Then vs. Now: 1984 Volkswagen GTI Vs. 2015 GTI

Daniel Byrne

Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Madonna or Lady Gaga? The first love or the new flame? It’s in our nature to look in the rearview mirror, to measure the brightness of the present against the best of the past. It’s no different with car enthusiasts. For all the areas in which automobiles have improved—safety, performance, efficiency, reliability—they still live in the shadow of the past. The great thing about cars, though, is that we don’t have to rely solely on our memories. We’ll never know how twenty-eight-year-old Michael Jordan would have fared against twenty-eight-year-old LeBron James, but we can find well-kept classic cars—the icons that enthusiasts worship—and pit them against their modern equivalents. That’s just what we did with these seven matchups. It’s throttle cables versus direct injection. AM radios versus infotainment screens. Old-car patina versus new-car smell. So, was it really better then? Come back next Thursday for the next entry in this series.

Younger readers can’t even picture 1983, but trust me: All those Subaru WRXs, Mazda 3s, and Ford Focus STs you take for granted today, those slick-as-grease small cars? They wouldn’t exist without the original Volkswagen GTI.

The 2015 GTI, the seventh-generation version that we’re cranking through the hills of Virginia, would barely recognize its Duran Duran–era self. Sure, the original’s red eyeliner is still there, but now it also involves ambient cabin lighting.

The GTI has settled into its elder-statesman role. It’s no longer an underdog. Rather, it’s the most mature, well-groomed hot hatch, happy to let pups like the Ford Focus ST nip its heels. The 2015 model’s crazy-rich performance, features, technology, and safety show that the GTI is more than just the original hot hatch. The VW was and is an avatar of a cultural and automotive trend: the democratization of luxury.

The Golf-based hustler shoves eighteen-inch wheels to its shapely corners and drives them with a silken 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder making 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With the performance package adding 10 horses, bigger brakes, and an electronic limited-slip diff—plus an optional driver-adjustable magnetic suspension—our Euro-spec GTI did a convincing Golf R impersonation.

The GTI also satisfies whims you’d expect in a $50,000 or $100,000 car. The leather-lined Volkswagen (plaid cloth is available) will launch itself from a stop, peer backward, guide you home, dial calls, swivel headlamps, stream music, and whomp a subwoofer. Soon, it will automatically pace traffic, guard your blind spots, and might even park itself (features haven’t yet been finalized for U.S. cars).

If the new, digital GTI would not recognize its old Rabbit-based self, the feeling is mutual. The boxy progenitor is proudly analog, from its whip antenna to its manual door locks, window cranks, and power-free steering that forces a shoulder workout at low speeds. Handling limits are low, and features are all but nonexistent: 185/60R-14 tires, an eight-valve 1.8-liter engine, rear drum brakes, and a dealer-installed Craig AM/FM stereo. Airbags? Are you some kind of wimp?

Yet—and unsurprisingly to a writer who owned both ’85 and ’88 GTIs—this buzzy, underpowered hatchback still charms. Lugging about 1100 fewer pounds than the 2015 edition, the thirty-year-old GTI still plays the terrier, eager to pass or pester any car in sight. In modern terms, the flesh is weak, but the GTI’s spirit is willing. Some things never change.

1984 Volkswagen GTI2015 Volkswagen GTI
Engine1.8L I-4, 90 hp, 100 lb-ft2.0L turbo I-4, 210 hp, 258 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual6-speed automatic
Curb Weight1950 lb3100 lb
Price$8350 ($18,800 after inflation)$25,215
Value Today:$4000-$6000
I owned an original 84 GTI...sold it with 168K on the clock. It created a new segment in car buying. The car was light and quick.
Christian Schmidt
in this case the new for me.
Ozan Selek
Donovan Openshaw
Love them both but choose the 2015 VW GTI.
Woofer Lamprecht
i had an '83 and loved every minute. i traded it for a '90 Corrado and regretted it the moment i drove that thing off the lot.
Aashutosh Maurya
Vinay Dvg
Old is gold
Benoît Travert Dit Néret
2015 #VW GTI
John Nadar
84 classic is classic
Maximilian von Bayern
Both ;)
Alvin Kitt
Maximilian von Bayern which would you choose lol?
Adrian Lopez
the old one1
MK2 Limited
Alex Rosa
The new GTI looks like the old A3 wagon.....
Vinny Aces
None. For the price point for that Gti loaded with the basics .. I'd rather drive an A3 !!! Better yet just make it an A4 premium package :)
Tyler Sigler
'84. So lithe.
Zoubaier Elouadi
johnwjeromejr .
I had a 1984 GTI and it was a rocket compared with the 76 Corolla I previously owned. It didn't take long before I yearned for even more power.  Reliability also became an issue with the temp gauge running hot all the time and a problem with the exhaust making it louder than sporty.  There was also a problem with excess vibration.  I got scared and dumped it after 10 months.  I haven't driven a newer one but I'm sure they are much more reliable.  My present car is a Speed 3 which I'm very happy with since new to the current 105K miles.
Pedro Peñafiel
Davis Cahuatijo
Golf mk2
Steve Yelich
I really wanted the original back in the day and I'd still take it today. It's so much more pure than the new one.
Brian Clark
>2014 >Not picking the Mk1 really guys?
Francois Vaillancourt
Then !
Christian Houdart
Belle evolution...
Fabrizio López Coppola
2014 gti
Robby Robinson them both
Gregory Easton
Gimme the 1984 GTI & a "Huey Lewis & the News" cassette...
Orin O'Neill
The GTI has become as bloated, heavy and just plain dumb as muscle cars of the 1960s. I'll take the old one, in a heartbeat.
Roy Brewer
'84... No question.
Nic Constantin
Anand Saai Yadhav
!! Breaking News ! Breaking News!Breaking News!!
Butch Willis
The one that has a warranty!
Charlie Dampier
Left. Definitely left.
Pretty weak article. I was awaiting a comparison between how a drive in the 1984 GTI compared to a drive in a 2015 GTI--comparisons on the ride, steering, acceleration, and handling, just like your magazine did in the M3 past and present comparison. This  comparison between past GTI and present GTI never came in your article Lawrence. Pretty disappointing.
I had an 83 and it was just a ball to drive. The little car gave you everything it had. Sure had fun autocrossing it and won a trophy or two. 
Ganesh Pujari
My drive kiyahu super Skoda
Avijeet Mukhoty
395 bhp golf
Andy Jones
Daniel Tarutin
Arun Jathar
I think red because it,s new genaration.
Kenneth Herbert
Can I get a GTI wagon, please? (Or even better yet, an R wagon?)
Craig Stishenko
Nice photo AM.
Muhammad Fahri Fauzani
I was the proud owner of a 85 and I plan on buying a new one. Loved the 85 but really looking forward to the new one.
Mark Schmidt
I want a GTD!!!!!
Scott Schlossberg
'84 with the '15 drivetrain.
Leon Dorsey
Paula Alvarado
the red one
Brian Weiss
Then (w/added rallye headlamps)
Andrew Luptak
Both! But only one? As much as I love classics, it would be the new car.
Tim Kastner
Old one for autocross new one for a daily driver

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