Inside and out, there isn’t a single thing saying ‘Clubsport‘ in this car. I’ve checked, thoroughly, and even fired a quick message over to one of VW UK PRs to make sure. I quite like that - it’s only ever going to be recognised by people who know.
Compared to a normal Golf GTI, there’s a slightly different front bumper with a lower splitter, some decals on the side, a bigger rear spoiler, and that’s about it. Oh, and the tailpipes are slightly further apart, and not for any technical reason - VW merely thought it looked good. Once you’re on the move and warmed up though, a prod of the throttle pedal reveals this to be a whole lot punchier than a standard GTI.
It’s that same smooth, eager response we’re used to from the EA888 VW Group uses in everything but with considerably more shove. The speed builds noticeably faster than it does in the 242bhp GTI, with 62mph coming up from rest in 5.6 seconds .
Power is now at 297bhp, while the torque has risen less dramatically from 272lb ft to 295. A much more fitting output for a C-segment hot hatch these days, but importantly, the newfound potency isn’t the thing here to change the way the car drives. VW has also dropped the ride height by 10mm, increased the negative camber at the front, and added new wheel hubs at the back.
The GTI is a very competent starting point, and the tweaks elevate the handling further. Noticeably so, even if it’s not a night and day difference. The Clubsport is a little more willing to quickly change direction and more confident-feeling. The electric power steering fettling works nicely, too. You’re still left wanting in terms of feedback, but there’s a welcome feeling of weight that’s missing in a lot of the quick VW Group stuff.
At the same time, the Clubsport can be a bit scrappy when your throttle applications get greedy. The side effect of the extra go is the VAQ electronically-controlled differential is taxed a lot more. And it’s when pushed in the tighter corners that the Clubsport doesn’t feel anything like as sticky as something like a Honda Civic Type R with its beefier front track, wider front tyres and mechanical LSD.
Understeer arrives earlier than we might like, although it’s not desperately far away from the more accomplished Civic in terms of traction. As we found with the regular Golf, it feels super stable in the higher-speed stuff.
As far as the ride goes, there’s an almost bewildering amount of choice for how soft or firm you want to make it. If you spec the DCC adaptive dampers as fitted to ‘our’ test car, there are 15 levels of stiffness to choose from. Too much choice? Perhaps, but going a couple of levels above the comfort setting proved to be a really good match for bumpy UK B-roads roads.
Something you’re given no choice over is the gearbox. Like the R we reviewed recently, your only option is of the seven-speed dual-clutch variety. And it’s… fine. There’s nothing drastically wrong with it, but the shifts aren’t quite as immediate nor dramatic as other twin-clutchers out there, and it’ll change up for you at the top end even in manual mode. Boo.
A manual would be a nice option, but when driving the Clubsport, I didn’t feel like I was missing one hugely. Perhaps that’s down to the positioning of the car - it may lack the outright aggression and capability of the Civic, but this is clearly pitched at a more restrained crowd that are still interested in driving.
It strikes a nice balance, providing a noticeable step up from the GTI without taking things too far. The only trouble is, so does the Golf R, and it’s only a couple of grand more. The monthly payments will be barely any different, and depending on the deals around when you take the plunge, you might even be able to get an R for less.
For the Golf 7, we argued that the Clubsport was by far the better car to drive. Given the dynamic steps forward the R has taken for the current generation, it’s no longer as clear cut. If it’s a GTI you’re after, though, and if the feeling of a car on a twisty bit of road is high on your agenda, the Clubsport is the only version you should be considering.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport stats
Engine: EA888 inline-four turbo
Torque: 295lb ft
Top speed: 155mph