RE: VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs British roads

RE: VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs British roads

Friday 26th August 2016

VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs British roads

Full review on whether VW's ultimate GTI works beyond a certain German racetrack...



If the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S is to be celebrated for one thing, I would like that to be its total scorn for the theory that cars developed at the Nurburgring don't work anywhere else. Because it's total cobblers.

Like a Clubsport, but just a little more so
Like a Clubsport, but just a little more so
Case in point. For this first drive of the Clubsport S away from the Nordschleife I elect to take it to my go-to suspension shakedown test road. Shakedown being the operative word, because it's fast and open but bumpy as hell. In the familiar fashion the GTI Clubsport S has a mode button scrolling through Comfort, Normal, Race and Individual, the natural instinct for the hot hatch shredder to go for Race in the belief this will be 'fastest'. But if you go into individual, hit reset and accept the 'are you sure?' prompt you get a special hidden Nurburgring mode, combining all the various damper, steering, VAQ 'diff' and other parameters used by the team behind that 7min 49sec Nordschleife lap.

No doubt inspiring yet more joyless missives from the keyboard warriors saying real owners will never go near the 'ring, the suspension settings ruin it for people who just want to drive to the supermarket and cars developed on the Nordschleife are too firm for the public road.

Hold your horses - if you look at the combination of settings this offers you'll actually notice it puts the dampers into Comfort mode, VW correctly asserting in the accompanying bumph that to get around the 'ring quickly you actually need a chassis that's compliant vertically to absorb the bumps but stiff laterally to support the car in the corners. And although it says 'Comfort' on the mode screen this is actually a hidden 'cheat mode' that puts the dampers into their bespoke Nordschleife setting.

Front axle tweaks make a noticeable difference
Front axle tweaks make a noticeable difference
Cheat mode
Humour would be going a bit far. But the way you access this 'need to know' configuration at least suggests a sense of fun among those responsible for the Clubsport S rarely encountered in VW product.

And it's exactly these tiny, geeky, detail changes to the Clubsport S that make it special. If you can be bothered to appreciate them. Mr Keyboard Warrior will meanwhile have started raging about the lack of rear seats and what's the point of a hatchback if you can't take the kids to school in it. To which you can only shrug and say there are plenty of other Golfs in the range with a full complement of seats. And the point so obviously missed would be the 150 people who've snapped up the UK allocation of the 400 Clubsport S production run seem entirely happy with this symbolic weight saving sacrifice. If you're the kind of person who removes the parcel shelf and lowers the back seat for track days in the name of improved centre of gravity this is the Golf for you. Even though I know it's pretty much pointless I am that kind of person. And within the first few hundred yards I very much wished I was among those lucky 150.

One of the reasons would be that - surprise! - in the Nurburgring setting the Clubsport S is an absolute ripper on the kind of uneven, potholed, patchwork quilted tarmac you tend to find on the more interesting roads in the UK. The way it combines taut body control with real bump swallowing compliance is - funnily enough - reminiscent of another 'ring record hot hatch and personal favourite, the Megane 275. Renaultsport went with posh Ohlins dampers rather than multi-mode ones in the Golf and the GTI has a more sophisticated multi-link rear axle against the twist-beam of both the Megane and the Civic Type R. As a result it's less ragged at the limit and a little more composed. But like all these cars the quality of the damping gives you opportunity to appreciate the feedback coming back through the rest of the controls.

The EA888 gets interesting!
The EA888 gets interesting!
More of the same
The Golf's EA888 2.0-litre engine - uprated to a permanent 310hp with know-how from the TCR race car, a bigger fuel pump and freer breathing exhausts - has a much boostier character than other applications. It still sounds a little flat but at least more 'real' than the artificial blare from regular GTIs and Rs, the throttle swift to respond but swelling into a thrilling rush of boost that makes it feel a lot more potent than any of the other MQB platformed hot hatches.

The lack of weight helps here. Various numbers have been bandied about but the 'with driver' EU figure is 1,360kg, 15kg less than a Clubsport Edition 40 and 22kg less than a GTI Performance. It's also 116kg less than a Golf R, these figures for comparable three-door manuals. Curiously the lightest hot Golf you can actually buy would appear to be a regular three-door manual GTI without the VAQ torque-splitting front axle, if only by nine kilos. And that gets a back seat! Oh. Was Mr Angry right all along then?

No. Because among the Clubsport upgrades are a new aluminium front subframe and bespoke hub carriers to allow more negative camber up front and help dial out some of the standard model's safety understeer. Project head Karsten Schebsdat explained more in our interview on the launch for the regular Clubsport (now known as the Clubsport Edition 40) and told us his aim was always to make the Clubsport models feel more neutral, improving the steering feel and general balance to give keen drivers a blank canvas to work with.

Manual and manual only - jolly good!
Manual and manual only - jolly good!
On point
I recently drove this road in both the Megane and the Civic Type R, offering a useful comparison with two other cars defined by Nordschleife record attempts. The Megane's more traditional set-up and focused approach means it feels like it's always on its toes - it only has the one mode. Meanwhile for all its maximum attack frenzy the Type R is also surprisingly civilised when you just want to cruise, though you'll never tone down the looks. The Golf, meanwhile, has elements of both - it can flow like the Megane and go nearly as hard as the Civic, but when you just want to chill out reverts to being like any other Golf. In isolation you might kid yourself all GTIs drive like this. But when you concentrate on the details you realise it's not actually the case.

Finer details but the steering weight is just-so and the pedal placement perfectly set for heel and toe, the latter helped further by the light but positive shift action and that crisp throttle response. Race setting on the dampers adds choppiness to the ride and leaves the tyres scrabbling for traction on bumpy roads like those of my test route but will likely work well on smooth tracks. Either way, if you like driving for the sake of driving this is a more focused and responsive Golf than we've ever had before, the enthusiastic reaction to this limited run hopefully strengthening the case of Schebsdat and his team for creating further 'skunk works' specials. He does have previous for doing the same at Porsche's GT department, after all...

Only the brakes disappoint, the S getting aluminium bells for its steel discs but lacking the firmer pedal response of the Brembos used by SEAT to help the Leon be the first hot hatch to crack eight minutes. Given that shares a platform with the Golf and the brakes clearly fit it's a pity VW didn't pinch that idea from the Spaniards. The Golf, does, after all share the same Cup 2 tyres, experience showing their stiffer sidewalls also contribute to that improved steering feel.

You may dismiss it, but there's no doubting the ability
You may dismiss it, but there's no doubting the ability
Stripped for success
And as the gravel pitter-patters off the inside of the rear arches and changes in road surface can be sensed in subtle pitch changes of the tyre roar, yes, the point of stripping out seats and sound deadening does prove itself. You're simply more engaged with the experience and even at road speeds the Golf is just fun to punt along; it'sthe kind of car you'd drive simply for the sake of it.

Hand on heart I confess I'd probably be near-as-dammit as happy with a Clubsport Edition 40 optioned with the 19-inch wheels, Cup 2s and fancy racing seats, keeping the rear bench and having 99.9 per cent of the fun.

That final 0.1 per cent is where the magic lies though. And what makes the Clubsport S a genuinely special car. If only because it's as close to letting its hair down as Volkswagen has ever permitted itself to do.


More on the Golf GTI Clubsport S here with our track test and videoblog.


VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI CLUBSPORT S
Engine:
1,984cc 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 310@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,850-5,700rpm
0-62mph: 5.8sec
Top speed: 164mph
Weight: 1,360kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
MPG: 38.2 (provisional NEDC combined figures)
CO2: 172g/km (provisional figures)
Price: £33,995 (150 cars, now sold out)





   
   
   

Photos: Dan Trent and Sim Mainey

Author
Discussion

Dr G

Original Poster:

13,533 posts

181 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Good article, although not sure about the 'letting its hair down' comment.

Without listing all the silly projects VW has probably produced more 'why not?' cars than anyone else. Harlequin, XL1, Passat W8, Golf Limited... there's a long tradition of cars produced simply because they wanted to.

Dan Trent

1,825 posts

107 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
You make an entirely fair point!

I guess what I picked up from meeting the team behind the car was it took some persuasion to build a car that goes against the traditionally cautious set-up dictated by the corporate culture of VW; a real sense they were under scrutiny and I think the response to the Clubsport and S will be closely observed internally. And if it proves successful Schebsdat and his team will hopefully be given the chance to do the same with other product. Specifically from a performance product point of view I think this IS new ground for VW and a slackening of the reins that doesn't come naturally.

Cheers!

Dan

SuperchargedVR6

3,137 posts

159 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Article said:
VW correctly asserting in the accompanying bumph that to get around the 'ring quickly you actually need a chassis that's compliant vertically to absorb the bumps but stiff laterally to support the car in the corners.
That is something British chassis engineers have been doing for decades. It does amuse me when I see a slammed VW on rock hard coilovers bouncing around all over the shop on roads the standard car would barely notice.

nunpuncher

1,105 posts

64 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Wasn't the original GTi one of these "why not" or "because we think we can" cars? I seem to remember reading that it was a sort of after hours pet project of the engineers of the time.

dufunk

156 posts

62 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
These are still to civilised and if they have anything like the electric steering I have in the 1.4 tsi gt model from this year there will be little feel from the road. On the last video posted the guy looked to be fighting with to much oversteer and torquesteer.
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Dan Trent

1,825 posts

107 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
The steering gear is still electric/variable ratio rack but the changes to the suspension hardpoints/hardware, geometry, bushings, anti-roll bars and damper tuning have a much, much bigger influence on the feedback and feel at the wheel than any fiddling with the EPAS calibration. Karsten Schebsdat talked a lot about this in his presentation for the Clubsport Edition 40, which has much of the same hardware and calibration. He was diplomatic but clearly of the opinion the standard set-up is very conservative and geared towards safety understeer while he - through everything from suspension to aero and VAQ calibration - wanted it neutral as a base point, with adjustability beyond that if you go hunting for it. Or in the wet, as you identified from the onboard.

It still doesn't have the front end 'bite' of the Megane, or the instantaneous off-centre response, but it's leagues ahead of anything else based on the MQB platform. Even a 1.4 TSI!

Cheers,

Dan

CABC

2,422 posts

40 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
nunpuncher said:
Wasn't the original GTi one of these "why not" or "because we think we can" cars? I seem to remember reading that it was a sort of after hours pet project of the engineers of the time.
story i heard was that engineers did it in their own time, a little against instructions even, before a senior bod got hold of it. rest is history as they say. no market research, no marketing involvement, no management. gotta love mavericks.

SuperchargedVR6

3,137 posts

159 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
CABC said:
nunpuncher said:
Wasn't the original GTi one of these "why not" or "because we think we can" cars? I seem to remember reading that it was a sort of after hours pet project of the engineers of the time.
story i heard was that engineers did it in their own time, a little against instructions even, before a senior bod got hold of it. rest is history as they say. no market research, no marketing involvement, no management. gotta love mavericks.
Could be horse manure, but I've read the same is true of the Z3M Coupe. The engineers didn't like the soft top because of it's soggy handling, but it's what the accountants wanted. So the M division chaps set about grafting a roof onto it in their own time.

Although back in 1976, I don't think the World knew it wanted a 'GTI' at the time, but it certainly does now! Whereas the Z3M Coupe is a bit of a skunkworks special that appeals to enthusiasts only.

Martin_Hx

3,716 posts

137 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Seems like a decent Golf, but then it should be! I'd have one, but wouldn't be my first choice. I do hope the 150 owners keep hold of them, use them properly and don't just stick them in a fecking garage!

Debaser

3,364 posts

200 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Article said:
If the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S is to be celebrated for one thing, I would like that to be its total scorn for the theory that cars developed at the Nurburgring don't work anywhere else. Because it's total cobblers.
Exactly. There's no reason a car developed at the 'ring won't work on British roads, I'm not sure why so many don't believe this.

Matt Bird

1,039 posts

144 months

PH Reportery Lad

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Debaser said:
Article said:
If the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S is to be celebrated for one thing, I would like that to be its total scorn for the theory that cars developed at the Nurburgring don't work anywhere else. Because it's total cobblers.
Exactly. There's no reason a car developed at the 'ring won't work on British roads, I'm not sure why so many don't believe this.
James May?

Dan Trent

1,825 posts

107 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Matt Bird said:
Debaser said:
Article said:
If the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S is to be celebrated for one thing, I would like that to be its total scorn for the theory that cars developed at the Nurburgring don't work anywhere else. Because it's total cobblers.
Exactly. There's no reason a car developed at the 'ring won't work on British roads, I'm not sure why so many don't believe this.
James May?
It's a recurring Clarkson theme in many of his reviews. So therefore FACT in the minds of many I fear.

Dan

vpr

2,670 posts

177 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Great write up

I cannot wait for mine to turn up one day whenever that might be.

I am disappointed that the brakes are not man enough, I always seem to struggle with stock brakes on anything other than my 997 RS. I'd rather have paid more and got decent brakes. My old Megane R26 R had to go through major brake upgrade surgery, it's not cheap but obviously hugely important

Dan Trent

1,825 posts

107 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
The power and consistency are OK, it's more the pedal feel. The Brembos on the SEAT (and other applications) just have a much nicer, more solid pedal feel. In theory they should fit but the Clubsport does have its bespoke suspension knuckles so it'd be worth checking that before ordering a set in.

Keep us posted!

Cheers,

Dan

heebeegeetee

26,455 posts

187 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Dr G said:
Good article, although not sure about the 'letting its hair down' comment.

Without listing all the silly projects VW has probably produced more 'why not?' cars than anyone else. Harlequin, XL1, Passat W8, Golf Limited... there's a long tradition of cars produced simply because they wanted to.
Including the original Golf Gti, the car that kicked it all off. smile

Roma101

465 posts

86 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
Dr G said:
Good article, although not sure about the 'letting its hair down' comment.

Without listing all the silly projects VW has probably produced more 'why not?' cars than anyone else. Harlequin, XL1, Passat W8, Golf Limited... there's a long tradition of cars produced simply because they wanted to.
Fair enough. Must be close with Renault though for that title. Spider, 5 GT Turbo (was that the one with the engine in the back?), Clio V6 Mk1, Clio V6 Mk2, Aventime, R26.R, Trophy R and hopefully R.S. 16!

giveablondeabone

2,772 posts

94 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
I have to confess I've not really read up or come across the theory that 'ring prepped cars don't work on the road. If anything I'd have thought the opposite given the nature of the 'ring and it's surface in places. Indeed I was under the impression that many manufacturers tested there because it gave a fairly accurate representation of the the type of roads many owners experience.

Onto the Golf and I must put a couple of points straight. I happen to be one of those who doesn't get these hatchbacks with the rear seats removed in the interests of weight saving and improved dynamics, and yes I have commented on this many times but this does does not mean I don't accept they can be excellent to drive. However, for me just because they drive well doesn't mean they make sense. Once you turn a hot hatch into a two seater and tout it as a track focused enthusiasts' car it then has to be compared with other two seater, track focused enthusiast' cars. Cars that are rear/4wd wheel drive, mid and rear engined. Once you throw the Golf Clubsport S into this bigger pond for me it is less stand out.
If Volvo brought out an estate car with only two seats it could, by all objective measures be hailed as the most capacious estate car on sale. But with only two seats it may as well be compared to a van, and by that measure would suddenly become rather limited.

This it just my opinion and it does not mean I am 'Mr Angry' or a 'keyboard warrior'.

I think it's clear from the article who's rankled if I'm honest. I hope everyone who's bought one enjoys it, just don't get me started on those that stick 'em in a garage as an 'investment'..................

Peace

Dan Trent

1,825 posts

107 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
giveablondeabone said:
I
This it just my opinion and it does not mean I am 'Mr Angry' or a 'keyboard warrior'.

Peace
Amen to that but you take the unusual path of making a reasoned point entirely reasonably! Maybe I successfully headed the angry brigade off but in response to previous stories there was an awful lot of hot air about the rear seat thing when, really, there's a lot more interesting stuff to talk about with the car.

I'll accept that the 'two seat hot hatch' thing does smack of gimmickry (unless you go the whole hog and do a full cage as Renault offered with the R26.R) but if it's a limited edition special and there are enough people into it then what's the harm. And as stated if you like the sound of this the Clubsport Edition 40 offers much of the style and dynamic substance with the full set of seats. As such I'll file it under 'harmless fun', though the points you make are entirely reasonable.

Pre-kids when all I wanted was a fast and fun car with room to carry bikes a hot hatch with no rear seats would be about my perfect car though! Each to his own but VW can't be accused of lack of choice when it comes to faster Golfs, given you can get four GTIs, R with added estate option, GTD in hatch and estate, three-door, five-door, manual or DSG, etc, etc!

Dan

CABC

2,422 posts

40 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
giveablondeabone said:
Onto the Golf and I must put a couple of points straight. I happen to be one of those who doesn't get these hatchbacks with the rear seats removed in the interests of weight saving and improved dynamics, and yes I have commented on this many times but this does does not mean I don't accept they can be excellent to drive. However, for me just because they drive well doesn't mean they make sense. Once you turn a hot hatch into a two seater and tout it as a track focused enthusiasts' car it then has to be compared with other two seater, track focused enthusiast' cars. Cars that are rear/4wd wheel drive, mid and rear engined. Once you throw the Golf Clubsport S into this bigger pond for me it is less stand out.

Peace
good logic. Yes, you put it into the 2 seater focused pool and it looks less appealing.

The 'Ring is in very good condition. even the rumbly carousels are better than many public roads and you certainly don't have potholes. My track car is quite compliant on track, but if i leave the circuit without winding the suspension down i certainly know about and will need to stop soon. Like wise on full soft it's still great on the road, very sporty, but if i forget to stiffen it up before running on track i'm cursing myself for forgetting as it's a rolly old jalopy on soft settings. So James May may have a point behind the gags.

sugerbear

1,765 posts

97 months

Thursday 25th August 2016
quotequote all
CABC said:
giveablondeabone said:
Onto the Golf and I must put a couple of points straight. I happen to be one of those who doesn't get these hatchbacks with the rear seats removed in the interests of weight saving and improved dynamics, and yes I have commented on this many times but this does does not mean I don't accept they can be excellent to drive. However, for me just because they drive well doesn't mean they make sense. Once you turn a hot hatch into a two seater and tout it as a track focused enthusiasts' car it then has to be compared with other two seater, track focused enthusiast' cars. Cars that are rear/4wd wheel drive, mid and rear engined. Once you throw the Golf Clubsport S into this bigger pond for me it is less stand out.

Peace
good logic. Yes, you put it into the 2 seater focused pool and it looks less appealing.

The 'Ring is in very good condition. even the rumbly carousels are better than many public roads and you certainly don't have potholes. My track car is quite compliant on track, but if i leave the circuit without winding the suspension down i certainly know about and will need to stop soon. Like wise on full soft it's still great on the road, very sporty, but if i forget to stiffen it up before running on track i'm cursing myself for forgetting as it's a rolly old jalopy on soft settings. So James May may have a point behind the gags.
Makes no sense on a volume production car, but as there are only 150 coming not really relevant.

VAG sold 800 (2 seat only) Audi TT quattro Sport's so there is clearly a market for them.