A long history means some interesting decisions.
The Volkswagen Golf is now 46 years old, meaning product planners, engineers, and marketing departments have had almost half a century to get creative with it. Mostly, that's been a good thing, particularly when it comes to making the little hatchback stinkingly fast. There's also been a couple of unusual models in the Volkswagen Golf's history. So, not only are we going to include the fastest models in this list, but also the ones that leave us scratching our heads.
When it was released in 1975, the Volkswagen Golf GTI caused a sensation that led to the rise of the hot hatch in Europe. It was a landmark car, and delighted people with its blend of power, light and lively chassis, and practical body style. However, the MK2 GTI was criticized for gaining weight and losing some of its vigor. Volkswagen listened, and in 1986 the automaker unleashed the GTI with a high revving 16 valve engine that also made more power than the 8-valve lump. The bump in power was from 111 to 138 horsepower and turned the MKII into one of the rawest and most fun GTIs ever produced.
The MK2 Golf had a few homologation specials to its name, but the Golf Rallye G60 is something special. The rectangular headlights, flared wheel arches, and unique bumpers define the look, while the engine is defined by Volkswagen's G-Lader supercharger system. The G-Lader system worked on fine tolerances and didn't have the low-maintenance reliability Volkswagen wanted for production cars. What it did do, though, was help the engine make 159 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque in 1989.
In the late 1980s, the Lancia Delta was dominating rallying with its all-wheel-drive cars, so Volkswagen's attempt to compete resulted in the Syncro all-wheel-drive system.
As the 1980s ended, the crossover craze started, and Volkswagen dipped a toe in the water by taking the MK2 model and giving it a suspension lift, adding all-wheel-drive, hanging a spare tire on the back, and calling it the Golf Country. It looks like it was built in a garage by a misguided enthusiast, but it came from the factory. Later on, the proto-crossover approach was used on the Audi A6, but, in that case, it created the enduring Audi Allroad.
They pop up every now and then for auction, like this one on Classic Driver, and some have even made it the US under the 25-year import rule.
The MKIII Golf isn't generally the enthusiast's favorite, and it spawned one of the weirdest special editions Volkswagon has marketed yet. The Golf Harlequin is something nobody asked for, few understood and made no sense as a concept. Its roots are founded in an old Volkswagen Beetle advert that showed the car with all different color panels to highlight the fact that all the parts are interchangeable. It was an early example of turning a flaw into a feature, but that's not something that applies to the Golf.
Still, 1,000 were scheduled to be made by building separate Chagall Blue, Ginster Yellow, Pistachio Green, and Tornado Red Golfs, then swapping the body panels at the end of production. It was weirdly popular, and over 3,000 were eventually made.
The Golf R32 is an example of what can happen when you leave engineers with intense stares to get on with their job without the bean counters or marketers looking over their shoulders. The idea was to design the perfect Golf, and the engineers didn't care that the public and critics didn't trust paddle-shift transmissions yet. As a result, the DSG transmission was paired with a 237-hp 3.2-liter VR6 engine, a Haldex all-wheel-drive system, and the fifth-generation chassis to create one of the crispest driving Golfs to this day.
It's also one of, if not the, best looking Golfs to date and featured 18-inch OZ Aristo wheels and König sports seats to polish off the package.
The Golf GTI W12-650 is what happens when you hand development over to the more wild-eyed characters in the engineering department and give them keys to the Volkswagen Group brand's parts bins on your way out. The team headed straight for the twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 built by Bentley, tore the back seats out of a Golf GTI, and put the engine there instead. Then the engineers found the front brakes from an Audi RS4 and rear axle and brakes from a Lamborghini Gallardo. The transmission came from a Volkswagen Phaeton.
The project came together in just eight weeks, and the car actually ran. When finished, the one-off concept Golf GTI W12-650 made 650 horsepower and 554 lb-ft of torque, making it the wildest Golf to come out of a Volkswagen facility.
Before the Civic Type R showed up at the Nurburgring, the Golf GTI Clubsport S held the production front-wheel-drive record with a time of 7:50.63. It's an exclusive road-legal and hardcore track edition of the Golf that can keep in touch with the 997 Porsche 911 GT3 RS on the hallowed german ground.
The four-cylinder turbo engine is tweaked to make 306 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, but its chassis is the key to its performance. It has an aggressive new suspension setup, a mechanical limited-slip differential, and rides on the stickiest of 19-inch Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires. The rear seats, spare wheel, and emergency toolkit are stripped out to save weight, but it's still useable as a daily driver if you can find one of the 400 made.
For the longest time, Americans knew the Volkswagen Golf as the Rabbit. Since the German automaker switched the name to Golf in North America, Volkswagen has carefully guarded the little rabbit insignia. That small badge on a modern Golf was limited to just 3,000 models. As special editions go, this is quite a subtle one and also includes Rabbit-motif floor mats and the seats upholstered with the distinctive Rabbit plaid. Also exclusive to the Rabbit Edition GTI is a gloss black hatch spoiler, gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels, and LED lighting, but it's all about those badges for the enthusiast.