Road test: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

  • VW Golf GTI Clubsport gets even hotter
  • 150 S models coming to the UK
  • 35kg lighter, 310hp and manual gearbox only

The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is the fastest production Golf GTI ever – which makes this a very hot hot-hatch indeed.

VW will only make 400 of them, and 150 are coming to the UK in right-hand drive. It’s a tuned-up version of the Golf GTI Clubsport, itself a kind of harder, better, faster evolution of the regular Golf GTI.

More than just an S badge

The Clubsport S is more powerful than the Clubsport, winding 306bhp from the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. That makes it even more powerful than the flagship VW Golf R, but unlike the R, the Clubsport S isn’t all-wheel-drive – it still puts all that power through its front wheels.

Helping it put it down onto the tarmac is a set of very sticky Michelin trackday tyres – far more suited to dry weather than wet – and different suspension settings. It’s around 35kg lighter than the non-S Clubsport, too, partly thanks to a new aluminium front subframe but mostly because VW’s chucked the rear seats and lots of the sound-deadening material away. This is a two-seater hatchback.

We tested the car at the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany, an appropriate place since the GTI Clubsport S has recently claimed the coveted lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars around the daunting, bumpy 13-mile circuit. The record was previously held by Honda’s Civic Type R.

Some cars designed to break lap records can feel twitchy and intimidating to drive, but the Clubsport S is different. It’s reassuringly stable and predictable, especially under hard braking. Its suspension is also very good at handling bumps thanks to clever electronically controlled dampers.

One of the ways VW was able to claim the lap record at the Nurburgring was by ruthlessly hopping over the circuit’s tall kerbs.

Manual gearbox only, no rear seats, air-conditioning if you're lucky

While the ordinary Golf GTI and GTI Clubsport models are available with a choice of manual or DSG automatic gearboxes, all Clubsport S cars are fitted with a manual transmission, because it’s much lighter than a DSG ’box, and therefore faster around a circuit.

Compared with a normal Golf GTI, the Clubsport S has sharper, keener-feeling steering and changes direction more nimbly. That’s partly a result of the revised suspension geometry and sticky tyres, but also the weight saving. It feels very fast in a straight line, and even faster in the corners where there are chewing gum levels of grip to overcome.

The Clubsport S isn’t as fast in a straight line as some of its rivals like the Renaultsport Megane RS and Honda Civic Type R, but makes the time up in the corners where it’s more stable and grippy.

Although we were driving wearing a crash helmet, the Clubsport S sounds noticeably noisier than an ordinary Golf, because of the lack of sound deadening. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to drive the car on the road, where its steering and suspension might feel more hyperactive and hard work than on the track – but given how bumpy and undulating the Nurburgring is, we doubt it.

Should you buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S? A more pertinent question might be "can you buy one?" There are fewer cars coming to this country than there are Volkswagen dealers in it, and if you can find one you won’t get a choice of colour or spec.

A small percentage of cars don’t have air-conditioning (it was removed from the record-setting car to save weight) although most of them do. Prices for the UK haven’t yet been confirmed, although it’s expected to weigh in at around £35,000.

Verdict

If you can get your hands on one, and you really are willing to buy a hatchback without rear seats as a second car for weekend fun or trackdays (and with tyres that don’t really work very well in the wet), you won’t be disappointed.

The Clubsport S is a hugely fun car to drive, with deeply impressive handling abilities, more fun than both the GTI it’s based on and the flagship Golf R. And if you can’t find one, you could always unbolt the rear seats from the regular Golf GTI Performance Pack model…