Driven - January 2017

VW GTi Clubsport Extended Review

VW Golf GTi Clubsport Driven Review

Motorist Digital Magazine – Edition 08

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The VW Golf Clubsport is a car that excites the senses and I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoyed driving this car. For those who don’t know much or anything about the Clubsport, (which I find hard to believe) it’s the 40-year edition of the Golf GTi and as a result it has more power and added aggressive styling.

After a full day on track with this vehicle a few months back, I was looking forward to driving this car for a month, something I had the opportunity to do during December. With 195kWand 213kW on over-boost, it certainly has enough power, but how does this translate to the road when used as an everyday car? This was the purpose of our extended test, to find the answer to the question.

Interior & Tech

The Clubsport we drove was specified with most of the optional extras. It had the following: High Beam Control Light Assist, Adaptive Chassis Control DCC, Carplay & Andriod Auto, Satellite Navigation and the DynaAudio Excite Sound System. The only optional extra this car didn’t have was racing bucket seats and 19 inch wheels. The optional bucket seats look amazing, as they have a combination of Alcantara and piano black finish on the back of the seats, which matches the steering wheel. These seats really complete the look of the GTI Clubsport. Having spent time in the normal seats and the bucket options, I can confirm that the bucket seats hold the driver better in place, but these benefits do incur a loss of comfort.  As a result the standard options are much more suited for someone who will drive their Clubsport everyday. The standard options still support the driver well in the corners, but they don’t look nearly as good.  Personally I feel the bucket seats are worth the lack of comfort.

Like most modern Volkswagen’s, the infotainment is a joy to work with. In the Clubsport and standard GTI, it provides all the vehicle data you need. The driver can even have three digital dials up on the screen, providing live readings on G-Forces, power, engine temperature, boost pressure and more. It may seem like a gimmick, but I loved seeing all the figures. Although I was a little dismayed that on over-boost, the kW dial didn’t read 213kW as it should, instead it peaked at the standard 195kW. This wasn’t the end of the world, but a little annoying to be honest.

I don’t own an Android phone, so I didn’t test out the Android Auto connect system. I do have an iPhone though, and Apple CarPlay is a great feature. It’s a well-streamlined system which makes accessing music and maps easy. Interestingly, Siri also works with the steering wheel controls and all this connects as you plug in your phone. The optional DynAudio system also packs a punch and provides top-level audio quality. This is especially great for those days when you just don’t feel like the Clubsport Vrrrrpah! As the internet is now calling it.

For night time driving, the High Beam Light Assist picks up other cars ahead travelling in both directions extremely quickly. When it senses the other cars, it dims the high beam, even when the headlights are not in the Auto setting. This worked very well on the dimly lit road between Camps bay and Hout bay. The system actually reacts much quicker than other systems on more expensive vehicles we’ve driven. It gives the driver one less thing to think about when enjoying a bendy road such as the aforementioned one. Speaking of bendy roads, the Adaptive Chassis System (DCC), although expensive is another good investment. I have read reports online that some owners do not feel the difference between driving modes, but there is a difference. The edgy nature of the car can be reduced slightly when changing from Sport to Comfort with the DCC button. Engine noise is reduced in Comfort and the car gives you a little more over the bumps, not much but it is noticeable. It’s nice to be able to turn the car a notch down when needed. Is the system worth R12000 though? It’s a tough one, but we think its worth it.

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Performance:

The Clubsport is an experience, every time I sat low in this car and gripped the steering wheel, it felt special. This feeling increased when driven, the firm suspension and the beautiful way it turns into corners gives the car a very “racey” edge. It’s different to a standard GTI, the Clubsport is unique. Volkswagen has been able to fine tune each of their sporty hatches to feel different, as the Gold R also provides a different experience. 213kW and even 195KW is a lot of power to put through the front wheels, a little too much acceleration from a standstill will incur wheel spin, but through every gear after 1st, the power is delivered very smoothly.

It feels so much more alive and lighter on its feet than other 4wd hot hatches like the Volkswagen Golf R, Mercedes-AMG A45 or Audi RS3. Even though it produces less power, it’s more technical to drive, it makes you work more behind the wheel. At times it can be a little tricky to produce a driving experience you’re happy with on a tight road, because there is a fine line between under-steer and lift off over-steer. With Sport mode activated, the Clubsport’s differential works harder, so accelerating mid-corner is a pleasant experience as the front end pulls you out of the corner. The best way to drive the car fast is with all systems off. That way you have no interference and it’s all up to you. With the car unassisted, I felt so much more part of the car and it becomes a different machine without the traction control interfering when you don’t want it to. A Golf R won’t wheel spin through a bend in 3rd gear and that’s what makes the Clubsport a much more visceral vehicle.

The whole Clubsport experience is not just kept under the bonnet. It stands out from the crowd in the looks department as well. The front and rear splitters, larger chrome exhaust tips, small rear spoiler, darkened rear lights and lower stance set this apart from a standard GTI. Completed in Tornado Red, it draws a lot of attention and looks, well…awesome.

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We can go on all day about how nice the car is to drive fast, but what about traffic? bad roads and everything else you encounter everyday? Where the standard GTI can arguably be called the “perfect hatchback”, the Clubsport is more about performance, so there are things that it lacks in terms of everyday appeal. For instance, the stiffness of the suspension can be a drawback for everyday use. I drove the car for 1100km’s from Bloemfontein to Cape Town without stopping and even though it was great to do once, the comfort levels can get to you. This feeling is accentuated when sitting in the rear of the vehicle, as the passengers sit right above the wheel well and the dampers.

Another drawback from using the Clubsport as an everyday vehicle is that it will make you a hooligan on the roads. That’s a fact. The Vrrr-PAH becomes a daily craving, it goads you to behave badly whereas in the normal GTI you don’t feel impelled to drive like that all the time. Overtaking is an absolute breeze, especially in that rapid third gear. You end viewing the city as your personal racetrack, things like traffic circles become chicanes. It’s a guilty pleasure because it’s just so enjoyable. Your friends and family may end up getting a bit tired of your antics, as did mine.

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Overall:

It’s funny really, everything that makes the GTI Clubsport such a fantastic driving vehicle in the right conditions, also makes it a car that isn’t what you want to drive everyday. It’s a special car and should be treated as such. Weekends and the odd morning to work is the perfect lifestyle for the Clubsport, you will love it, and you will crave it. The standard GTI is still the perfect daily drive, especially considering the cost savings you will have since the Clubsport is not cheap. Sadly, not many of us can afford to purchase the Clubsport as just a weekend car. For those that have the R600K odd, you won’t be sorry to use it everyday though, we just hope it doesn’t lose the “fizz” as naturally, we get used to things. If that’s the case for you, always try find little safe spots to get the most out of the car. When you get this car on an empty “Chapmans-Peak” like road, it’s worth every potential speeding fine.

Of course the ultimate GTI to be launched is the Clubsport S. If you have the opportunity to get one of the 47 that will come to South Africa, you’ll have a future classic. With 228kW on tap and no rear seats, we cannot wait to see how that car drives. That being said, the “normal” GTI Clubsport was a delight and it will definitely be one of those cars that will instil nostalgia in the hearts of car lovers like us.

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