Face to face with 8 generations of the Volkswagen Golf GTI


The VW Golf GTI has been a cult car from the get-go — and today it's considered the quintessential hot hatch with a grand heritage to boot. That said, we look back at the previous generations of the Golf GTI from Volkswagen and the faces it’s donned over the years.

Golf GTI Mk 1


Introduced in Europe in 1976, the first GTI had a bold and confident face. It had a front grille with a red border and offered a simple and straightforward design.

“Even with the original GTI, all the design elements already reflect a clear attitude,” said new Golf GTI Head of Exterior Design Marco Pavone.

The first Golf GTI had 11 thin horizontal lines inside of the black radiator grille. They are paired with headlights protruding from under the hood. The early GTI can be identified by the narrow bumper adorned with the chrome GTI emblem and a black VW logo.

Golf GTI Mk 2


The face of the second-generation Golf GTI still maintained the red outline on the grille and on the bumper. However, it was given a more robust look, thanks to the addition of the foglights and the additional air intakes. The Volkswagen logo remained black.

“The design of the second-generation Golf GTI is a fascinating development,” says Pavone.

Golf GTI Mk 3


It did lose some of its ruggedness come the third generation as it was given a softer look because of its face’s wedge shape.

“This backs up the sporty character of the Golf GTI,” Pavone explains.

The double headlamps of the second-generation Golf GTI were removed in favor of a combined diffuser lens. This modification now gives the radiator grille a narrow appearance. Other changes to the Golf GTI’s front fascia are the red line below the halogen lighting unit, a red GTI emblem, and a chrome VW logo.

Golf GTI Mk 4


“Launched in 1998, the Golf 4 GTI has a more modest appearance. For example, it is the first and only GTI not to sport the red stripe on the radiator grille. And yet the model is celebrated to this day as the starting point for a new, clean era of vehicle design. It also set new benchmarks in terms of individuality, quality, and speed,” said Pavone.

In addition to the clean looks, the GTI logo has been shifted from right to left. The front and rear aprons, side sills, and roof-edge spoilers were also painted the same color as the car.

Golf GTI Mk 5


Pavone said that the design of the fifth-generation Golf GTI was self-contained and took inspiration from the first model. Once again, the GTI was given the red trim treatment around the radiator grille. It also featured a honeycomb design. According to Pavone, “even today, it is still hard to imagine a GTI without it!”

And just like its ancestor, the fifth-generation GTI had round twin headlights, the foglights are also located low down in the front apron.

Golf GTI Mk 6


The sixth-generation Golf GTI takes a step into the future, design-wise, of course. Its face featured two fine red trim lines that run across the grille and link the bi-xenon headlamps. It had a spoiler adorned with striking air intakes with three sharp fins on each side paired with low-lying vertical foglights.

“That gives the Golf six GTI the most powerful, modern, and angular appearance to date,” explains Pavone.

Golf GTI Mk 7


“This was the first GTI on which I was allowed to let my creative juices flow as a designer,” says Pavone. “For me, it remains the very best, with an iconic quality — no GTI had ever been as stylish.”

The seventh-generation GTI had a red line that ran confidently into the slim, full-LED headlights. Its bonnet arches right down to the honeycomb grille while sharp lines outline the headlights up to the A-pillar. Furthermore, the DRLs now feature a “wings” design, also adorned with red trim.

Golf GTI Mk 8


“This Golf GTI has become an icon of the modern era and bears the unmistakable design DNA of its predecessors. However, it embodies these attributes in a more progressive and digital manner than ever before, with a particularly powerful and dynamic stance,” commented Pavone.

The deep-set headlights set the eighth-generation Golf GTI apart from the group. The familiar red trim can be found below the bonnet. Below is the wide honeycomb grille where the X-shaped LEG foglights are integrated.

Photos from Volkswagen

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