When the first-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI appeared around 40 years ago, the world took notice of the hot hatch and its main attraction – practical performance for the masses. The Mk1 Golf GTI became an icon, with many carmakers attempting to follow in its mass-market success.

In this video, Ben Collins, formerly known as Top Gear’s The Stig, drives each generation of the Golf GTI – minus the Mk6 – to track the evolution of the well-known car. It is a welcome trip down memory lane, regardless of how old you are when you first saw a Golf GTI.

According to Collins, the first two generations set the benchmark, which all other hot hatches attempted to beat. Lightweight, with plenty of performance that will put a sports car to shame, all wrapped in car that still has enough space to carry things.

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Subsequent models like the Mk3 and Mk4 saw the addition of more equipment to inject a bit of luxury into the hot hatch, but didn’t quite capture the essence of its predecessors. It may have more power than before, but the additional weight and size did dampen the fun a little. A diesel option was even introduced to the Mk4 GTI range at the time (known as the GTD).

The Mk5 reinvigorated the GTI, delivering impressive performance with a powerful new turbocharged engine and revised chassis, a massive leap forward for the nameplate. The Mk6 came along soon after, bringing improved aerodynamics and even more power.

Finally, we arrive at the current Golf GTI, the Mk7, which Collins describes the car’s performance as “off the chart.” He added that the Mk7 is the closest to the Mk1 in terms of power-to-weight ratio of the entire GTI range. In the end however, which generation of the Golf GTI appeals to you most?