Despite being a week or two away from welcoming its first right-hand-drive Golf GTIs to the UK, Volkswagen has ploughed ahead with the launch of the more powerful front-drive variant - the long-awaited GTI Clubsport. As everyone predicted an aeon ago, the new model gets a 300hp output, and adds unique chassis geometry and extra aero pieces. No less significantly, it'll be sold in unlimited numbers, with VW expecting the Clubsport to account for at least 10 per cent of GTI sales. Like all of the brand's better stuff these days, it's been extensively tested by Benny Leuchter, the 'Ring maestro behind the old Clubsport S's lap record. So we've high hopes.
Obviously new Clubsport has a much broader focus than that limited-run Mk7 special, but works driver Leuchter and vehicle dynamics boss Karsten Schebsdat assured PH via a digital conference that the latest model is intended to strike a class-leading compromise between the demands of road and track. The 2.0-litre EA888 evo4 engine, at least, is familiar in its 300hp and 295lb ft of torque guise, with the latter available from 1,800rpm to 5,200rpm and the former encountered at 5,000rpm. The team also highlighted a more aggressively tuned VAQ system, and a shorter ratio and quicker-shifting DSG seven-speed auto in the powertrain's transformation to Clubsport level.
The auto-only model (yep, only the base GTI gets the option of three pedals) gets a new two-pipe exhaust system for more engine noise, but the chassis retains identical spring rates to the GTI, which itself is five and fifteen per cent stiffer front and rear than the Mk7. The Clubsport does, however, get uniquely tuned shock absorbers, as well as a Nurburgring mode, which adjusts the shocks, VAQ and steering assistance to Leuchter's preferences. Don't expect the mode to be ultra-stiff like Hyundai's N or Honda's +R settings; the team said Nurburgring mode has been tuned to survive the 'Ring's lumps, bumps and jumps at speed (much as it did in the Clubsport S) which suggests it will be worthy of Britain's B roads.
The next most significant alteration is the negative 1.2 degrees camber employed at the front. It's a geometry chosen by Leuchter because, in his words, "you can attack the entrance of each corner more" and "better feel when the tyre reaches its limits". It's aggressive for a road car but not the maddest setting VW has used in recent times, with the old Clubsport S set at -2 degrees. Same goes for the progressive steering rack tuning: it's a quicker 14:1 from centre, but matches the Mk8 GTI's overall ratio (2.1 turns lock-to-lock), to keep the car easy to place at high speed. According to its makers, when combined with new control arms and firmer damper bearings, the Clubsport's final setup improves steering feedback, too.
Additionally, Schebsdat claims the car "has more agility in the front axle, but also more stability at high speed" thanks in part, we're told, to the car's tendency to push on its front axle during the fastest sections of the 'Ring (i.e. the preferable setup for a hot hatch not well known for an easily upsettable balance). On that note, VW suggests the higher-grade brake pads and 600g lighter, two-piston calipers will help provide more consistent performance without fade at speed.
That said, VW is yet to confirm exact performance stats for the Clubsport - although the team indicated that a sub-six-second 0-62mph time and limited 155mph top speed are practically a given. The Clubsport is said to be the same weight as the standard GTI (1,448kg) but its tweaked aerodynamics - including a front splitter and rear wing - help to reduce lift at the front and rear. The combined result is a 7:54 min laptime at the Nurburgring, which is a not insignificant 13 seconds quicker than the regular Mk8 GTI, and only 14 seconds behind the Megane Trophy-R. Perhaps most telling is the fact it's just five seconds behind Leuchter's Clubsport S lap.
Of course, that time will have been set with the top-spec tyre, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2, which comes wrapped around a 19-inch forged aluminium wheels. Most buyers are expected to opt for the car's less extreme boots, with the Clubsport's 18- and 19-inch rims offered with Bridgestone Potenzas S005s, Goodyear Eagle F1s Super Sports or Hankook Ventus S1 evo 3s, depending on the market. Unsurprisingly, the UK is expected to be second only to Germany in volume, and the Clubsport is likely to account for a higher mix of sales in Britain than elsewhere. Just don't expect to see any here before next year. Prices when we have them.
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