Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport review - the ultimate GTI
With more power and revised chassis settings the Clubsport is both the fastest and most engaging Golf GTI to date
What is it?
The sharpest, fastest Golf GTI to date. Conceived to celebrate the hot Golf’s 40th anniversary in 2016, the Clubsport Edition 40 receives a power boost and significant chassis revisions that take the best of the Performance Pack options and makes them standard. While not as extreme as the Clubsport S, the Clubsport also wears the former's new aerodynamic devises.
Sitting between the standard Golf GTI and the four-wheel drive Golf R in the model line-up, both in terms of price and power, the Clubsport isn't a limited run model, although it will only be in production for a short time before the facelifted Mk7 arrives in early 2017. Priced at £30,935 the Clubsport is available with a three or five door bodyshell.
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Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The Clubsport uses a tweaked version of the familiar 2-litre, turbocharged EA888 unit that also serves in the regular GTI and R models. VW quotes a power output of 261bhp between 5350rpm and 6600rpm – a 34bhp gain on the GTI Performance Pack – but for short periods on overboost it will produce 286bhp
We’re used to turbocharged engines delivering extra torque through an overboost function for short periods, but a power boost is much more unusual. For 10 seconds the Clubsport will serve up the full 286bhp – just 10bhp shy of the range-topping R – before dropping back down to 261bhp. After another 10 seconds the full output becomes available again.
VW considers it a bit of fun, a goody of sorts to make the Clubsport stand out from the rest of the GTI range. Press the engineers a little further, though, and they’ll accept that they did also need to find a point of difference to the more expensive R model and not tread on its toes too heavily.
It makes sense if you consider the Clubsport a 261bhp car that occasionally gives you more power, but it’s rather less convincing if you consider it a 286bhp car that sometimes denies you full power. Torque is quoted at 258lb ft between 1700 and 5300rpm with 280lb ft available on overboost.
The Clubsport is offered with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG paddleshift gearbox. An electronically-controlled mechanical limited-slip differential, lifted from the Performance Pack model, is fitted as standard.
The Golf GTI Clubsport records a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds (VW quotes the same time for both transmissions). Top speed is 155mph.
Its aerodynamic devices may be small, but they are significant. A new front bumper, a boot spoiler and a very modest rear diffuser not only cut lift, they also generate downforce. VW chooses not to quote figures, instead describing front axle downforce as slight and rear axle downforce as significant.
The important point is that it no longer generates lift, which is some feat for a car of this shape and with such humble hatchback origins. The downforce, modest though it may be, adds stability to the rear axle over 60mph. This has enabled the engineers to dial in more aggressive chassis settings.
Roll stiffness has been shunted rearwards, which adds agility to the back axle and grip to the front. In short, the Clubsport has been tuned to oversteer more and understeer less, making it better suited to fast road and circuit driving.
Spring rates have been turned up by 10 per cent all round and the dampers have been retuned to match. Track width and toe, camber and castor settings are all unchanged, as are the brakes.
The standard-fit tyre is an 18-inch Bridgestone, but a 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 is available as an optional extra. It’s essentially the same tyre that makes the Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R (as well as the non-R model) and Seat Leon Cupra Sub8 so fast and exciting on circuit, so it promises to really transform the Clubsport’s dynamic ability.
Dynamic Chassis Control – the system that offers Comfort and Sport damper modes – is also available.
What’s it like to drive?
Although the chassis revisions are fairly modest the Clubsport does feel like a fitter, more athletic car than the standard GTI. The extra spring rate (they are 10 per cent stiffer with the dampers tuned to suit) over that model is difficult to identify without driving both cars back-to-back, and the downforce isn’t significant enough to be felt, but what it clear is that the chassis balance is now much pointier. The toe, camber and caster settings are the same as those found on a GTI Peformance Pack and VW's adaptive dampers are available for an additional £830.
Whereas the standard GTI settles into persistent understeer at the limit, the Clubsport holds a tighter line and the rear axle is a good deal more adjustable. That makes it much more engaging on circuit, although there is still more push and less oversteer in the chassis compared a Trophy-R. VW's engineers have moved the roll stiffness rearwards to improve rear-axle turn-in and front end grip.
The real step over the GTI, though, is the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyre (a Pirelli P Zero is the standard tyre). It gives the car massively more grip and a much stronger front end, both on turn in and through the corner. However, the Trophy-R and Leon Cupra Sub8 seem to squeeze even more grip from the same rubber, with even less understeer.
The engine is responsive, strong throughout the rev range and eager at the top end. The key point about the split power output is that, on the circuit at least, you’re never aware of it delivering more or less power than you had expected.
The electronically controlled limited-slip diff is taken direct from the GTI Performance Pakc and gives strong traction away from tighter corners and allows you to reapply power very early. It doesn’t corrupt the steering with any unruly torque steering characteristics, but it does gives a very clear idea through the wheel of how much traction the front tyres are finding. The steering itself is crisp and direct without dripping in feedback.
The standard brakes offer good retardation, but if you head on track after a few hard laps they do begin to show signs of fading. The optional sports seats, meanwhile, offer good support, especially so on circuit while still being comfortable, while the standard items are more than up to the job for fast road driving.
The sharper chassis tune and the optional Cup 2 tyres make all the difference, but even without the super sticky rubber this is now the best driver’s car in the Golf range this side of the Clubsport S.
Those of you used to the standard Golf GTI or Golf R will have little to complain about if you switch to the Clubsport, the car feeling broadly as refined and fine-riding as its stablemates. Performance feels somewhere between the two, but the extra precision, especially so on track also makes itself felt on the road car. The nose bites harder into the tarmac and the rear axle feels more inclined to aid in direction changes, without ever feeling snappy.On the road it's sharper, with less roll and the front and rear feel much more tightly connected, reacting as one when you turn-in to a corner.
As ever, we'd be inclined to pick the manual transmission option over the DSG, because while the Clubsport isn't the last word in interaction by the standards of some of its rivals, it would be a shame to remove a further layer by opting for the dual-clutch 'box.
The hot hatch market place is as crowded now as it’s ever been. The already-mentioned rivals from Renaultsport and Seat may be even more accomplished on circuit, but they can’t touch the VW for cabin quality and everyday appeal.
The Honda Civic Type R is more powerful than the Clubsport, but also fractionally more expensive, while the Ford Focus RS is a match for the Clubsport on price it offers significantly more power and a four-wheel drive system.
And then, of course, there is the even more focused Clubsport S. It's the fastest hot hatchback around the Nurburgring, tops the Golf R's power output, weighs significantly less than the regular GTI (and 30kg less than the Clubsport) and has a less restrictive ESP system and eas runner up in evo's 2016 Car of the Year. It's also, sadly, sold out.
The Clubsport starts from £30,935. If you opt for a DSG model that rises to £32,290, while five-door Clubsports begin at £31,540. The eagle-eyed will note that the Clubsport's starting price is only around £300 cheaper than a Golf R, so your choice may come down to whether you require all-wheel drive, whether you prefer the GTI's styling, or simply appreciate the Clubsport's sharper nature.
VW won’t limit build numbers as such, but the Clubsport will be in production for a limited time so it’s likely that demand will outstrip supply.