VW knows that if you wait long enough for a bus, three come at once and Clubsport GTi falls into the category
Having been exceptionally critical of the ‘Golfate’, as Iain Robertson has christened the eighth generation of the popular German hatchback, following the RenaultSport Megane and Hyundai i30N, the latest Golf GTi Clubsport assumes ‘ultra-hatch’ mode.
The GTi, as formulated by Volkswagen, has figured highly in my motoring life. I had an original left-hooker Mark One and revelled in most of the subsequent generations (with the notable exceptions of Marks Two and Three), including the previous seventh. However, despite harbouring tremendous respect for the Teutonic carmaker, I have come to a conclusion that ‘Golfate’ is almost as much a comic-book representation of itself as the latest versions of the BMW Mini, which is laughably more Maxi these days.
While VW has been so very careful to stick to an organic design brief that avoids straying too far from the Golf’s long-established remit, it has grown a determinedly middle-aged paunch (if not quite as severe as either Marks Two or Three), which it conceals cleverly with a very sharp suit that is equally more Odermark than Savile Row. Yet, it has lost the Bauhaus near innocence of Marks Four, Five and Six, although its swagger, while unsuitable for the catwalk, is every bit as Berlin ‘arthouse’ as it might ever dare to be.
Personally, I reckon that both ‘Dieselgate’ and the demise of Herr Dr Piech have played their respective parts in upsetting the Wolfsburg applecart. In that respect, VW has become a little like the rudderless Honda, following the passing of Soichiro…although the Japanese firm does appear to be getting its ‘mojo’ back, with some of its more recent product developments. This stuff happens to most major players at some stage in their timelines. As to how long it will last depends on how strong is the resolve in the VW boardroom…which could be a few years, yet.
As you can guess, I am not a fan of the ‘Golfate’. It looks sly and sneaky; the Scots have a great word for it: ‘sleekit’, rather than sleek and smart. Yet, I am not stupid enough to believe that, as a staple of the modern car scene, it will not sell in big numbers. Of course, the Clubsport GTi simply adds to the cliché value, with oodles of red striping, red stitching, red illuminations and GTi-class redness. In fact, it almost appears to be embarrassed. Poor ‘Golfate’.
However, as a fully subscribed member of the ‘ultra-hatch’ brigade, it complies with the notional 300bhp (actually 296), beefed-up suspenders and front-wheel drive (with electro-mechanical locking differential). Naturally, it delivers in spades, possessing that vital sporting edge that is guaranteed to keep even a competent, let alone merely enthusiastic, driver on his toes, entranced by the ‘excitement’ of the driving experience. As an additional fillip, a ‘Nordschleife’ programme in the several-ways-adjustable vehicle platform demands only a single twitch on the switch to ensure that every dynamic element of the Golf is sharpened to Nürburgring necessity. Oh Lord, how I wish that it were not the case but it is.
Over the years, I have observed various carmakers refining and defining their most ambitious models, by way of record-setting lappery of the 14.1-mile racing circuit that Sir Jackie Stewart (sometime Ford contractee and several times F1 Champion) nicknamed as ‘The Green Hell’, with due deference to its forested surroundings and close proximity to hilly meadows. To be frank, the circuit is a genuine testosterone challenge but it is truly unworthy of its altar-like status and the vehicles honed on its leafy, twisting and high-kerbed tarmac ribbon are seldom as well-refined as they ought to be. The Clubsport Golf GTi is no exception to this phenomenon.
With the ‘Normal’ setting dialled into the chassis management system, the Clubsport handles tidily, if a little Teutonically stiff-lipped. It will cock a characteristic inside rear wheel at most high-speed corners, thanks to fairly strong anti-roll bars but seldom feels out-of-control, in that calming, level-headed manner for which the GTi is renowned. The zestiest setting is best left for track days, or when on-costs are not a consideration, because the Laws of Physics can be challenged but seldom beaten and one brief scan of ‘Nürburgring mishaps’ on YouTube will confirm what lies in store.
To be fair, the first Clubsport GTi was launched in 2016 and the GTi’s 40th birthday. Its motor produced a modest 262bhp, with an over-boost function that gave it another 24bhp. The following year, just 400 examples of a more hardcore version were launched with 306bhp. None remain, other than in the hands of avid collectors. This is the new version.
Its suspension is a visible 10mm lower than standard, a factor enhanced by the chunky and aerodynamically purposeful body kit unique to the Clubsport. Unusually, the car rides on 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (its rivals seem to prefer 19.0-inch alternatives, although they are available optionally and expensively) and a single, oval exhaust outlet is positioned at either end of the widened rear bumper, emitting the anticipated pops, bangs and over-run farts that add to the auditory appeal.
The sports seats hug the hips with near-Velcro-like grip, while a sports steering wheel, with perforated leather grip zones and paddles for the standard 7-speed dual-clutch, automated-manual gearbox (DSG), provides a near-perfect driving position. Aluminium-look pedals and other ‘high-end detailing’ round off what VW describes as an exclusive interior design. The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine matches its power output with a near identical 295lbs ft of torque, enough to whisk the Clubsport from 0-60mph in around 5.5s, to a top speed restricted politically to 155mph.
Conclusion: As with its predecessor, the new Golf GTi Clubsport will attract a collectible status, as long as VW keeps the production volume under control. It will be desirable, of that there is zero doubt, mainly because it is a Golf.