Return of the Mack: facelifted Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport launched | CAR Magazine

Return of the Mack: facelifted Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport launched

Published: 31 May 2024

► The Golf GTI Clubsport gets some styling tweaks…
► … as well as a serious infotainment upgrade
► Plus, the steering wheel touch pads are banished!

Volkswagen made some significant blunders with the original version of the Mk8 Golf. To the company’s credit, though, it’s been quite forthcoming about its mistakes – and very receptive to criticism from both is customers and opinionated car reviewers (like us).

Volkswagen launched the facelifted version of the standard Golf in January 2024, and the updated fixed a lot of the problems we had with the car. Its irritating haptic steering wheel buttons were junked in favour of proper physical switchgear, while its laggy infotainment system was swapped for the same setup found in the new Passat.

Now, Volkswagen has applied the same tweaks to the fire-breathing Golf GTI Clubsport – and the changes might be enough to thrust it back near the top of the hot hatch class. Scroll down to learn everything that’s changed about the car.

Walk us through the big changes

The styling differences mirror those on the standard Golf – so, they’re quite modest. The Clubsport gets new LED headlights, refreshed LED taillights, a set of lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels (which are available as an optional extra) and some very minor styling revisions for the front and rear bumpers. But that’s about it.

The new taillights are worth a special mention, though, simply because Volkswagen has given them a gimmick. You can now customise the lighting signature they display from a dedicated menu on the infotainment system. There are three options to choose from.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport facelift: Michael Blaul and Luke Wilkinson in the studio talking about the car

Most of the changes for the facelift are in the cabin, with Volkswagen focusing its energy on improving the Clubsport’s interior technology and build quality. We’ve seen the new car in the studio, and we were pleased by the update.

The new car’s cabin feels a little more upmarket than the old one, and Volkswagen’s new 12.9-inch infotainment system is a vast improvement. It has a far quicker processor, a massively simplified menu design and an excellent shortcut hot bar at the top of the screen that allows you to jump straight to the driver assistance menu (so you can disengage lane assist without tearing your hair out).

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport facelift: dashboard and infotainment system, from driver's door, black upholstery

The screen runs on Volkswagen latest MIB4 infotainment software – and it’s optionally available with the company’s new IDA AI voice assistant. The technology is plumbed into ChatGPT, which Volkswagen says allows it to communicate with the driver in natural language. It can operate various cabin function (such as the heater controls and stereo) and answer almost any questions you can throw at it.

Another significant change to the cabin is the new steering wheel. Instead of touch-sensitive pads for the stereo and cruise control functions, you now get proper physical buttons – which will make the car far easier to live with when you’re driving quickly. We’ve tried the new switches in the studio, and we reckon there’s very little chance you’ll accidentally push them.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport facelift: front static, on a racetrack, white paint

Volkswagen’s product marketing manager, Michael Blaul, agreed with us. He supported the switch back to physical controls saying: ‘My personal opinion is, okay, do [touch-sensitive controls] with the electric versions because the customer will oblige and will say okay, we go this way. It’s easier to set the mindset that way with EVs.

‘But in the Golf, changing that way with the Golf 8 was a mistake. It was a mistake because we had those loyal customers and we made a revolution instead of an evolution – and Golf was always evolution.’

What about the engine? Any more power?

Sadly not. If we’re being honest, though, the old version of the Golf GTI Clubsport wasn’t exactly wanting for any more poke. Like the old car, it’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that chucks 296bhp and 295lb ft of torque at the front wheels. That’s plenty enough. Any extra power, and we reckon you’d torque steer into the verge every time you so much as looked at the throttle.

The engine is yoked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is part of the reason why the Clubsport can sprint from 0–62mph in 5.6 seconds. That’s 0.3 seconds quicker than the standard GTI with the same gearbox and 0.8 seconds faster than the pre-facelift manual Mk8 Golf GTI. As an aside, you can’t have the GTI with a manual gearbox anymore. You can thank tightening emissions regulations for that.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport facelift: side view static on racetrack straight, white paint

All the mechanical components in the GTI Clubsport’s chassis are identical to the pre-facelift version of the, although Volkswagen has fiddled with the calibration slightly. The biggest change is steering setup. In addition to a cybersecurity update, a chap called Seven Bohnhorst, who used to work as a test pilot for Bugatti, has provided some input on its response and weight.

Volkswagen (rather bravely) says he ‘transferred some particularly positive characteristics of the steering setup of the Bugatti Pur Sport’ into the Clubsport. Somehow, we seriously doubt we’ll get that impression when we drive it, but any improvement to the car’s steering feel is welcome.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport facelift: rear three quarter static, low angle, on a racetrack, white paint

Like the Golf R, the GTI Clubsport also has a special ‘Nurburgring’ drive mode. Basically, the engine, gearbox and steering are all set in their most hardcore settings, but the suspension is softened right off to allow the car to better cope with the track’s undulating surface. It sounds like the ideal mode for Britain’s B-roads, too.

When can I buy one?

The facelifted Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport is already on sale in Europe so, if you have your heart set on one, keep hounding your local dealer to get your car secured. Volkswagen hasn’t yet confirmed how much the car will cost, but we’re only expecting a modest increase over the old car’s £37,000-ish starting price.

More importantly for petrolheads, Volkswagen has secured the short-term future of the Golf GTI which is no small feat given the relentless march of EV legislation. While we were in Germany viewing the new Clubsport in the studio, Blaul told us the petrol-powered GTI will stick around beyond 2028. You can learn more about Volkswagen’s plans by following that link to read our detailed news story.

By Luke Wilkinson

Deputy Editor of Parkers. Unhealthy obsession with classic Minis and old Alfas. Impenetrable Cumbrian accent