The Golf II followed up the groundbreaking Golf I in 1983. A bit bigger, heavier and more rounded, it sold very well. I bought a 1990 model as my first car in 1999, and two of my friends had one, too – at the time, they could still be seen everywhere due to being both affordable and large enough, offering quite a bit more care than the Polo from the same era.
In 1989, towards the end of its lifetime, the Golf II received a facelift. Single-panel side windows replaced the previous split windows, and the higher-end models (GL and up) received new, more modern-looking bumpers. VW also introduced a number of special models with different trim and upholstery.
The definitive Golf II was the Rallye Golf, built as homologation model for the German Rally championship. Wheel wells were widened, the round headlights replaced by rectangular ones (if you want to make Rally Golf owners angry, call them Jetta headlights), a four-wheel drive drivetrain was added, and the engine was the 1.8l G60 engine from the Corrado. Only 5.000 were built, and it did win the 1991 German Rally championship. The G60 engine was also briefly available in the GTI.
Engine offers where a very tame 1.3l (55hp), the mid-range 1.6l (70-75hp) and the 90hp 1.8l. The latter is difficult to find in the flat Netherlands, but was popular in the more mountainous regions of Germany. Its long-stroke design delivered plenty of power and torque for a car that weighed between 900 and 1000kg.
The GTI was introduced in 1984, also using a 1.8l engine (like the late model Golf I GTI). The eight-valve version produced around 110hp, the new 16-valve version either 139hp (no catalytic converter) or 129hp (with catalytic converter). VW used this car in the World Rally Championship, were it won the 1986 group A championship, but in 1987 it was of course outclassed by the much more powerful four-wheel-drive Lancia Deltas. The G60 delivered 160 hp, 210 hp in the extremely limited (71 cars) G60 Limited edition.
The eight-valve GTIs have acceleration figures of around 10s from 0-100 km/h and a top speed near 190 km.h. The sixteen-valve versions are of course a bit quicker, Wikipedia states 0-100 in 8.5s and a Vmax of 208 km/h for the 139 hp model. The G60 model offers similar performance (it is a bit heavier), while the Rallye Golf accelerates a bit slower due to the higher weight related to the four-wheel drive.
Quite a bit more car than a Golf I, and much better rust resistance. Still relatively lightweight and nimble. Mechanical parts are readily available, and not many electronics to cause problems.
Prices have risen considerably in the last couple of years. Original GTIs are becoming more difficult to find. Usually lacks airconditioning and other amenities that you might desire in a daily driver. Performance is less than what you can get from a similarly-priced E36 BMW.
GTI 16v of course, with two doors. If you just want a nice Golf II, I would consider one of the late limited models with the 90hp engine. Just make sure that the interior is complete and in good condition.