The fastest series production front-wheel-driven hot hatch in the world will arrive in South Africa soon. Our market will receive just 47 of the 400 Golf GTI Clubsport S units that will be produced, but will Wolfsburg's Nurburgring record-breaker be significantly better than its highly rated Clubsport sibling? Our UK correspondent drove it on track and shares his findings...
By Andrew Frankel
You don’t really hear of Q-cars anymore. A few years ago, automotive enthusiasts referred to a high-performance car (usually a sedan) that looked like it couldn’t pull the skin off a cup of cold cocoa – but was blindingly fast – as a Q-car. The name reputedly came from the heavily armed merchantmen "Q-ships" deployed by the Royal Navy in the first World War to trap U-boats.
This Golf GTI Clubsport S is very Q-car-like. Were it not for its new front spoiler and subtle rear wing, you might think it the same as any other Golf GTI. But it’s not: by one measure at least it’s the fastest front-wheel drive car ever created.
The kind of cornering speeds that the Clubsport S can achieve will give a Porsche Cayman GT4 headaches.
That measure is its lap time around the old Nurburgring, a fact I’m not going to dwell upon because I know that for many, such talk bores them rigid.
So I’ll restrict my comments to saying only that a car’s speed around this particular track is an exceptional indicator of its all-around ability, The Green Hell tests power, grip, braking, aerodynamic stability and user-friendliness to the limit. Then consider this hatchback is only 7 seconds a lap slower around the Nurburgring than a brand new Porsche Cayman GT4.
Top speed limiter raised to 265 kph
It got that way by Volkswagen cranking up the Clubsport's turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder motor's outputs to 228 kW and 380 Nm, fiddling with the suspension (adaptive chassis control now has a Race mode in addition to the standard Normal, Comfort and Individual modes), fitting (road-legal) semi-slick tyres and modifying the bodywork to turn the considerable lift that the Golf experiences at top speed (the limiter is raised to 265 kph in the S) into appreciable downforce.
Aerodynamic addenda might be subtle, but the bodywork creates appreciable downforce at top speed.
Equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox and sold exclusively as a 3-door (as opposed to the DSG-equipped 5-door Clubsport that was recently released on the local market), the S features unique 19-inch alloy wheels too. But the biggest difference is inside the Golf's cabin, however, were Volkswagen ripped out 30 kg worth of equipment
That includes the rear seat bench, which has been replaced by a rear strut brace (to aid the body's structural rigidity), the space-saving spare wheel has been replaced with a tyre mobility kit and the panoramic sunroof is not available.
Remarkably easy to drive
I drove the Clubsport S at the infamous track – as hard as I could – and was stunned not simply at how the speed of the thing defied entirely its modestly enhanced appearance, but just how easy it was to drive.
To extract maximum lap time from a car usually means making it stiff and edgy to minimise weight transfer and make it change direction quickly; but the Golf was endlessly forgiving, assiduous in its dedication to building your confidence and devastatingly fast. By any measure, it was profoundly impressive.
And yet it felt just a touch clinical. The way it interacted with me was enough to make me feel involved, but not quite entirely immersed in the experience. And Volkswagen would not let me drive it on the public road, which makes me suspicious about its real world ride and refinement.
The Clubsport S will be the first 3-door Golf to reach the South African market for many a year.
Just 400 Golf Clubsport S units will be built; that's 10 for every year that the Golf GTI has so far been in production. The track-focused Clubsport S feels as if it was conceived to set a benchmark, which it duly did at the Nurburgring, but that does not eliminate the fact that (in the UK) you can buy a Golf R that comes fully equipped with back seats, a brilliant four wheel drive system for less money.
It’s not quite as quick as the ClubSport, but it’s no less fun to drive and a sight easier to live with. Even in these days of the Ford Focus RS (R699 900) and Honda Civic Type R (R615 900), it remains my favourite hatchback.
And brilliant though the Clubsport S is in so many ways, it can do nothing to change that.
South African spec for Clubsport S
All 47 units are expected to land in South Africa in October 2016. Only one colour will be available: Pure White with a black painted roof. Bucket seats are standard and the Discover Media navigation will come fitted as a standard feature too. The production number of the vehicle (001/400 to 400/400) will be etched by laser onto the ashtray cover.
Want a Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S? Head to your local Volkswagen dealership, but be warned, this exclusive model will be in high demand and some may already be accounted for. Pricing will be interesting as a standard Golf GTI Clubsport retails from R540 200. You can purchase a Golf R for R592 580 and the flagship Ford Focus RS costs R699 900, so we estimate that the hardcore Clubsport S will be priced between R600 000 and R650 000.
Watch the Clubsport S set a new (FWD) lap record at the Nurburgring:
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Read a review of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport here.
VIDEO: Watch us test the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport here.
We compare the Volkswagen Golf R to the Ford Focus RS and the Audi S3