cast by its more overtly performance-focused bigger brother? Quite possibly! VW’s decision to fit the 1.3 Polo GT with a twin-spiral supercharger effectively gave the baby hatch a new lease of life, allowing it to face off against the likes of the Peugeot 205 GTi, Fiesta XR2 and Uno Turbo, its 113bhp output being a highly respectable figure in the late ‘80s. It was always a restrained looking car, one which mumbled its performance credentials rather than bellowed them, but that just added to the appeal.
4) VW Lupo GTI
When it sets its mind to the task at hand VW really can give the French and the Italians (the undisputed masters of the small, modestly powerful hot hatch game) a run for their money, and the Lupo GTI is a case in point. It was well built, well styled and came with a well-appointed interior (so far, so regular Lupo), yet added a perky, 125bhp 1.6 from the Polo GTI, an addition that made it genuinely hilarious to drive on the ragged edge. It says a great deal that values have long been on the rise, and finding a decently priced, well cared for Lupo GTI is no easy task nowadays.
5) Mk5 Golf R32
Created for those buyers seeking something a little more potent than a ‘regular’ GTI, the Golf R32 was originally based upon the fourth generation Golf, yet it was the Mk5 that really showed how stunning a package it could be. It retained the 3.2 V6 and four-wheel drive of the earlier car, yet added improved build quality and handling, all of which added up to a package that was very hard to beat, both in terms of sales and out and out performance. Our advice? Grab one now while you still can!
6) VW Phaeton
The Phaeton was VW’s attempt to face-off against the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes by producing an opulent and wonderfully engineered executive saloon. In the latter it was a clear case of mission accomplished; the Phaeton was stunning to drive and stuffed with clever thinking, not forgetting the range topping V10 and W12 versions, both belting engines capable of effortless performance. The only problem was something VW itself couldn’t do anything about – its badge. There proved to be very few people willing to invest so much money into a big, German saloon without a BMW, Audi or Mercedes badge, and the Phaeton was killed in 2016.
7) Mk7 Golf GTI Clubsport S
Make no mistake, we’ve never had it so good when it comes to hot hatches, and VW’s latest offering, the focussed GTI Clubsport, is among the very best money can currently buy. The really big news concerns the rear seat, or rather the complete lack of one, VW having opted to make the Clubsport S faster by putting it on the mother of crash diets, shedding a full 30kg when compared to the Clubsport. The 400 cars produced also get bespoke damper tuning, revised suspension arms, increased camber and an aluminium sub frame, not forgetting an aero kit and the small matter of a 306bhp EA888 engine, an addition that makes it the fastest front-wheel drive Golf ever.
8) VW W12 Synchro/Roadster/Nardo
The ultimate example of VW’s willingness to challenge preconceptions about its brand at the tail end of the 20th century, the W12 was a concept car that led to a number of different iterations, all of them powered by, you guess it, a W12 engine. The pretty car wasn’t merely a statement of intent for VW, it proved an important testing ground for the W12 motor and therefore played a significant role in the development of the Phaeton, Touareg and Bentley Continental GT.
9) VW Corrado VR6
The passage of time has served to dull the Corrado’s visual impact, so much so that it’s hard to grasp just how out-there looking this car was when launched upon an unsuspecting public back in 1988! That it has gone onto be a fully paid up cult classic isn’t so surprising then, but its performance potential most certainly is, particularly if the car in question makes use of VW’s innovative VR6 engine. Not only did this trick motor have the potential to propel the wedge-shaped coupe all the way to 146mph (with a 0-60 of just 6.4 seconds), it sounded spellbinding at high revs.
10) VW Up! GTI
The newest car on the list, and one that proves VW still knows a thing or two about keen handling, peppy engines and characterful hot hatches, the Up! GTI is nothing less than a modern day take on the Mk1 Golf GTI, and that’s high praise indeed. The Up! GTI will be on sale in 2018 and details are still a little murky, though we do know from road tests that it will be pulled along by a boosted 1.0 three-pot good for 113bhp and 170lb/ft. of torque, and that, according to said reviews, it is an utter hoot to drive. Factor in the neat styling and affordable asking price (rumoured to be approximately £14,000), and it becomes clear that the Up! GTI is all but certain to be a future classic.