The Volkswagen Golf GTi MkIII represented a quantum leap in maturity for its maker’s top-selling model. For many, used to the greater driver focus of its predecessors, it was a retrograde step. Particularly with the single-cam, 8-valve engine, the heavier and softer MkIII GTi felt sluggish and dull-witted. The 16V GTi was a big improvement but the six-cylinder VR6 was the real star of the Golf 3 show.
What’s often forgotten these days – and was overlooked by hot hatch fans at the time – was that the VR6 was never designed to compete with other hatchbacks. It was intended to lure BMW 325i drivers away from the sporty Munich mark and into something similarly six-cylinder powered from Wolfsburg. The six-cylinder in question was VW’s novel narrow-angle ‘V6’ (more correctly a staggered six) that had already seen service in the Passat and Corrado. It was this peach of an engine that helped the VR6 rise above its more pedestrian stablemates.