Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport (2016) First Drive

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The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been upgraded for its 40th birthday so we decided to give it a quick blast around the Western Cape to see if it was worth the wait. It will only be offered for sale this year, so if you want to buy a new one, you better move quickly...  

The Golf GTI has been a South African and global favourite for 40 years. As a birthday present to itself (and to satisfy legions of GTI fans), VW has produced this Clubsport edition (or Edition 40, as it calls the car in Europe). The first Golf GTI only became available in South Africa in 1982 (34 years ago), so the newcomer will officially be called the Clubsport here.

Beefier GTI

The Clubsport's engine produces quite a bit more fizz than the standard Golf GTI's powerplant. Peak outputs of 195 kW and 350 Nm are available, which stack up well against those produced by Ford, Renault and Honda's headlining hot hatches.

There’s even a little bit extra available (for a total of 213 kW) if you mash the throttle all the way to the floor and engage the transmission's kickdown function. The burst of extra power is available for 10 seconds and then the Clubsport needs another 10 seconds to cool off before the extra power can be accessed again.

It certainly feels rapid in a straight line and thanks to its built-in launch control setting, the Clubsport was very nearly a match for its all-wheel-driven Golf R sibling on the drag strip. It’s just that little bit of extra wheelspin from the front-wheel-drive system that hinders the newcomer's challenge to the R. Still, a 5.9-second zero to 100 kph sprint benchmark is nothing to be sneezed at.

Real downforce

The Clubsport comes with a few exterior modifications to improve its ultimate handling ability. The standard GTI has always been a very balanced and neutral car to drive quickly, but it has tended to lag behind its direct competitors at the track. The Clubsport aims to appease track-day GTI enthusiasts a little by generating real downforce. In fact, the rear spoiler consists of 2 parts that help to stabilise the car at higher speed.

There are also dive-planes on either side of the front bumper that help to push the car's front end down, which will allow the Clubsport to achieve higher cornering speeds. The suspension's springs and dampers have been enhanced to absorb road unevenness (while improving road-holding) and the final touch is the tweaked electronic XDS differential, which sends power to the wheel that will get you out of the corner fastest (and reduce a bit of understeer).

How does it drive?

After the drag strip entertainment, we were sent on a 250 km route around the Western Cape, which included some of the region's best mountain roads. The Clubsport we drove had the standard car's leather seats, but there is the option for bucket seats and they are well worth the extra money.

The Clubsport immediately feels more agile than the GTI – it’s quicker to turn in and there’s a distinct lack of body roll when the G-forces pile on. The car's steering ratio has been sped up around the centre and immediate turning zones so the newcomer's handling feels alive and dart-like.

The steering wheel is clad in suede with red stitching at the top making it feel like a race car's tiller when you grip the rim. The weight of the steering is perfect and there’s a great connection between the front wheels and the steering that’s refreshing and inspiring when you push on.

The neutral handling characteristics remain; they should save you from landing in trouble. You won’t find yourself scared or overly excited by lift-off oversteer moments, however, as the Clubsport retains its GTI sibling's superb balance. It’s faster and grippier than the standard car, but not as entertaining or as addictive as the Focus ST or Megane RS, however.

Where does it sit?

The GTI Clubsport brings Volkswagen's iconic nameplate back into contention as a pukka hot hatch. The Performance Pack that was added to the GTI range last year was not enough of an upgrade to really be worthwhile but, this Clubsport will satisfy most enthusiasts. It actually makes the Golf R seem a trifle heavy and lazy and, for 10 seconds, the Clubsport is more powerful than the Golf R! Despite its hefty price tag, the Clubsport is the best Golf you can buy right now.

Pricing

Volkswagen has priced the Clubsport at R540 200 before options and standard with a 5-year/90 000 km service plan and a 3-year/120 000 km warranty.

Clubsport S

The good news is that the fastest front-wheel drive car to ever lap the Nurburgring is probably heading to SA. Numbers will be extremely limited, but VW SA believes we could be allocated as many as 47 units in November. It’s purely a 2-door car with no aircon and no back seats either but it will smash lap times.

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