Think hot hatch and you’re almost certainly going to think of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
It may not have been the first of its kind, but it was the one that brought performance and practicality to the mainstream when it was introduced back in 1976.
Since then, it’s crafted a legacy of some incredible — and a few not quite so great — pieces of machinery.
We rank each VW Golf GTI from worst to best.
Golf GTI MkIV (1997-2004)
The Mk4 Golf GTI is one of the most maligned cars in history – and for good reason. It besmirched an already iconic name, and while it was the most convincing GTI yet as a daily driver, it was by far the worst for blasting down a back road by virtue of increased weight, low power, and minimal thrills.
Volkswagen’s reluctance to make the Mk4 a truly ‘hot’ hatchback led to a car that was a little bloated, lifeless, and downright dull.
Golf GTI MkIII (1992-1997)
The Golf GTI bloodline took a bit of a dip following the Mk2, with the Mk3 failing to capture the essence of the well-loved hot hatch.
Although it gained more power thanks to a larger 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it took on a lot more weight and, as a result, was actually slower than its predecessor. To many at the time, it seemed like a disappointment and one not worthy of carrying the legendary GTI nameplate.
Golf GTI MkVI (2009-2012)
The Mk6 GTI built on the successful formula of the Mk5, but the limited range of a cursory facelift meant that it was looking dated and tired alongside contemporary rivals.
A mere 10bhp power boost and minor tweaks to the suspension meant that slightly more unhinged rivals, such as the Ford Focus ST, were able to steal the thunder.
Golf GTI MkV (2004-2008)
It was a return to form for the Golf GTI with the Mk5. Its credentials as a performance car were revived thanks to a turbocharger, and it continued to be an everyday usable machine.
It looked the part, too. The Mk4 was arguably too understated for a GTI but this was rectified with the return of the red-trimmed grille and the introduction of striking alloy wheels. Some enthusiasts still felt there was more to be done by VW to create another truly great Golf GTI, but it was without a doubt a step in the right direction.
Golf GTI MkVII (2012-2016)
After the mildly disappointing Mk6, Volkswagen turned up the volume dial with the Mk7. This was a car on an all-new platform, with updated engines and a raft of extra technology to make it the most luxurious hot hatchback on the market.
With engine power upgraded to 217bhp, the car was faster than ever, too.
Golf GTI MkII (1983-1992)
The Mk2 Golf GTI had some seriously big shoes to fill. The original was a huge success right off the bat, bringing the first real affordable performance hatch to the masses — and its successor managed just that.
Despite growing a little in size, it managed to retain the formula of the original machine and brought even more performance to the table.
Golf GTI MkI (1976-1983)
The original Golf GTI is a true icon, and its prices on the classic market reflect that. Make no mistake, this a car with values heading in the same direction as the Mk1 Ford Escort.
It still holds up even by today’s standards, though. A compact and super light weight body, coupled with a perky 112bhp engine mean that the GTI’s performance is thoroughly modern, capable of 0-60mph in just over 8 seconds.
Its iconic styling endures through the ages, too – with tartan seats, a golf ball gear knob and red detailing are a feature on just about every GTI.
Golf GTI MkVII.5 (2017-Present)
The latest incarnation of the Golf GTI is the best yet. It combines everything VW has learned over four decades of the GTI and the end product is the most powerful, most exciting and most usable of all the generations.
Though there are numerous special editions, including hardcore Clubsport models, the vanilla GTI – as well as Performance Pack equipped models – are still fantastic cars.
So do all you VW Golf GTI fans agree with our rankings? Let us know in the comments below!