If we ask VW, this 40th birthday special edition can go from zero to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds – exactly six tenths quicker than a normal GTI with a DSG gearbox. But, as we know from past experience with various GTIs, this claimed figure should be taken with a pinch of salt. Why? Because our tell-no-lies Vbox testing equipment says that various Golf GTIs have gone quicker than claimed over the years.
And the same is true here. When we plugged our GPS-based data logger into the Clubsport it showed a best 0-100km/h time of 5.6 seconds – three tenths quicker than quoted. This number officially makes it the quickest front-wheel-drive car yet to have passed through our doors. Quicker than the previous generation Focus RS. Quicker than the new Civic Type R. Quicker than any Renault Sport model. Quicker than all GTIs before it.
The Clubsport also puts to shame some serious machinery over the quarter-mile too. A best elapsed time of 13.9 seconds means it’s faster at the strip than a BMW M135i. It’ll eat Mitsubishi Evo Xs for breakfast, chomp V8 Mustangs for lunch, and finish Scirocco Rs for dessert.
Under the hood is the same 2-litre turbo as the Golf R, but tuned slightly differently. The Clubsport’s outputs are 195kW and 350Nm, but a full-throttle switch activates an overboost function and for ten seconds at a time there’s a full 213kW and 380Nm available. This is 7kW more than the R (with identical torque), but the Golf R’s all-wheel-drive traction advantage means it’s quicker off the line with 0-100km/h coming in 5.2 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.5. Remember, folks, the R is not labelled as a GTI, so it still reigns supreme as the quickest of all Golfs.
Traction is an issue
This is a lot of power to direct through two contact patches, and if you get on the gas too much too early the front tyres do grapple for adhesion – especially on cruddy South African roads. In normal circumstances, with the traction control in its default On position, this results in a flickering ESP light and brief losses of drive as the system hands throttle duty over to a grip-finding computer.
With ESP off a right foot hoof sees a little steering wiggle, a lot of front suspension shudder, and wheelspin galore.
The hoo-hah is accompanied by an unusual interference between the gas pedal and the road as the XDS+ system struggles to make sense of the situation. This electronic diff lock is designed to work in corners, where an unweighted inside wheel is braked in order to send drive to the grippier tyre on the other side, so understandably it gets a little confused and pure acceleration is a bit corrupted in a straight-ahead position.
Thankfully all of this is overridden with a launch-control system that smoothly lays down power after a 3000rpm explosion through the front axle. No slipping clutches. No wheelspin. No turbolag. No forward propulsion wasted between gears. The GTI’s dual-clutch gearbox is the secret to its giant-killing performance, and here, just like any auto version it ticks through its six ratios with insta-quickness and faultless timing. A six-speed manual isn’t offered in our market.
Reasonable ride comfort
Our test car was fitted with optional Dynamic Chassis Control, or adjustable shocks for short. Normally I’m the first to say that these systems’ firmest settings are way too hard for anything but track use, but somehow VW’s managed to tune the three selectable options with reasonable comfort, even in its sportiest mode. That said, I still preferred everyday cruising with settings wound down to Comfort.
Same goes for the fake engine noise piped in through an electronic speaker. In the same 6.5-inch touchscreen menu where the suspension adjustments are found it’s possible to alter the intensity of the synthetic exhaust tone. It’s a more genuine sound than others I’ve heard (ahem, BMW) but in max boy-racer mode it does bring in a very Playstation-esque resonance.
How does it stand out?
So, besides more power, what else does the Clubsport come with? On the outside there’s a new front splitter and rear wing, some door decals and two new wheel designs. Our test car came with smaller ‘Belvedere’ 18s, but ride compromising ‘Brescia’ 19s are an option. The front bumper is also re-styled for better airflow, but it might take the truest GTI aficionado to notice.
Inside the differences are more pronounced. An alcantara-covered steering wheel and a set of bucket seats with gloss black hard-shell backs (optional) make for a racy atmosphere. Centre console trims are also piano black, seat belts get red stitch lines, the DSG lever’s boot is in soft velour and the door panels and dash inserts are a neat, chequered black finish.
Not counting the stripped out Clubsport S (only 47 are allocated to South Africa) this is the king ding-a-ling of all GTIs, and it comes with the (verified) performance figures to back it up. You will have to pay for the privilege of owning one though, as at R541 520 it’s 60 grand pricier than a normal automatic version. And, for R35 000 (R51 000 for auto) you could have the even quicker R.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 6-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 195kW @ 5350 – 6600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1700 – 5300rpm
0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 5.6 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 249km/h
Price: R541 520
Warranty: 3-year / 120 000km
Service plan: 5-year / 90 000km