VW Golf GTI Clubsport (2016) review

Published:27 November 2015

Clubsport celebrates 40 official years of the Golf GTI
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

 It’s the most powerful Golf GTI yet
 286bhp on tap with ‘boost function’
 Celebrates the GTI’s 40th anniversary

The Golf GTI’s transformation from skunkworks bad boy to mainstream mature hatch turns full circle with this arch-racer special edition, self-consciously adorned with downforce-inducing aero kit, launch control, kitsch decals and a kickdown function that makes it the most powerful GTI yet. You can even have optional semi-slick tyres. Think of it as the GTI’s 40th birthday present, maybe mixed with a smattering of love for those who stay faithful to the GTI ethic over the even more powerful and even more grown up Golf R.

How does the Clubsport’s performance compare to the standard Golf GTI?

It’s significantly more powerful, with 261bhp outflanking even the Performance Pack-equipped 227bhp GTI, and it thus arrives at 62mph a crucial half second quicker – in 5.9. The party trick though is the boost function, which accesses a secret stash of 10% extra power and also torque for 10 seconds at the flattening of the right foot, taking the output up to a Golf R-threatening 286bhp (the R packs 297).

There will be perhaps five occasions in a year when you can really use it, but when they happen it’s Bruce Banner gets angry meeting Blur’s Song 2 with a dash of Honda VTEC for good measure. We drove the Clubsport on track only, and down the Portimao pit straight it’s impressively hefty stuff. Feels like a much bigger mill at work (or play) than VW’s trusty 2.0-litre four-pot.

What’s all this about aerodynamics?

The bodykit, which comprises an all-new front bumper and sharky side sills, redesigned rear diffuser and that unmissable rear roof spoiler, creates downforce on both axles where previously there was lift. Air at the front is directed through the piano-black gills and out through the wheel housing without corrupting the wheels, while the wind-tunnel-honed two-part rear spoiler apparently plants the rear wheels like those of a race car. I say ‘apparently’, as VW offers no indication of the degree of downforce generated. So we’ll have to feel it. But whether it works or not, there’s no denying the rather clumpy effect on the Golf’s rear profile. No van would feel ashamed of the look.

The Clubsport is of course blessed with the GTI’s full armoury of chassis weapons, so electronic front diff lock, mechanical variable ratio steering (here with fewer turns lock-to-lock), ESC and the XDS+ vehicle dynamics system. The rear springs and dampers have been retuned to the extra power.

So does all this hook up on the track?

With the sumptuous GTI as a starting point it’s a high bar to improve on, and initial impressions suggest the margins are so tiny they’re invisible to the human eye. Yes, the car grips like a boxer’s handshake, and yes the steering is incredibly tight and responsive, and on the complex, undulating corners of Portimao it’s a simple delight to drive, using the clicky paddles to shuffle between cogs three and five of the DSG ’box (we tried the six-speed manual too, which feels more flustered). On this sinewy smooth ribbon there’s no issue whatsoever with getting all that power down through just the one axle, but it will be intriguing to see if torque steer rears its head between British hedgerows.

You just keep going faster and faster, trying to get into that zone where the threat of understeer forces the front diff to start modulating power away from the inner wheel to increase cornering speeds. And when you get there, when you’re at the point where a little wheelspin, a decisive throttle correction and a twitch of steering input ought to finally beckon, the chassis sorts it all out, leaving you with not much to do but hang on. Massively, fabulously impressive, but just a little, well, sensible for our taste – and surely far too sensible for those guys who crave those decals, that spoiler, these powerful bragging rights.

Verdict

VW set themselves a technical challenge here, which was to make a clever chassis even cleverer, to find a way of keeping a far-too-powerful Golf always in the neutral corridor between understeer and oversteer without the driver sensing the effect or feeling a loss of sense of occasion. The latter is assisted by a cool black alcantara steering wheel with red ‘straight ahead’ strip, simply gorgeous sports buckets with piano-black backs and – in just a brush of tartan and that golf-ball manual stick – enough Golf GTI to keep the lineage front-of-stage.

Like all the best birthday presents the Golf Clubsport is a luxury – something you didn’t need but part of you always secretly wanted. Only a few thousand will be built, and orders start now, with prices ‘between GTI Performance Pack and R’, so around £30k. Those who want one absolutely know who they are. And so does VW. Happy birthday, Golf GTI.

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: January 2016
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbocharged 4-cyl, 261bhp @ 5350-6600rpm (286bhp with boost function), 258lb ft @ 1700-5300rpm (280lb ft with boost)
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch DSG, front-wheel drive
Performance: 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 42.2mpg, 158g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1395kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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Photo Gallery

  • Big wing said to provide meaningful downforce, although VW's being coy with exact figures
  • Power's upped to 261bhp, and a temporary 286bhp via 'boost' function
  • Launch control and extra torque trim 0-62 time to 5.9sec
  • Bumper is new. So are the side sills
  • Black alcantara wheel, with de rigeur red centre marker
  • Less tartan, more hug from new, more bucket-y bucket seats
  • Manual and DSG versions available
  • Familiar GTI box of chassis tricks: electronic diff lock, variable steering ratio, XDS+ brake-nipping
  • On Portimao's smooth surface it's incredible; we're waiting for the bumpy B-road verdict

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies

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