Want a more focused Volkswagen Golf GTI? Then you want the GTI Clubsport version. There's a little more power, a little more visual presence - and a lot more motorsport tuning care. Producing what many enthusiasts will feel is a very satisfying end result.
The space between the Golf GTI and the Golf R is surely the smallest of market niches, but Volkswagen has for years been determined to fill it - and does so in the MK8 Golf range with this car, the GTI Clubsport. To wonder why this model exists when for not much more, customers could go faster and get 4WD in a Golf R is to miss the point. Golf GTI enthusiasts often dismiss the Golf R as a hot hatch for bored executives, rather than one for the Nurburgring. They want something more focused - a Golf GTI with motorsport genes. The sort of thing that was served up in the previous generation range by the GTI TCR, those letters standing for 'Touring Car Racing'. Now that Volkswagen has turned its back on the TCR class, it's decided to return to the 'Clubsport' name last used on a Golf in 2016.
This car feels properly quick, so that's a good start, the 'EA888' 2.0-litre TSI petrol turbo powerplant supplied here in its 300PS state of tune, which is 55PS more than you get in a standard Golf GTI. It's the same engine you'll find in a CUPRA Leon TSI 300. The power hike comes courtesy of a higher boost map and a larger intercooler, plus a different turbocharger. All of which gives the car a more energetic character at higher revs, where only 5.6 seconds is necessary to get from rest to 62mph. That's only 0.7s faster than the standard GTI, but that isn't what you're really paying the extra money for here. Just as on a Golf tuned for club racing, lots of little changes make the difference. There's a 10mm lower ride height, which results in significantly greater camber for the front wheels. The front springs and dampers are the same as those in a GTI, but there's a new control arm mount, new wheel mounts and new rear springs and dampers. Plus the car's VDQ electromechanical differential lock has been re-tuned. And the front brakes are upgraded with the same 357mm discs and 2-pot calipers used in the Golf R. Unfortunately, you have to pay extra for DCC adaptive damping (standard on the CUPRA Leon) and sadly, there's no manual gearbox option - which doesn't seem very 'club sport'-like - but the 7-speed DSG paddle shift auto has a shorter final drive. Best of all perhaps, there's a bespoke addition to the standard GTI suite of selectable drive settings, charismatically christened the 'Nurburgring' mode. This apparently was the setting that development driver Benjamin Leuchter used to lap the classic Nurburgring Nordschleife a claimed 13 seconds quicker than the standard model - in 7 minutes 54s if you're interested. You'll need to be a real enthusiast to really appreciate the difference that all this these little changes make, but if you are, you'll like the effect very much. Especially if you're on a track. Which, given the name, seems appropriate.
Inside, bespoke 'Clubsport' touches are much harder to spot, though Volkswagen has provided decorative inserts on the dash and front door panels; along with red contrast stitching with 'Art Velours' microfleece trimming for the 'GTI Clubsport' sports seats. Everything else is pretty much as it would be on the standard GTI model, touches like the pulsating starter bar and this grippy sports steering wheel with its three silver double spokes. Because you can't have a stick shift with this derivative, there's no opportunity for this model line's usual signature golf ball-style manual gear knob. Instead, there's a choice of either steering wheel paddleshifters or this short, stubby DSG drive selector. If you haven't yet tried an eighth generation Golf, you'll be immediately struck by this cabin's futuristic feel, which comes courtesy of its so-called 'Innovision Cockpit' arrangement, which fuses a 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle screen with a 10-inch centre-dash screen, the latter greeting you on entry with a red brand logo. Otherwise, things are much as with any other Golf, so you get great build quality, decent space for two adults on the rear bench and a class-competitive 380-litre boot.
You'll pay around £34,000 for a standard Golf GTI - or just under £36,000 for one with DSG auto transmission. The more focused 'GTI Clubsport' version of this model from launch required a budget of around £38,000. You'd think a model badged 'Clubsport' would be offered with manual transmission, but no: this one's auto-only. The 'GTI Clubsport' model, as you would expect, gets its own bespoke specification in addition to standard GTI features. That gives you a performance brake system and all the little visual changes, inside and out, that we detailed for you in our 'Design' section. Most owners will want to consider the option of adding DCC adaptive damping. At the time of this test in Summer 2021, Volkswagen was also offering a meaner-looking Clubsport 45 model with special 19-inch 'Scotsdale' wheels and a metallic black finish for the upper part of the spoiler and a bespoke finish for the steering wheel and seats. There's no power output increase, but Volkswagen for this variant has taken the 155mph speed limiter off the engine, so it maxes out in the '45' model at 166mph. And you to get a throatier Akrapovic exhaust. For all that you'll need just under £3,000 more, so a budget of just under £41,000.
The GTI Clubsport returns virtually the same WLTP-rated efficiency figures as a standard Golf GTI DSG auto model - so up to 38.7mpg on the combined cycle and up to 166g/km of CO2. For the Clubsport 45 variant, it's up to 38.2mpg and up to 168g/km. Whichever Golf GTI Clubsport version you select, you can monitor its ongoing frugality via selectable consumption read-outs on the left hand side of the digital instrument binnacle screen. Or via the 'Vehicle' section of the centre-dash screen where you can select 'Since Start', 'Long Term' and 'Since Refuel' read-outs on economy. Servicing? Well as usual with Volkswagen models, there's a choice of either 'Fixed' or 'Flexible' maintenance packages. You'll choose the 'Fixed' approach if you cover less than 10,000 miles a year and with this, the car will typically be looked at every twelve months. If your daily commute is more than 25 miles and this Golf will regularly be driven on longer distance journeys, you'll be able to work with a 'Flexible' regime that can see you travelling up to 18,000 miles between garage visits - or every two years, whichever is sooner. Less impressive is the three year/60,000 mile warranty cover.
The GTI Clubsport is the fastest and most focused Golf GTI yet but also, impressively, in some ways, the one that best replicates the agile, effervescent style of the Seventies original. You might not know that from the stat sheet figures. In all the dynamic measures that tend to matter to hot hatch drivers - 0-60 acceleration, top speed, lap times, lateral grip, braking performance and so on - this enthusiast-orientated Golf never really seriously bothers the class best. You might not be immediately arrested by the looks either, or the initial experience on the drive round the block. But persevere. Nearly half a century of experience in creating a car of this kind has to count for something. It does. Importantly, unlike some of its rivals, Wolfsburg hasn't made the mistake of developing this model only for the track rather than the road, so bumpy British tarmac doesn't bother it. You're always confident in pushing the performance envelope - in a way that few rivals can match. Yet that's possible without the sweaty palms that usually characterise red mist motoring. And in summary? Well this may not be the raw, slightly crude race-inspired shopping rocket that some enthusiasts might crave, but it's still a very credible evolution of a classic performance model line. And a car the hot hatch cognoscenti will rate highly.
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