It may be the most powerful GTI, but the Clubsport retains the rounded character that makes the hot Golf so great…
In 1976, the automotive landscape changed forever with the launch of the Volkswagen Golf GTi (still with a lowercase “i”), a humdrum hatch that boasted giant-killing performance. Only 5 000 units of the Mark One were initially planned, but to date over two million GTIs have been sold worldwide.
VW knows the power of a desirable sub-brand and, while others also use the moniker, the letters G, T and I are synonymous with the pocket rockets from Wolfsburg. That’s why the German automaker doesn’t easily mess with its famous nameplate. VW has never been inclined to add words like “Trophy”,”Boss”, “Cup” or “F1” to its famous nametag. So, when VW does make additions to the GTI badge, it must be special. And what’s more special than celebrating a 40th birthday? Welcome to the GTI Clubsport Edition 40, VW’s birthday present to itself and hot-hatch fans the world over.
To set this model apart from its lesser siblings, the Clubsport comes with several new exterior design cues that serve dual purposes of style and functionality. An entirely new front bumper, side sills, rear diffuser, multipart roof spoiler and Belvedere design wheels are key differentiators. These are all subtle alterations, however, and were it not for the “Clubsport” script on the flanks (no doubt on sale at a styling shop near you soon), this car would not stand out from the plethora of customised GTIs that ply our roads. VW claims the bumpers, rear spoiler and diffuser generate downforce similar to those of a racecar.
This special edition is the most powerful GTI ever sold in SA; in normal mode, the EA888 turbocharged 2,0 litre engine develops 195 kW and 350 N.m of torque. However, an overboost function temporarily lifts these peaks to 205 kW and 380 N.m. The higher output is accessed via a kick-down function on the throttle and is available for up to 10 seconds. Drivers are, however, able to unlock the additional power only in the top three gears when sport mode is engaged, or when the launch-control programme is activated.
Those extra ponies certainly kicked up a storm on our test strip. Even with launch control activated, the Clubsport left the line in a flurry of wheelspin. The best time it recorded was 6,24 seconds, a half a second quicker than the Performance Pack we tested last year. Interestingly, that also bests VW’s claim. And that makes it the quickest GTI we’ve tested, but slightly slower than our front-wheel-drive record holder, the Honda Civic Type R at 6,0 seconds flat (watch these two hot hatches battle it out at the drag strip here).
When comparing in-gear acceleration times, the gap between the Performance Pack and Clubsport grows to 1,1 seconds in the 60 to 120 km/h speed range. On the open road, the additional power over a normal GTI and the extra shove from the overboost function is easily felt. From upwards of 3 500 r/min, the Clubsport pulls harder, and accompanying the extra oomph is a hard-edged soundtrack.
Of course, GTIs have never been purely about straightline performance and, since the first model, handling prowess has always been key. To harness the extra power, there has been a raft of changes, including forged alloys that are almost 3 kg lighter per wheel, paying large dividends in the area of unsprung mass. New springs and tuned dampers with optimised bump-stops keep body movements in check and the effectiveness of the revised suspension can be felt from the get go.
Regular GTIs tend to ride with a rounded pliancy. The Clubsport, however, has an edge to it that can be felt at all speeds. But, the ride quality remains better than those of its main competitors. It’s therefore even more astounding how the Clubsport knuckles down when you attack your favourite mountain pass. Thanks to the same trick electronic diff used in the GTI Performance Pack, front grip levels are extremely high and understeer is all but eliminated.
This experience was backed up by a Killarney lap time of 01:28,4, which makes it the quickest road-going Golf on our track test table. There is also a level of playfulness and interactivity that we’ve not yet experienced in a GTI, which renders it both quick and a hoot to drive.
As you can probably tell, we were more than a little impressed with the Clubsport. It may not be as hardcore as the Mégane RS or Civic Type R, but that's what makes it so good. The Golf offers the pace and excitement of those two rivals, but with greater levels of comfort and practicality. And that's always been at the core of a hot hatch's appeal: user-friendliness and driving enjoyment.
*From the July 2016 issue of CAR magazine