wheels CotY 2017: Best hot hatch

The standard GTI is fab - but the Clubsport takes it up a notch to see of the RS 3 Sportback
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March 03, 2017
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque(1/3)
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque(2/3)
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque
Photos: Malek Fayoumi, Stefan Lindeque(3/3)

It’s been a bumper year for hot hatch enthusiasts, with Audi and Volkswagen each rolling out debutants — the RS 3 Sportback and GTI Clubsport respectively — that will likely go down as all-time greats in the segment. The red-hot RS 3 is underpinned by the multitalented MQB platform seen in numerous other VW Group offerings, but everything around it has been tweaked to the max, and the pièce de résistance is a wailing five-pot turbo motor that harks back to the legendary Ur-Quattro that took world rallying by storm in the Eighties.

Thrashing out 362bhp at 5,550rpm and 465Nm from 1,625 to 5,500rpm, the 2.5-litre powerplant propels the RS 3 to 100kph in a supercar-baiting 4.3 seconds, and it hits its electronically governed V-max of 250kph with an ease that seems incongruous for a hatchback. The RS 3’s prodigious grunt is channelled to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and a fettled version of Audi’s quattro AWD system, delivering limpet-like grip and backroad pace to scare far more potent and pricey machinery. The only criticism of the Dh222K
RS 3 is that it feels slightly remote and uninvolving from behind the wheel — a bit sterile, if you like.

At first glance, VW’s GTI Clubsport might seem nothing more than an uprated version of the standard GTI, but what it gains elevates a well-rounded donor car into an epic hot hatch. For starters, the EA888 turbo four ekes out an extra 34bhp for a quota 261bhp, and there’s an additional 25bhp available for 10-second bursts via an overboost function. The extra oomph is aided and abetted by adaptive dampers and a sticky set of Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tyres that cling to the tarmac with great tenacity.

Riding 15mm lower than the basic GTI and equipped with a trick front diff lock, XDS+ vehicle dynamics function and bespoke aero kit, the front-wheel-drive Clubsport is every bit as quick as its Golf R sibling in most conditions. Although it sacrifices the all-paw traction of the Golf R, the Clubsport weighs just 1,375kg, and this endows it with a nimbleness that makes it a joy to chuck around. This was particularly evident during the CotY finals, where it absolutely devoured the twisty stretch that formed our test loop. But the icing on the cake is that the Clubsport sacrifices none of the practicality, comfort and ease of driving of the standard car. At just Dh150K, it’s a fantastic buy.