VW’s Golf GTI Clubsport is everything the GTI should’ve been
Menacing hot hatch delivers right mix of performance, refinement and fun behind the wheel
The Golf GTI Clubsport has the extra punch that should have been delivered by the “regular” GTi
Model: Golf GTi
Date Reviewed: February 2, 2017
The beauty of Volkswagen’s Golf GTi is that it defies stereotypes. It’s as naturally at home outside a terraced house as it is on the gravel driveway of a country estate. Its ownership profile stretches from car enthusiast to bank officials and suburban families.
You can rub shoulders with Porsche owners and Fiat Panda drivers and garner respect from both. It’s an apt attribute for the hot hatch from the people’s car firm.
So what exactly is the GTI Clubsport? Well, it’s the dressed up version of the current Golf GTi and a celebration of all that those three letters stand for.
VW has a tradition of delivering some top-level anniversary editions and the GTi recently marked its 40th anniversary, with no sign of a mid-life crisis.
With an output of 265bhp – with a further 25bhp on tap for 10 second bursts – the Clubsport is not the hottest Golf out on the market. That title belongs to the R version. Yet it’s arguably a better buy for all that. And it’s what the current GTi should have been from the start.
You may recall that the Focus RS made second place in our Top 100 list of cars for 2017 (see here). Or you may have a fulfilling life and forgotten all about our list. Anyway, the regular Golf was much higher rated than the regular Focus, but when it came to hot hatches the RS spanked all its rivals – and several cars at twice its price.
Racy and menacing
The Clubsport doesn’t topple our hot hatch king, but it does tick the box in areas the RS really struggles. Styling for a start. The Clubsport looks racy and menacing but well-tailored at the same time. It would not look out of place in the leafiest of south Dublin suburbs. Cruise around the same streets in the gurgling RS and worried curtain twitchers will be calling the Garda.
The RS is unquestionably an engineering feat par excellence. For raw menace, laser-like handling precision and fun it has no match. For weekend blasts and track events it is the only choice .Yet I remain unconvinced that I could live with one from Monday to Friday. That’s where the Golf comes in.
This asks you to compromise a little on raw power and in-your-face snarl, but offers much more refinement. Inside and out, there’s an air of quality you don’t get from the Ford, or others like the Honda Civic Type R or even the potent Seat Leon Cupra R.
You could, of course, opt for the Golf R version, but for me it doesn’t live up to its promise. The original Golf R set a benchmark for the badge that has made the follow-up models seem limp and too tame. In trying to tame the Golf R for tougher emissions and fuel economy rules – and try and make it somewhat affordable – VW seemed to have neutered its original raw passion.
With the GTi, however, you are tapping into a rich vein of motoring heritage. And while the current range lacks the final punch you might expect – again seemingly as a result of trying to improve fuel economy and emissions – the Clubsport has the extra punch that should have been delivered by the “regular” GTi. This, then is the finished product.
At €43,375, it’s nearly €5,000 more than a regular Golf, it’s not the facelifted version, and supply can be hard to secure. At that price it’s also rubbing wheel arches with some serious executive saloons.
However, there are some out there for whom the mid-level Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series is just too sedate and middle-aged. The Clubsport is meant to appeal to the GTi aficionados, but it should be considered by even aspiring customers to the hot hatch range. If you can get your hands on one.
Our rating: 5/5 (just)
Verdict: Not as raw or passionate as a Ford Focus RS but a much better all-rounder. The right mix of madcap fun and everyday motoring.