Over 40 years and seven generations, the VW Golf GTI has defined what we expect of a hot hatch. There have been highs, like the now collectable first and second generations, but also lows with later versions being closer to tepid than hot.
Since entering the turbocharged era in 2004 with the Mk5, however, the Golf GTI has been in rude health, blending a compelling mix of thrilling performance with everyday usability and refinement. This new limited-edition Golf GTI Clubsport is aimed at using the best of the current line-up as the basis of the fastest, most focused and potent GTI yet.
As it stands the Golf GTI range starts at £27,135 for a three-door version with 212bhp and a six-speed manual gearbox. From there you can add a DSG twin-clutch automatic 'box, and, for an additional £995, add the GTI Performance Pack. The latter gets you 227hp and a limited-slip differential to overcome the unfavourable handling quirks typically lurking in powerful front-wheel-drive cars.
This is the basis for the Clubsport, which goes further with a power boost to 261hp, plus a temporary 10-second overboost to 286bhp. To mark it out from the crowd it gets a distinctive new bodykit, two-tone paint, Clubsport decals and a host of detail trim upgrades designed to appeal to GTI enthusiasts.
What’s the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport like to drive?
Like a GTI Performance Pack but even better. VW claims the bodykit provides genuine downforce, improving high-speed stability and adjusting the balance of the car to make it more neutral and less inclined to wash wide in hard cornering. That's all very well for the track but, since it doesn't really do anything below 70mph, is of limited relevance on the road.
Tweaks to the chassis to accentuate this new balance are, however, more noticeable and the Clubsport feels lively, complemented by its smooth, flexible power delivery and excellent control weights. The manual is more involving – and 20kg lighter – but there's no shame in opting for the DSG if you want something better suited to the daily grind.
That's the big surprise here: for all the motorsport image and branding, the GTI Clubsport is less of a track day hero and more a fast, refined and well-balanced all-rounder. Exactly the qualities the GTI has traded on for the past 40 years.
What’s the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport like inside?
Much like the regular Golf GTI. That means sober and understated but carried off with superb quality. However, for the GTI Clubsport, VW has made extra effort with the feelgood factors, adding red-stitched Alcantara trim on the steering wheel. The dash and doors also get a unique 'Honeycomb 40' trim, and there are Clubsport specific instrument dials and further red stitching on the floor mats and seatbelts.
The racy looking seats really set the Clubsport apart from regular GTIs, too. VW isn't yet sure whether these will be standard or an option but either way they're a must-have from both a driving experience and resale point of view. The final UK spec is still to be confirmed but it looks like a 6.5in touchscreen will be standard with further options including the Golf's 8.0in Discover Media and Discover Pro navigation systems.
Should I buy one?
VW rather optimistically suggests buying one GTI Clubsport isn't enough and the true enthusiast should have one to drive and another to tuck away as a collector's item. That's perhaps taking things a bit far, but for long-time Golf GTI fanatics there's plenty to set the Clubsport apart from regular GTIs.
For GTI fans the case is a clear one. From those just looking for a cracking hot hatch, however, it's worth noting that this much money will almost get you a BMW M135i or an Audi S3 – both much more powerful alternatives. There's also the looming presence of the GTI's potent big brother – the four-wheel drive R – leaving the Clubsport a narrow operating window in the hot Golf hierarchy.
What Car? says...
VW Golf GTi Clubsport
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price £29,000 (est)
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 5.9 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 40.3mpg