Welcome to Old School vs New School, the series were we pick out the cars from the good old days, and pair them with their spiritual successors. Last week we pitted the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R against the R35 GT-R. This week it’s the battle of Ze Germans, as the MK3 VW Golf VR6 takes on the Mk7 VW Golf R…

Cast your mind back to the modifying scene of the late-1980s and the go-go nineties. Was it all TSW Venoms, asymmetric Delta bodykits and badly smoothed tailgates with number plates cabletied back on to please the rozzers? It’s easy to be cynical, but the bare bones of what we used to do in those days were pretty similar to what we’re up to today.

Sure, back then it was all about outrageous bodykits, big rims, neon lights, and massive audio installs… but doesn’t that sound familiar? Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, there are some things that were massively popular which have since totally gone out of fashion – everyone used to rock Lexus lights, headlights swaps from random different cars were popular, every other Saxo had four 6-inch exhausts… but a lot of the things that went out of fashion have come back around.

Like what? Well, three-spoke wheels, big aluminium spoilers, wide-arch kits – the difference is that people are focusing more on quality. It’s all in the details, from your obsessively smoothed engine bay to your impeccably retrimmed interior, and there’s a lot more awareness of rare parts; if you spend a year tracking down an obscure OEM+ spoiler that was only available in Austria for six months in 1994, the chances are that people will recognise it when you roll into a show.

The internet has broadened everyone’s horizons, and it’s also inspired a oneupmanship that keeps so many builds truly world-class. The days of building something over the winter and debuting it at a springtime show are largely over, as people are documenting their builds on Instagram, everyone’s open and aware, and it’s all about being the person who’s using the most original ideas to win the most peer approval.

With all that being said, some things really don’t change. At the heart of the tuning scene, now as it was then, we all want to run a car that goes fast, looks cool, and makes rowdy noises. The technology’s moved on, and the bar of quality gets raised time and time again, but we’re fundamentally still doing what we’ve always done. Long may it continue.

That’s enough of the chat, let battle commence!

Golf VR6 vs Mk7 Golf R

THEN: VOLKSWAGEN MK3 GOLF VR6

The Mk3 Golf is in a real sweet spot right now. In period, when the GTI arrived, the hardcore purists who were in love with the Mk1 and Mk2 GTIs derided it as lardy and uninvolving, and it suffered from that reputation for years; nowadays the market for Mk3 Golfs is pretty buoyant as there aren’t too many left.

Of course, there was a real boon back in the nineties when the VR6 arrived – this gave the Mk3 the vivid performance it deserved, and boy-racers across the UK welcomed this fireball VW with open arms.

The idea of shoving a six-cylinder engine into a hot hatch seemed absurdly decadent… and you know what? It still does today!

Golf VR6 vs Mk7 Golf R

VOLKSWAGEN MK3 GOLF VR6 SPEC
Performance: 172bhp, 0-62mph – 7.6s
Top mods: Schrick intake manifold, Piper cams, Supersprint exhaust, T4 turbo conversion, Konis, smoothed tailgate
Price then: £17,971 (in 1992; equivalent 2018 price adjusted for inflation: £35,357)
Price now: £4,000+

Golf VR6 vs Mk7 Golf R

NOW: VOLKSWAGEN MK7 GOLF R
Much like in the 1990s, today VW are offering a big-power halo Golf above the GTI level, and it’s an absolute monster.

The Golf R, however, does not have a six-cylinder motor… the old VR6’s spiritual successor was the R32, which ran for a couple of generations, but the new-wave Golf R rocks a 2.0-litre turbo.

Don’t go thinking the downsizing has compromised on performance though – that EA888 motor offers 296bhp; it may be the GTI engine at heart, but it’s got a modified cylinder head, valves, pistons, bigger turbo and intercooler… the Golf R may cost 20% more than a GTI, but it’s 20% more car, just like the Mk3 VR6 was.

Golf VR6 vs Mk7 Golf R

VOLKSWAGEN MK7 GOLF R SPEC
Performance: 296bhp, 0-62mph – 4.6s
Top mods: Scorpion exhaust, Air Lift suspension, Rotiform wheels, Injen intake, Forge FMIC
Price: £32,880

What would you choose?

Words Dan Bevis