First Drive: 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 Review

Is the 45 worth the premium over the standard Clubsport..?
28th June 2021
Ben Miles



Car manufacturers are quite fond of giving themselves little birthday presents. Although perhaps little isn’t the correct word, given they often mean the multi-million pound development costs of a brand new car. In this case, the Volkswagen Golf is 45 years old, so there is a new happy birthday version, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45. If it barely feels like a few years since the last special edition version of the Golf, that’s because the last Clubsport was something of a 40th birthday present for the Golf. But is this a suitable present for such an iconic vehicle?

We like

  • Power now matched main hot hatch rivals
  • The most engaging GTI for years
  • Looks more aggressive

We don't like

  • Very expensive
  • Interior still poor
  • New exhaust no real improvement over Clubsport



The 45 is very much about design changes rather than performance. Beneath the more aggressive bodywork of the Clubsport 45 is a standard GTI Clubsport. But what has changed is that the Clubsport has become far more aggressive than your average Golf GTI. That means a bigger rear spoiler over some rather fetching Akrapovič exhausts. Up front the aggressive face of the Clubsport is carried over, but the 45 gains some unique, red-lined, 19-inch “Scotsdale” alloys, and “45” decals on the doors and steering wheel, a black roof, wing mirrors and spoiler.

To my eye the “standard” Clubsport looks better than the boggo GTI, the extra aggression suits the Mk8 Golf, which is a car that, when left standard, feels a little undercooked. The aggressive face and much lairier spoiler balance the GTI out much better than the smaller spoiler on the normal GTI and it feels more like a modern hot hatch.

Performance and Handling


We don’t often like to put the conclusion at the start of a section in our reviews, but sometimes you just need to. It’s not to say that I’m anti-Golf GTI, but I am now very much pro-Clubsport. 

The engine is the same 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbocharged affair, but rather than the 245PS (180kW) that the GTI comes with, the Clubsport has been blessed with an even 300PS (220kW). That means the latest GTI Clubsport is on a par with the outgoing Mk7 Golf R. The race to 62mph is now completed in 5.6 seconds, swiping a whole 0.7 seconds from the standard GTI’s time, while the 45 jumps ahead of the standard Clubsport with the removal of the 155mph limiter, allowing it to hit 166mph with enough room.

Unlike the R the GTI Clubsport 45 still sends all its power to the front wheels and it has the same limited-slip differential and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox as standard GTI. But that is where the similarities to its two siblings end. The Clubsport instantly feels more naughty than the normal GTI, the right gearchange is accompanied with a crack from the Akrapovič exhaust and the extra power means the Clubsport feels almost instantly more capable than the standard GTI.

But, if you think adding more power into a front-wheel-drive car must then equal more issues, you’d instantly be wrong. For all the extra torque heading through the front axle (that’s a meaty 400Nm, or 295lb ft) there is still very little in the way of torque steer. Floor the Clubsport and the meatiest GTI doesn’t try to tramp around the road, instead adding a gentle tug to the wheel before just getting on with everything.

The party piece of the standard GTI is the mixture of excellent diff and firmer suspension. The mix is more intoxicating than ever in the Clubsport, with the damping having been firmed up even more. The excellent diff means that a keen right foot through corners can haul the car out of trouble and the firmer rear suspension means the car can do what a colleague in the motoring press core helpfully described as “little skids”.

I have to say having driven the standard Clubsport just before the 45 I didn’t notice a massive difference between the exhaust note from the fancier pipes on the 45, but both sound sporty enough to make the standard GTI feel rather lacklustre. Our car was also fitted with the £795 Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers. A relatively cheap addition, but not one that really seemed to provide transformative changes to the car’s ride.



The Mk8’s biggest issue is its interior, with a multitude of screens, all well-meaning but lacking in actual ability. The design is also a little underthought, the big pod containing the two big screens feels slapped to the top of the dash, with the instrument binnacle still having the old soft plastic top above a flat plastic screen surround. It just looks a little out of place.

For the 45 the Golf’s interior has been given a mild smattering of new stuff. It’s pretty much limited to the “45” logo on the steering wheel – it’s just at the bottom where the middle spoke meets the rim – and GTI badges on the head restraints. For some reason the Clubsport is the only one that gets GTI badges on its seats. Materials in many places are up to the standard you would expect, but the odd scratchy plastic has appeared where it really shouldn’t.

Technology and Features


The centre of the GTI’s interior is the pair of screens. One acting as the instrument cluster and a central 10-inch in the same housing hosting all the infotainment systems. A recent upgrade across all the range has made it feel slightly less glitchy, but it’s the layout of the cabin that presents the issue. You can read our review of the standard GTI here to find out the full details, but in short the positioning of several touch buttons means you spend half your time changing the temperature when you wanted to change the sat-nav.

The Clubsport 45 comes with sat-nav, climate control, automatic lights and wipers adaptive cruise control, vehicle networking, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay. “Our” car also had the Winter Pack, bringing heated front seats (£270) rear-view camera (£300) and the DCC adaptive dampers (£785).



The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is a much more interesting, better to look at and nicer to drive version of the Golf GTI. It’s more engaging too and feels more special. It’s bold to say that the Clubsport is possibly the best GTI there has been, but we had the opportunity to drive the GTI’s whole history on the same day, and perhaps just the MkV and the limited-run  Mk7 Clubsport S get properly close to the engagement the latest Clubsport offers.

But that’s where youstart to find 45’s downsides. The standard GTI is already above £30,000, the Clubsport north of £35k. Adding the special visual trinkets to make it a 45 have rocketed the GTI to just £20 below £40,000.

As nice as they are, and as exciting as removing the limiters is, the 45 isn’t worth the extra over the standard Clubsport. Unless you yearn for V-Max events and want the exclusivity of the special edition we’d save the cash and buy the Clubsport, you’d still be getting possibly the best Golf GTI ever.


Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power 300PS (220kW) @ 5,300rpm
Torque 400Nm (295lb ft) @ 2,000-5,200rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, front-wheel-drive
Kerb weight 1,461kg
0-62mph 5.6 seconds
Top speed 166mph
Fuel economy 37.9mpg
CO2 emissions 169g/km
Price £39,800 (£41,875 as tested)