I am distraught. ‘My’ beloved Golf GTI Edition 40 Clubsport has been heartlessly snatched away from me, taken back to VW to be ‘de-fleeted’ and sold on. OK, so it wasn’t ever mine, hence the inverted commas in that last sentence, but it’s a car you can’t help but fall for.
There are more capable hot hatchbacks out there, but few that can mix it with the Golf in terms of everyday usability. Yes, a Honda Civic Type R - the recently discontinued one, at least - would quite happily gap it on track, but it’s also lumbered with a spectacularly user un-friendly trip computer system, a borderline unpleasant engine and a woeful ride. There are similar complaints you could level at the Ford Focus RS, but there’s no such issue with the Golf.
In fact, the Clubsport is seemingly without any major flaws, except one biggie: you can’t buy one. It’s the best Mk7 Golf, hell, probably the best Golf ever (I’m not counting the Clubsport S, since it ceased to be a ‘proper’ Golf the moment the seats were ripped out), but they’re all gone. And given that it was a 40th anniversary special for the GTI, you can quite realistically rule out a follow-up happening during this Golf ‘generation’.
For the foreseeable, the most powerful front-driving, road-going Golf will be the GTI Performance (below), a car we’ve just driven. As with the pre-facelift Performance, it’s a massive no-brainer compared to the regular GTI, with around £1000 (our estimate based on the last PP - prices for the new one aren’t confirmed yet) buying you the same VAQ electronic locking differential found in the Clubsport and Clubsport S, plus a 15bhp bump in power. With the standard Golf GTI’s output raised to 227bhp, the Performance is now good for 242bhp, narrowing the gap to the Clubsport.
In many ways it’s a fine hot hatch. The eager, free-revving 2.0-litre EA888 turbo four is sweeter than it ever has been, and is especially glorious when teamed up with VAG’s slick six-speed manual gearbox. The quick steering feels natural even though it’s geared to tighten the ratio the more you turn - a feature I actually rather like. Meanwhile the VAQ does a great job of subtly staving off understeer, encouraging you to put your foot down even more to be ‘dragged’ out of every tight corner exit as it shuffles the power between the two driven wheels.
But, the driving experience is still a fair way off ‘our’ dearly departed Clubsport. The damping on the GTI Performance may offer a better compromise between spirited driving and everyday use, but I prefer the firmness of the Clubsport. I also prefer the VAQ diff in the Clubsport - which seems more aggressive - and with less power to play with, the GTI Performance doesn’t give you that wonderful feeling of the front-wheel drive chassis barely containing the turbocharged fury.
For the vast majority of people, the Performance is the one to go for. It’s much less expensive than the Clubsport was, is more comfortable, and thoroughly likeable. But it’s a massive shame that the GTI’s full potential - manifested in the Clubsport - will remain unreached for now.
Can a ‘regular’ Golf GTI ever be as loveable as the Edition 40? We’ll find out very soon with the arrival of a three-door DSG Mk7.5 Golf GTI long-term test car (due next month), but for now, you’ll find me lying on the floor, trying not to cry, and crying a lot.