First drive: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport

Wolfsburg marks 40 years of the GTI with the new Clubsport limited edition
By Dejan Jovanovic, Features Writer
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May 08, 2016
Supplied

Hang on, wasn’t the Clubsport launched last year, and the Clubsport S this year?

You really do pay attention. Yes, the 265bhp GTI Clubsport premiered last year at the 34th annual GTI festival in Wörthersee, Austria, and then it showed up at September’s Frankfurt motor show too. But it’s a 2016 model that’s just arrived in our regional showrooms from Dh140,000. The Clubsport S however is the even hotter 310 horsepower car limited to 400 examples worldwide, that’s just broken the official front-wheel drive Nürburgring Nordschleife production lap record with a time of 7 minutes and 49 seconds. That’s not coming to the Middle East.

That makes the GTI Clubsport quite close in pricing to the Golf R? How is Volkswagen positioning its line-up now?

If you want a GTI you can still get a regular GTI with 217bhp. And the Golf R, the car that took our wheels Hot Hatch of the Year award in 2015, still tops the Golf range as the most powerful one available to us with its 275bhp, 10 more than in the GTI Clubsport. Speaking of which we reckon the Clubsport might be even more fun to drive than the R, with a more sorted suspension and chassis and a much lower weight - the stiff dampers mean it’s a bit of a rough ride with the chassis systems set to their sportiest settings, but despite the racy and suggestive Clubsport tag this is still a daily-useable Golf GTI as we’ve always known it.

How does it differ from the GTI, rattle out some specs?

The four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo gets ECU tuning and a new exhaust system to eke out 265bhp white easily, and 380Nm of torque. The tyres are seriously grippy Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 units, and it gets a reportedly functional roof spoiler and aero-optimised front bumper and rear diffuser. The ride is additionally 15mm lower, the steering ratio is quicker, a variable limited-slip front differential, and an unaffected kerb weight of around 1.4-tonnes.

And it translates well into the driving experience?

We drove it on fast autobahns and around some twisty Austrian mountain roads and this is easily one of the best GTIs ever. The Clubsport’s Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel is great to hold and the manual transmission is slick to shift. With a double-clutch DSG the engine sounds like a popcorn machine on the overrun which gets annoying fast, but the rest of the GTI Clubsport is very simple in its concept: it’s a GTI with more of everything that you love about the GTI. The great brakes are worth a note too.

Do they come in both body styles?

Yes, and in fact in our region probably all will be four-doors besides some special order cars. The two-door looks fantastic in Clubsport spec, but getting anything into the rear seat is a massive chore with the semi-fixed bucket seats.

What kind of performance are we talking about? Is it noticeable quicker than a GTI in a straight line?

It feels it definitely, and it even feels quicker than the R because of the somewhat edgier way it delivers power and responds to your fingers. Zero to 100kph takes 6.3 seconds with launch control, and a GTI only needs a tenth more. So it comes across faster in real life than on paper. Top speed, this being a German hot-hatch, is 250kph, and on all the derestricted bits of the A8 autobahn between Salzburg and Munich the GTI Clubsport will stick to the back of an older Mercedes E 55 AMG from 140kph to 240kph.