Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport review

Landing very soon after the standard Mk8 Golf GTI, Volkswagen gives us the powerful and exciting Clubsport model. Still sure you definitely want a Golf R…?

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In recent years and generations of the long-serving Volkswagen Golf, there has been a particular product pattern with its high-performance derivatives. First along is, of course, the fabled GTI model. But in recent years, the GTI itself has been joined by GTD (diesel), GTE (plug-in hybrid) and even R (all-wheel drive and more powerful) derivatives. Well, on the GTI’s 40th birthday in 2016, Volkswagen released a development of the Mk7 GTI called the Clubsport. And here it is again for the Mk8 Golf.

The problem is, the GTI Clubsport has landed at exactly the same time as the Mk8 Golf R and they’re so similar in price, performance and specification that it makes you wonder why Volkswagen feels it needs two near-identical hot hatchbacks occupying one small niche of the market. The R, for what it’s worth, still holds bragging rights, as its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 320hp and 420Nm, which is sent to all four wheels through 4Motion and a seven-speed DSG gearbox. The Clubsport, meanwhile, is front-wheel drive and has maximum outputs of 300hp and 400Nm.

This means the Golf R is faster than the GTI Clubsport, because while both cars are limited to 250km/h, the extra traction afforded by the R means it’ll run 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds, compared to the 2WD Clubsport’s 5.6-second time. Also, the Golf R has a Drift Mode as it can send power to the rear wheels, something the GTI Clubsport cannot.

But the Clubsport could fight back by being more entertaining than the Golf R, due to its lower weight and pure driving layout of front-wheel drive with an electronic differential lock on the leading axle. It’s also a cheaper car than the R, due to its lower power and fewer driving wheels, and it looks almost as mean as the Golf flagship, thanks to Clubsport-specific treatment of the front bumper/air intake area and the side sills, while it further sports a larger rear spoiler at the top of the boot hatch.

How is it to drive?

The Golf GTI has always been a quietly assured front-drive hot hatchback, but never the most exciting vehicle of this type available to buyers. The Clubsport, however, shoulders its way to very near the front of the class for driver involvement.

It has incredible speed once it is up and running and has overcome its off-the-line traction disadvantage, the 2.0-litre engine pulling hard at all times while its exertions are effectively channelled to the front wheels by the slick transmission. The speed of the GTI Clubsport is therefore not to be doubted; it is a seriously quick car by any standards.

However, it manages to retain much of the Golf GTI’s long-held reputation for day-to-day usability and unsurpassed civility, while also dolloping in a good degree more fun for its driver. Explore the limits of grip in the Clubsport and you’ll find a hot hatch that’s agile and alive, not leaden and secure. Great steering, huge brakes and impressive body control all further add up to make the GTI Clubsport superb fun to drive on the right roads.

It’s not quite flawless – the 2.0-litre engine is never the most exciting to listen to and it’s a shame there’s no manual option for the 300hp model. But as Golf GTIs go, and when considered in the wider context of front-driven, super-fast five-doors, the Clubsport is right up there in the reckoning if you’re wondering which is the finest of the lot.

When is it coming to Ireland?

It is available to order now from a starting price of €52,440. This looks very favourable compared to a Golf R, which starts from €62,410, and also to the new Clubsport 45 edition, a limited-build model to celebrate 45 years of the Golf GTI – this is basically a Clubsport with bigger alloys, bespoke graphics and an Akrapovic exhaust system, all for €57,940. However, if all you want is an urbane, reasonably fast, and enjoyable hot hatchback with a Volkswagen badge on the prow, it’s hard to ignore the standard GTI with 245hp from €45,130.

Any juicy technology?

There’s a Vehicle Dynamics Manager in the Golf GTI Clubsport, which links together the behaviour of the electronic differential lock and the optional adaptive chassis control (known as DCC in VW-speak) to give the handling the best possible feel it can. This system includes a ‘Special’ mode in the drive settings that isn’t accessible on the standard GTI, which was designed to be at its optimum on the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany. And as the Nordschleife is a lot like a long, bumpy country road, it means the Clubsport can be used in Special mode on the public highway to good effect. rating: 4.5/5

For almost €10,000 less than a Volkswagen Golf R, the GTI Clubsport offers you a driving experience every bit as good as that served up by the AWD car. The Clubsport is not quite as quick off the line and it’s also not quite as discreet to look at, thanks to that big spoiler at the back, but if you can afford the extra money required over and above the normal GTI then this is most definitely a car worth your serious consideration.

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