Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI turns 40 this year and, given what went on in 2015, you’ll forgive VW for seeking something to celebrate. If not necessarily the definitive hot hatch its makers claim the Mk1 Golf GTI is certainly a hugely influential car, reflected in the values of good ones today. Subsequent GTIs have got faster and more technologically advanced. And from the doldrums of the 90s have emerged once again as the blueprint for a very Volkswagen combination of sensibly-dressed hot hatch fun, entertaining on the road but less likely to upset the neighbours than certain rivals. So is this GTI Clubsport VW’s 40th birthday present to GTI fans? Officially not. But in spirit it could well be.
The MQB platform underpinning a host of VWs, Audis, SEATs and Skodas has a near-infinite range of possible derivatives assembled from a very well stocked toy box. Especially true at the performance end. As such the Clubsport is arguably the best combination yet, taking the front-wheel drive GTI as its basis, increasing the power to 265hp (or 290hp on temporary overboost) and fitting it with with the clever VAQ torque splitting front axle commonly – if wrongly – described as a limited-slip differential. The chassis geometry has been sharpened to dial out ‘safety’ understeer and bring back some Mk1 style agility, the aero bits claim proper downforce and the interior has been enlivened with some very tasty bucket-style seats.
You can have your Clubsport with three or five doors and with a manual or automated DSG dual-clutch transmission. In keeping with the purist ethos you should be going for a three-door manual, DSG adding 20kg, extra doors another 30kg. Track day fans will want the optional 19-inch wheel and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres; on the road the lighter, forged 18s will reduce unsprung weight and make it feel more lively. Whatever spec you go for the Clubsport is at the exciting end of the VW spectrum, if not as sharp as rivals like the Megane Renaultsport or Civic Type R. It is, however, 100kg lighter than the supposedly senior and more powerful four-wheel drive Golf R and, on the launch event, more than able to keep its big brother honest on track.
Passion is not a word that comes naturally in the VW lexicon but the GTI Clubsport is as close as it comes. That 40-year heritage is something to celebrate and, though this isn’t an official anniversary model as we’ve had at significant milestones in the past, it wraps up the best of the existing seventh generation GTI into a very attractive package. That Clubsport branding remains a little confusing though. It sounds like VW set out to make a proper hardcore hot hatch, pared back and ready to chase lap times. What we’ve got is a very polished marketing interpretation of the same. And a very appealing product in its own right. But, by virtue of that branding, one with a whiff of style over content.
Price tag of our car: TBC but expected to be c. £29,000