Golf GTI Edition 35 vs Mk1

We pit the latest VW Golf GTI against the original 1978 Mk 1 in this exclusive test drive

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The current Golf GTI is one of the best yet, thanks to its blend of accurate handling and eye-catching looks. With a more powerful engine lifted from the Golf R, the Edition 35 makes for a fitting tribute to the 1976 original. But while that car was famed for offering performance at a price that undercut rivals, the Edition 35 is one of the most expensive hot hatches on the road. And this is the only area that’s not in the original spirit of the GTI.

It’s now 35 years since VW’s Golf GTI was introduced – and, in that time, it’s accumulated one of the most fiercely loyal followings of any model, won countless international awards and racked up nearly two million sales worldwide. That sort of reputation means each GTI needs to be special – and this new Edition 35 is no different. It’s been fitted with a detuned version of the Golf R’s 2.0-litre engine – rather than an uprated version of the 2.0-litre unit in the GTI – for an extra 25bhp and a total of 232bhp.

But how does it compare with the original? We brought the two together to find out how the Golf GTI has changed over its lifespan. To our eyes, the newcomer is one of the most handsome GTIs yet. The subtly redesigned front bumper, unique alloy wheels and gloss black door mirrors are all new to the 35, and it’s an aggressive but classy look that works incredibly well.

Yet the Giugiaro-designed MkI looks as fresh as ever too. The boxy shape is iconic, and the 13-inch steel wheels are a remnant of an era when big performance didn’t mean big alloys. Despite the huge age gap, there are similarities between the two. Both have grilles with red detailing, display GTI badges proudly on their noses and ride lower than their standard counterparts. The similarities continue inside, as the three-spoke steering wheel and tartan seats are carried over on the 35. The new model also gets a golf-ball gearlever, plus 35 badges on the seats and door sills.

Out on the road, the Edition 35 feels every bit the GTI. The extra 25bhp cuts the 0-62mph time to 6.6 seconds – three-tenths up on the standard car – and it packs a punch at low or high revs.

To get the best out of the MkI’s 110bhp 1.6-litre engine, you need to explore the upper limits of the rev range. The original GTI’s 137Nm of torque arrives at 5,000rpm – that’s compared to 300Nm at 2,200rpm in the Edition 35.

However, the MkI tips the scales at only 810kg, which allows it to feel energetic on the move and respond keenly to every prod of the throttle. Going from 0-62mph takes a mere 9.1 seconds. In corners, the sharp steering and taut body control allow the Edition 35 to dart into bends at speeds the Seventies car can only dream of.

But that doesn’t limit the original’s ability to put a smile on your face. While it will never match the pace, usability and refinement of the Edition 35 GTI, it delivers driving thrills today just as well as it did in 1976.

At that time, it ultimately proved to be such a success because it offered affordable performance for everyone. The Edition 35 certainly sticks closely to the GTI rulebook, but with prices expected to start from around £27,000, it’s not what you’d call a bargain.

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