When the Golf GTI Clubsport made it to UK showrooms, we couldn’t help but notice a little something had been added onto its name: Edition 40. It served as a reminder that this tweaked GTI is essentially a 40th birthday celebration, while reviving the naming structure previously seen on various anniversary GTIs. What it also did, for me at least, is draw attention to the fact it’s by far and away the best of all the anniversary Golfs. To explain why, we’ll have to go back to look at the first one and work our way forward to the Ed. 40.
First up, we have the GTI 20th Anniversary (above). It was cooked up using the third-generation fast Golf - one of the least revered of the lot - and consisted of little more than a trim package featuring fancier 16-inch BBS wheels, nicer seats, smoked light clusters, and, err, floor mats.
GTI 25th Anniversary (below) on the other hand was at least interesting, given that VW had taken the curious decision to give buyers the option of a 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine alongside the 1.8-litre turbo petrol. The diesel had less power than the pokiest fourth-gen GTI, but - as you’d expect - more torque.
Next up is the Edition 30, which is much more my cup of tea - to the point of which I deemed it necessary to get one together with ‘our’ Edition 40 for a photocall and back-to-back drive (big thanks to Andy Robertson for lending us his!) Again, the most obvious changes are trim related, with a new set of wheels, a smattering of badges and various body-coloured bits added. This time though, VW had upped the firepower relative to the standard MkV Golf GTI, slotting in what was essentially a de-tuned Audi S3 engine.
It’s similar to the 2.0-litre FSI lump found in the boggo GTI, but with the crucial addition of a larger K04 turbocharger, plus stronger pistons and con rods. Power was up by 30bhp, enough for an output of 227bhp and the potential to give the heavier R32 some serious gyp. And as it has the bigger turbo and stronger internals, it’s spectacularly easy to extract more power with a simple remap. That’s why you’ll find so many in the classifieds with a power figure that starts with a ‘3’ rather than a ‘2’.
With no mechanical changes other than the under-bonnet jiggery-pokery, it’s very much the same to drive as my own, ‘normal’ Mk5 Golf GTI. It’s noticeably more eager when you put your foot down owing to the increase in power, but that’s about it.
The Edition 35 (below) employed a similar recipe, with the power boosted from 207bhp to 232bhp, but with the chassis left well alone. The exterior makeover wasn’t as substantial though, consisting only of a slight tweak for the front and rear bumpers, plus some new badges.
After this series of commendable but not exactly drastic special editions, VW went all out for the GTI’s 40th birthday special. We’re talking a substantial boost from 227bhp to 287bhp over the Performance Pack GTI (when bearing the ‘overboost’ function available from third gear and up). An extensive, lift-cancelling aero kit consisting of a new front bumper, multi-part roof spoiler and rear diffuser. And perhaps most importantly, reworked suspension including re-profiled springs, dampers and beefed up bump stops. Much more like it.
As much as I enjoyed the short time I spent with the Edition 30 you see on this page, you can’t help but see it and the other anniversary Golfs as half measures. They don’t do enough to distance themselves from their regular GTI counterparts, but that’s not a criticism you can level at the Edition 40 Clubsport, and most definitely not an accusation you can hurl at the hardcore, Nurburgring-conquering S version.
VW has done more than enough to make this latest birthday bash GTI a very different animal to the standard Mk7 GTI. It’s noticeably harder, shaper and more exciting. I’m going to miss it sorely once I have to give the keys back.