2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport
– Solid drivetrain upgrade
– Practical cabin and features
– Top-notch ride and handling
– Pricey with options
– Multimedia needs more colour
– Squirmy in threshold braking
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a legend. It was the hot hatch ever when it debuted in 1975, and aside from the few missteps in between, has generally been a solid performer that all other hot hatches have been benchmarked against, especially in the past decade. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, VW has added the Golf GTI Clubsport to the range, slotting in the very tight niche between the standard Golf GTI and the Golf R.
The 7th-generation VW Golf GTI was always a well-proportioned hatchback, cleanly styled and light on the boy-racer accessories. For the Clubsport, they did add more aggression to the design, but it’s all functional, from the redone vents and subtle splitter on the front bumper to the gloss-black rear spoiler that adds more downforce above 120 kph. Our car also came with the cool 19-inch “Brescia” wheels as seen on our test car instead of the standard 18-inchers, but it did not have the panoramic glass roof option, making do with a black-painted roof instead.
Inside, the cabin design also remains as staid as in a regular GTI, with changes limited to the seat upholstery. Our car came with a colourful patterned alcantara/cloth scheme on the seats, although leather is optional. The front upper-door sills are padded but the rear ones are hard plastic, as are other parts of the doors.
Otherwise the soft-touch dash, cushy door inserts and armrests, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and nice texturing on all surfaces still give off some semblance of VW’s traditionally-premium cabin feel.
Cabin space itself is pretty good, with tons of headroom under that boxy roof. The manually-adjustable front seats are nicely bolstered and there’s enough rear legroom for most average-sized adults. Optional racing-style seats are not offered for the GCC market. The boot volume is decent, with a couple of grocery-bag hooks and an as-needed split-folding rear seat. A nice packaging touch is hiding the stereo subwoofer within the spare tyre under the boot floor. There’s enough door pockets, padded seatback pockets and cup-holders, the latter nicely hidden when not in use.
Features include a capacitive touchscreen with a largely monochrome interface that integrates the good CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth phone and other settings, with our tester getting the optional navigation or USB ports. It did come with a good dual-zone auto a/c, rear a/c vents, rear camera with sensors, HID headlights with turning fog lamps, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, electric parking brake, lots of airbags and smart keyless entry with starter button.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-4 gets a solid upgrade, now delivering 265 hp from 5350 to 6600 rpm and 350 Nm of torque from 1700 to 5300 rpm, with an overboost function that bumps up the numbers to 290 hp and 380 Nm for up to 10 seconds when the throttle is floored in third gear and above. Brapping and popping on gear-changes, a wheelspinning launch resulted in a 0-100 kph time of 6.0 seconds, that too on a hot July night. It’s an excellent engine with plenty of low-end kick and good passing power, but in aggressive driving, it really doesn’t feel any quicker than the regular GTI in terms of power when you’re not fully flooring it. And somehow, a Golf R still feels stronger when putting pedal to the metal at speeds above 100 kph.
When launching from idle, the car bogs down for a split-second before flying off, with no obvious torque steer. The 6-speed dual-clutch automatic’s gear changes are quick, and the manual paddle-shifters are very responsive. We were burning fuel at a rate of 13.6 litres/100 km, which is a lot like a V6, but then again, we weren’t trying to be light on the throttle.
It’s the handling that’s the real revelation though. With the driver-selectable mode simply set to “Normal” rather than “Sport”, the car clearly is a step above the regular GTI, the latter one offered here only without a Performance Pack. To sharpen the handling, VW has recalibrated the springs, dampers and bumpstops, plus there’s an electronically-controlled differential that shuffles power between the front wheels to improve traction and reduce understeer, while the larger-diameter front brakes were donated by the Golf R.
That trick diff makes a huge difference when you throw the Clubsport into a curve. Once you enter the corner, you just keep going faster and faster, trying to get to that point where understeer would kick in, except that it never really gets there. At the point where you hear a little tyre squeal, just back off ever-so-slightly with the steering and throttle inputs, and the car sorts it all out, giving you the confidence to try it all over again.
Also, when you turn the steering wheel and floor the throttle at the very low speeds, the regular GTI and even the Golf R have a tendency to go wide with understeer. None of that happens in the Clubsport. It just turns. And this is with 225/35 tyres that our car came with, oddly enough, as Europe gets 235-width rubbers.
There’s no obvious body roll as you navigate turns with the well-weighted power steering which benefits from a tight ratio, never feels too heavy, and even seems to offer mildly better feedback than the near-lifeless standard GTI’s wheel. About the only oddity we noticed was a tendency for the rear axle to squirm a bit under hard braking, at that threshold point just before ABS kicks in. It actually feels like the car now has too much stopping power.
The Clubsport also benefits from adaptive dampers (an option that is usually left out on local GTI base models). That means this hotter hatch actually rides better than the regular GTI in “Comfort” and “Normal” modes. It’s as smooth as a BMW 3-Series we’d say, with the only harshness felt over sharp obstacles such as road-reflectors and pebbles. Road and wind noise are moderate at highway speeds, a lot of it drowned out by a very mild engine drone. Still, it’s a better daily driver than the basic versions of the Golf R and GTI that don’t have adaptive dampers.
The GTI Clubsport is truly the best hot hatch we’ve ever driven when it comes to all-round abilities. It’s somehow more predictable to handle than the all-wheel-drive Golf R, as comfortable as a BMW 3-Series, as fast as any number cars with bigger V6 and V8 engines, and still comes in at a relatively attainable price, even if expensive for a compact car. With a limited production run, more aggressive looks and a slightly lower price than the base Golf R, this is the Golf variant we’d put down our money on.
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