BMW E30 318is vs. VW Rabbit GTI Mk1 | Radwood-era performance car showdown

Back in their day, the BMW E30 318is and the Volkswagen Rabbit GTI Mk1 represented inexpensive ways to go fast. Nowadays, either would fit in well on the Radwood showfield, but how do they stack up against each other as performance cars?

Since we have both in our stable, we drove them back to back to find out. Which one would you rather add to your garage?

Presented by CRC Industries.

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noddaz UltraDork
3/29/21 3:54 p.m.

Yes.  Both of them.

ChrisTropea Associate Editor
3/30/21 11:03 a.m.

In reply to noddaz :

I would have to agree with you, both are really cool cars. Especially with the turbo kit on the GTI.

Feedyurhed UltraDork
3/31/21 6:28 a.m.

So close, so iconic. Slight nod to theE30 for RWD. Both awesome.

maj75 (Forum Supporter)
maj75 (Forum Supporter) Dork
3/31/21 4:09 p.m.

I had a new '84 GTI.  It's hard to overstate how revolutionary that car was to a car guy like me.  A FWD car that could handle, brake and give 80's V8's a run for their money.  I loved it.  It gave its life to save my ex.  Loved it anyway.

3/31/21 8:08 p.m.

Back in the day, no question I would have picked the BMW cuz RWD.  But now, the GTI is just so significant and so cool.  There are many other BMW alternatives to the 318is.  But there is nothing Mk I GTI.  Even without the turbo.  So today, no question, I would keep the GTI in my garage and sell the 318is.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
4/1/21 8:44 a.m.

Great comments and happy to see you guys digging some of these iconic cars. I am so blessed that they both live in my garage. Rather than opt for one or two expensive cars, I have gravitated to some of these cheaper cars that have defined my career here at GRM. 

gearheadE30 Dork
4/1/21 8:57 a.m.

I think it is clear which one I would go with... laugh My first car was the 1991 318is on the right, currently laid up with a blown up engine. Bronzit '86 325es and the black '87 325is round out the collection.


sfisher71 New Reader
11/5/22 3:19 p.m.

I owned two A1 GTIs when they were new, an '83 in '83 and then some years later an '84. That was my first duplicate model, along with three and a half MGBs (the half was a parts car) and two NA Miatas. Good company, and pretty much nails the GRM demographic.

I currently own a '91 318is with 207,000 miles on it, 16kk of which I've put on since picking it up in 2020. The whole package is just superb, and I think of my GTIs often while driving it. The M42B18 is the engine I wish my GTIs had come with not only for the power bump up from the 1.8L single-cam in the VWs, but for the feel. Two cams, four valves per cylinder, light internals -- that motor is a joy every time I take the car out. 

And yes, I bookmarked your feature on bringing back your own 318is. I sometimes daydream about putting in the faster steering rack, but that's not a priority. (Priority on mine would be a bunch of little things, including some wonky wiring connectors and weatherstripping... the reality of using a 31-year-old car as a daily driver on the northern Oregon Coast.)

But we took it from the coast into Portland last week, and it's comfortable, economic, but still an absolute blast on the passes. At least till it snows, then I'm going to wish I had one of my old Audis or Subarus. Ah well. There's a reason my dot-sig is what it is...

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
11/5/22 4:37 p.m.

you must be a veteran netizen to remember .signature files smiley

E30s are wonderful but I would rather have a GTI if that were the choice offered.  They feel much more immediate and mechanical to me, and if the shift linkage is fresh then they are a dream.

LanEvo Dork
11/5/22 8:51 p.m.

My dad bought a 318is new in 1991 and gave it to me a few years later. Loved that car.

I would have LOVED it if you had compared it to the Mk2 GTI instead of a modified Mk1. To me, that seems like a much closer fit. I've always wondered whether a Mk2 GTI would have been more fun to own than my 318is.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
11/6/22 7:03 a.m.

In reply to LanEvo :


When I bought my Golf (an '89 GL upgraded to 8v GTI suspension) it was from a customer who also owned an E30 325i. (Not an eta, an "i" with a happy little six that came alive over 4k and started to sing, rather than lay down and go to sleep)  The Golf needed some repair and his girlfriend said he could only have one older German car, so he opted to sell the Golf rather than sell the BMW and repair the Golf.

I mean, I totally understand his decision, and it was probably the right one for him because he really liked the BMW.  But I also note that he had all season tires on the BMW, and the Golf came with a set of Yokohama AVS Intermediates, which I enjoyed immensely...

84FSP UberDork
11/6/22 7:50 a.m.

As a long time MK1 owner, it's fun to still see folks excited about them.  The E30 chassis is a really nice piece of 80's but I'm ruined by how much more car the 325I's were with a few bolt ons.

gearheadE30 Dork
11/7/22 11:29 a.m.

Good timing for this to pop up again, I just bought another '91 318is a couple weeks ago. It's basically driving parts car status because of the terminal rust, but even so, it is fun to drive. The M20 is definitely a better sounding engine, though.

matthewmcl Dork
11/7/22 11:55 a.m.

I am sure the E30 has lower wind noise than the GTI, but every time I look at what is available in new cars, I still end up wanting an a1 GTI. Modding isn't as cheap as it used to be, but it is still pretty easy.

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