Each car maker, even specific models, has specific designations to differentiate between the various trims and equipment levels for different price points, and different consumer needs. The Volkswagen Golf Mk8, for example, has the first two basic trims called Life and Style, in addition to the more recognized names such as the GTI or the R line. Other cars, such as the latest BMW 3-series (G20), has the Advantage, Sport Line, Luxury Line, and the – pinnacle of the sedan line – M-Sport and M3 models as the base packages for buyers to choose from.
But what if you are looking to buy the latest edition of the eight-generation Golf, is there a trim that is just right for you if you are looking for a great bang for a buck and still a hatchback that can chop cars left and right on the racetrack? Here is a brief explanation of the different trims and their history in the almost 50-year production run of the car model, which was named after an ocean current, the sport, or a horse – later revealed to be the four-legged animal, as it reminded one of VW’s executives of his horse.
GTI: where it all began
Volkswagen conceived the Golf to help the then-struggling manufacturer from what seemed like the brink of collapse. That was due to the fact that the mass-market Beetle’s sales were slowly coming to an end, despite its phenomenal longevity, which resulted in the auto builder bleed cash. The Wolfsburg-based manufacturer had to come up with something that would cause a stir in the media and among the masses to save the Volkswagen name from being relevant only in the archives of museums and on lists of car collectors.
The solution was the Golf, which arrived on the scene in 1974 when the manufacturer began the production of the Mk1 in several sites across the globe. Secretly, though, the idea of a sportier Golf, with a limited production run, was being talked about in the corridors at Wolfsburg. What started as an unofficial design, firstly, became a prototype with a carburetor engine with 100 PS (73 kW) and evolved into an official project designated as development order EA195, with a more powerful (110 PS; 81 kW) engine for the final production run.
At first, the Mk1 Grand Tourer Injection (GTI) was set for only 5,000 units when it made its debut in June 1976. However, an overwhelming demand surprised Volkswagen’s executives. The car, which had “a top speed of 182 km/h and black wheel arch extensions, a black frame around the rear window, red edge around the radiator grille, tartan sports seats, the golf ball gear knob and a sports steering wheel with a special design feature,” as described by Volkswagen, almost crossed the half-a-million mark with 461,690 sold units. Ever since, the GTI was part of the Golf, including the newest iteration of the hatchback, the Mk8.
However, the Mk7 introduced a next-level GTI: the Clubsport, which went a step further with the GTI Clubsport S, and another version, namely the GTI TCR. Compared to the regular GTI, all three iterations of the high-performance Golf model introduced special looks and more power, just shy below the output of the Golf R.
Diesel performance: the GTD
Several years after the GTI’s debut, the Grand Tourismo Diesel (GTD) saw daylight for the first time in 1982, when Volkswagen brought it to the Geneva Motor Show. Following a very turbulent period for the global economy due to ever-increasing fuel prices throughout the 1970s, the company looked to introduce a more economical solution compared to the GTI. But they also sought performance and something that would still offer its drivers the ability to have some fun on the road.
The diesel-based performance model of the Mk1 Golf was the solution. Equipped with a 1.6-liter diesel engine with a turbocharger, the GTD had a maximum power output of 70 PS (51 kW) at 4,500 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM). Unfortunately for the GTD brand name, following the debut, it went on a sabbatical for a few generations of the Golf. While consumers could still opt for the turbodiesel engine that we all now know and love, the GTD letters at the back of the Golf would only reappear with the sixth-generation hatchback. The Mk5 GT, for example, was available as a 1.4-liter petrol, 2.0-liter turbodiesel, or a 2.0-liter direct-injection petrol powerplant.
With the Mk7 and Mk8 Golfs, the power of the GTD only increased, and with the latest iteration of the hot hatch, the maximum power output stands at 200 PS (147 kW).
GTE: electrifying performance
The I and D in the GTI and GTD, which stand for Injection and Diesel, respectively, should hint at what the E stands for in the GTE. The plug-in hybrid model joined the Golf lineup with the seventh generation, as the development costs were shared with the Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron and the Passat GTE, with the three models having identical hybrid powertrains.
Similar in looks to the GTI model, the electric Golf instead of red had blue highlights throughout, a design hint that would mark the model’s efficiency, reduced emissions, and uniqueness in the Golf lineup. Following a successful debut with the Mk7, the GTE returned for the second generation in a row, combining “the performance level of the Golf GTI with the efficiency of a hybrid,” according to the manufacturer. Interestingly enough, the GTE was so much in demand that according to the Wolfsburg-based car marker, “by the end of the year one in three Golfs was a hybrid,” which included the eTSI and eHybrid models. Compared to the two, the GTE has significantly more power, peaking at 245 PS (180 kW).
There is little doubt, considering the ever-stringent requirements for manufacturers to reduce their emissions, that the GTE version will return with the next generation of the Golf.
R: the quickest of the bunch
What initially began as the R32, with the Mk4, has now evolved into the R: the fastest of all of the Golfs that are currently made. Initially, Volkswagen introduced the R32 in 2002, beginning the sales of the model the following year, with the world’s first mass-produced dual-clutch gearbox that Volkswagen owners loved to hate – and hated to love – and a VR6 engine that was also found in the Audi TT.
While the VR6 engine was also available in the previous generation, namely the Mk3 GTI/VR6 Edition and the Driver's Edition GTI VR6 (North America-only), the manufacturer added a four-wheel drive system called 4MOTION, which was identical to the quattro or the 4x4 systems used on Audi and Škoda, respectively. The R32 name would return for the Mk5, yet the next generation be simply designated as the R, also dropping the VR6 engine and opting for an inline-four 270 PS (199 kW) powertrain at the front of the Mk6 Golf. Returning for the two following generations, the R became the range-topping model of the Golf lineup, as it was the most powerful and the most well-equipped model of the range, which has included redesigned engines, the 4MOTION four-wheel drive system, and a different look compared to its lower-floor neighbor, the GTI.
If you have a regular Golf but would like to experience at least some of the feel and look of the GTI or the R, you can use OBDeleven’s pre-made programming functions called One-Click Apps to change your Virtual Cockpit Theme. One-Click Apps for the Golf Mk7, for example, also offer the chance to increase the responsiveness of your throttle pedal, possibly even the engine, depending on the power plant that was put in at the factory.