The high-performance VW Golf line-up is starting to get complicated. At the bottom of the ladder is the standard GTI, all 217bhp and £27,495 of it.
Next comes the GTI Performance Pack, which adds 10bhp,a limited- slip diff and £995. Then there’s the GTI Clubsport Edition 40, which has more power still – up to 286bhp on overboost – and a more focused chassis setup with the option of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. The Edition 40 was launched last year to celebrate 40 years of the Golf GTI and it costs £30,935.
Now Volkswagen has taken things a step further with the Clubsport S, which has more power still, less weight, Cup 2 tyres as standard and an even more focused chassis. Just 400 will be built, with 150 right-hand- drive cars coming to the UK, priced at around £35,000. The Clubsport S was built for one sole purpose: to capture the Nürburgring front-wheel-drive production car lap record. In April this year, it did just that, clocking a remarkable 7min 49.21sec.
The hot-Golf range doesn’t stop there, though, because buyers can also choose between the diesel GTD, the plug-in-hybrid GTE and, of course, the 296bhp, four-wheel-drive. The Clubsport S becomes the fastest and most powerful factory Golf of all time, though, which is as strong an indication as any that it could be the pick of the current Golf family.
It uses the familiar EA888 turbocharged four-cylinder engine, tweaked here to deliver 306bhp, with 2801b ft of torque between 1850 and 5700rpm. The only transmission option is a six-speed manual – the DSG ‘box would add 20 unwanted kilograms – and drive is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled LSD. The Clubsport S records a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds, trimming a full half second off the Clubsport’s time, and the top speed is 165mph, up from 155.
It carries over the Clubsport’s aerodynamic revisions and more neutral chassis setup, adding bespoke damping rates, new front knuckles, more camber and a lightweight front aluminium subframe. Weight is down by 15kg, helped by the ditching of the rear seats and some sound-deadening material. The aim of all this is to make the car more stable at speed and faster through corners.
Fittingly, VW’s launch venue for the Clubsport S is the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and given the car’s very specific remit, it should come as no surprise that it feels very good to drive here. The engine immediately feels stronger than the Clubsport’s, with sharp throttle response, a muscular mid-range and a vibrant top end. Only in the final dash to the limiter does it begin to strain.
The manual shift is tight and direct and the car gets its power down to the road remarkably cleanly. Traction Is huge and the chassis never tugs across ruts or cambers in the way that other high-powered front- wheel-drive cars can.
The steering, meanwhile, is direct with a reasonable amount of feel, but what’s really impressive is the front-end grip. The Cup 2s bite hard and the neutral chassis balance means there’s virtually no understeer to contend with in medium- and high-speed corners. It means you can really chase the Clubsport S as hard as you dare, rather than just having to manage understeer.
There is some body roll and the chassis doesn’t feel massively stiff – over the big kerbs it’s wonderfully pliant, in fact – but body control is good and the car isn’t unsettled by bumps. It’s well damped in compressions, too, which bodes well for the public road.
Impressively, the Clubsport S never feels like a raw or particularly uncompromising machine. Some will say a two-seat hatchback shouldn’t make a priority of everyday usability, but it’s difficult to take issue with the car’s breadth of ability.
The Clubsport S is a very impressive machine, then, but until we’ve driven it on the road, we can’t award it the full five stars.
Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1984cc, turbo
Power: 306bhp @ 5800-6500rpm
Torque: 280lb ft @ 1850-5700rpm
0-62 mph: 5.8sec (claimed)
Top speed: 165mph(claimed)
Weight: 1285kg (242bhp/ton)
Basic price: £35,000