Wolfsburg is a dreary city, even in summer, but in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal it looks bleaker than ever.
That’s all forgotten when you’re behind the wheel of the new Golf GTI Clubsport, however, an oddball alternative for those who prefer two-wheel drive and high-school styling.
The base GTI musters 165kW (0-100km/h in 6.5sec and a 245km/h top speed), the Performance Pack tosses in an extra 7kW (6.4sec and 248km/h), and the 206kW Golf R adds two giant tailpipes and all-wheel drive (5.1sec and 248km/h).
From February 2016, the new GTI Clubsport (5.9sec and 248km/h) will park between the Performance and the Golf R. The front-drive newcomer loses eight-tenths to the 206kW all-paw mega-Golf, but don’t be fooled by numbers. The Clubsport is a very different animal – it’s rawer, sharper and wilder.
The new GTI’s 2.0-litre petrol four-banger delivers 195kW and 350Nm. Not enough? Stick the selector in Sport and mash the throttle from third to sixth gear for an instant 20kW and 30Nm powershot, putting the Clubsport within range of the Golf R.
That’s the upside. The downside is that the extra grunt lasts just 10 seconds. Another 10 seconds allows the turbocharger to recover, and repeating the process serves another kick in the butt.
Unlike the Golf R, which is composed, competent and grown up, the Clubsport is a bag of hornets. With ESP active, fun is limited to straight-line surges, but with stability control switched off, this car has its boxing gloves on before you can say “hold on a sec”, standard e-diff notwithstanding.
This uber-Golf is neither a tweaked Peugeot 205 GTI, a meaner Renault Megane RS nor a fiercer Ford Focus ST. Instead, the Clubsport takes the art of lift-off oversteer to a more skilful, contained level. This car isn’t about overt hooliganism, but it will captivate sporty drivers because it rewards accuracy.
Six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG? If you’re a purist, it’ll likely be the DIY manual ’box, though the clutch-hoof may need some practice. First gear is aggressively short, second and third gears are spot on, and sixth has ‘overdrive’ etched across its cogs. Launch control is entirely foot-operated with the manual, whereas the DSG model has a hoon-assist function which doubles overboost to 20 seconds.
Stylistically, the Clubsport is an acquired taste. The unique front air dam, bespoke rocker panels, nasal air curtains, black rear diffuser and substantial roof spoiler with lateral flaps ensure plenty of downforce at both ends, though the aero doesn’t really work below 160km/h. But when high speed, ambitious g-force and strong vertical pressure combine, you’re suddenly grateful for the conspicuous wing work.
Contributing feel-good factors are the 10 per cent faster steering, 10 per cent higher lateral acceleration, 15mm lower ride height, rebound reducing stiffer rear springs and optional 235/35ZR 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup semi-slicks. Its strengths lie in its superior aerodynamics, high-speed stability, linear steering and chaste roll/yaw/pitch behaviour.
Unlike previous go-go Golfs, it can be ordered “while stocks last” – VW-speak for “production ends when the facelifted Golf gets into gear”. Let’s hope that by then, VW will have untwisted its knickers. Unlike the R&D black sheep responsible for Defeat-gate, Wolfsburg and Volkwagen’s workers deserve another suck of the sauce bottle.
What are the chances of owning one in the lucky country? Well, supply will be limited, but the GTI Clubsport lands here about mid-year called the 'GTI 40 Years' to avoid HSV getting upset. Bank on a $50K price tag.
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Engine: 1984cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 195kW @ 5350-6600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1700-5300rpm
0-100km/h: 5.9sec (claimed)
Like: Even more pace; best Golf chassis yet; road-racer styling
Dislike: Boost bursts are too short; not confirmed for Oz