Road Test of the Year 2016: VW Golf GTI Clubsport Review

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Clipping down a B-road makes you realise a couple of things about the VW Golf GTI Clubsport. Despite still being a front-wheel drive hot hatch in a world where four-wheel drive is becoming the
norm, it's an effortless hack.

The suspension set-up is specific to the 261bhp Clubsport and it generates a pleasing result, as the limited-edition Golf shows no hint of washing out of corners even with a fine film of mist slithering across the road.

It's no balancing act of forces either – with the steering reassuringly weighted, it never feels as though you're on a knife-edge. It's enough to produce plenty of pace on a great driving road and it doesn't need a huge amount of commitment to keep it there either.

The satisfaction of the drive is quickly dogged by a follow-up question. Is the Clubsport perhaps a little bit boring? You certainly shouldn't expect any fireworks from the engine. This is the same EA888 unit you'll find up and down the various brands in the VW Group – a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol – and it is a fairly muted option. Even when pushing on, it's not the most vocal of units, and there's one of those awful synthetic sound synthesiser units piping fake noise into the cabin too.

It's very much a flexible power unit, though, and one that pulls you along firmly on request, rather than a barnstorming hand grenade of thrills. Most of the time it produces up to 261bhp, but an overboost function throws in 25 more horses for a few seconds if you've got the pedal mashed into the bulkhead in third gear or higher.

It makes overtaking the truck that's spoiling the fun a simple task and when you're asking the maximum from the Clubsport, you'll get a somewhat satisfying little bark from the exhaust as the DSG box shifts as a nod to excitement.

The aesthetics of the thing are just as undramatic. Ultimately, this is a Volkswagen Golf and while it bears the GTI badging, the famous red GTI pinstripe and some natty 'Clubsport' branded decals right down on the sills, it looks to most as if it's just a white Volkswagen Golf.

VW Golf GTI Clubsport

VW Golf GTI Clubsport

Ours was even the five-door model – practical but not exactly sporty.
The exterior changes are extremely subtle for the most part – a deeper front bumper with a few more holes in it and a slightly elongated boot spoiler are just about all that will differentiate the Clubsport from any other GTI. Whether this is good or bad rather depends on whether you like your hot hatch to shout about the fact it's a hot hatch, or let the performance do the talking.

It's a similar tale when you get inside, but in here it's definitely no bad thing.

It's a high-quality environment, with plenty of Alcantara, terrific seats and the usual Golf toys, bells and whistles.

It has an infotainment system that's intuitive, sensible and usable with the only suggestion of something different from the usual Volkswagen Group fare being a G-meter buried in one of the vehicle menus.

But still, the Golf GTI is credited with kick- starting the 'hot hatch' craze for manufacturers putting oodles of power into everyday family cars. It practically created its own sector and these days it's tricky to find a manufacturer that makes a 'C-segment' vehicle like the Golf and doesn't force-feed it with far too much power.

The key to the Clubsport is that around town it's just a Golf – a practical, five seat hatchback with a 380-litre boot – but out here in darkest Wales, it's as quick as just about anything else. Wherever and however you want to drive it, the Clubsport has no fuss or drama.

There's no fighting it, there's no gaudiness, there's no need for weighty technology to rein its potential in and there's no compromising its family hatch credentials in the pursuit of pure pace. When it comes to celebrating the GTI name and the entire hot hatch concept, Volkswagen has pretty much aced it.


THE KNOWLEDGE:
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 40

Price (as tested): £33,010
Engine: 2.0-litre 4 cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 261bhp (286bhp on overboost), 350Nm
Top Speed: 155mph 0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 40.4mpg combined
Emissions: 158g/km

Review written by Andrew Evans