2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport: A Golf on Cocaine

Strong points
  • Incredible handling
  • Overboost function
  • Ready for track use
Weak points
  • Not available in North America
  • Ride can be a little jarring on rougher roads
Full report

Not that I personally know what it’s like to be on cocaine, but I can imagine it thanks to all of the Hollywood blockbuster movies. The immediacy of the Clubsport’s sharp and focused nature does not suffer fools. It’s like a kick in the groin—you feel it immediately.

This GTI’s looks and seats tell only half a tale as the moment the car is put into gear, the afterburners are already full on and your senses are on “holly crap!” The GTI Clubsport is fierce and fast and then, you shift into second, the first curve comes up and the adrenaline then begins to flow.

Truth be told, I was mistaken when I wrote up my “Spotlight” story last week, as I was under the impression I was going to drive a Clubsport S. Sadly, I did not, but I did cross Austrian mountain passes in a regular Clubsport which turned out to be a good thing as we were three in the car…

The culmination of 40 years

This car feels to me today like what the GTI must have felt to auto critics right around the time I was born. All manners of controls and drive interactions are met with mechanisms and technology that are dialled to 11. Much has changed over the last four decades, but all has been for the better. At least for those that need help when it comes to “driving.”

I was reminded of this fact while I drove an MK1 and MK2 GTI from VW’s classic collection. These cars offer but the basics; the rest is up to the driver to keep the shiny side of the car up. Modern cars do nearly all of the thinking for drivers nowadays—they have a built-in survival instinct.

If I often find this reality unfortunate, as all manners of people behind the wheel can come off as heroes, I can and do find the upside. With a minimum amount of experience and talent, cars like the GTI Clubsport can bring out the best in a driver. If this car wasn’t as good as it is, Benjamin Leuchter would not have been able to set an all-time record lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife for a front-wheel-drive car.

Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

He managed this feat in a very limited-edition, 400-unit, 306-horsepower GTI Clubsport S. I got to drive a 265-horsepower non-S, and I wasn’t disappointed. On arrival day, the first car I spent wheel time with was a Golf R wagon, or the coolest, most versatile and sporty small car in the world. Go ahead, disagree with me… However, as fast as the R was, the Clubsport (CS) felt faster, more volatile. And I loved it.

The well-known 2.0L TSI turbocharged engine is up on power versus the regular GTI, but its torque rating remains the same at 258 lb.-ft. The way the CS’ mill is tuned, twist and pull come in at slightly higher engine speeds. However, there is no drama to be found. That is unless you push harder and hold the throttle down when the overboost function dishes out an extra 25 horsepower for up to 10 seconds. If used wisely, this is your “push-to-pass” mode.

The CS is designed with the driver in mind, the real kind, and it demonstrates it by being agitated and excitable, even when the Driving Mode Selection is set in “normal” or “comfort” modes. Dial it to “sport”, and the fun begins. Compared to a GTI, the CS’s heightened senses make everything happen that much faster. Steering is quick, throttle response is psychic—the car just wants to go.

Sport mode automatically sets the XDS Plus electronic differential to its most aggressive setting and it is perhaps the car’s most appreciable feature. The suspension is calibrated for maximum grip (10% stiffer spring rates), somewhat at the expense of comfort as with the GTI, and so the CS remains disturbingly flat around bends. The electronic diff allows the driver to get on the throttle sooner and it is possible to feel the outside front wheel dig in for grip, effectively pushing the car out from the apex faster without showing any signs of understeer.

Tuned with performance in mind, the always brilliant DSG ‘box makes sense. It dispenses with gear changes like Homer faced with a dozen donuts. All of this “go” is manhandled by the CS’ brakes, which are unchanged from the GTI.

Spoilers, and seats

The new Clubsport GTI also gets a revised look to go along with the extra performance, and it’s smashingly handsome.

From the front, the über cool honeycomb grille and different bumper give the occasionally subdued GTI a sexy dose of ‘tude. Taken from the rear, the CS is garnished with a sweet hatch-mounted spoiler and a lower diffuser. I pray that all these elements find their way in the next generation GTI.

The cabin is much the same as is a standard GTI save for the incredible RECARO seats. These sport bucket seats are designed to hold occupants in place while Gs are being pulled and look good through the side window.

As with all Golfs and hatchbacks in general, flexibility is the name of the game. All we three and our gear were comfortable and well cared for in the car. And we could go still go real fast.

No Clubsport for you

The Clubsport feels far more athletic than a GTI and unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for it, as North America will be left out. The reasoning is simple: There’s no room in the pricing structure to accommodate a car between the GTI Performance and the Golf R.

For those of us that love the track, the GTI Clubsport is a skilled and honed car. For everyone and everything else, there’s an R.

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