Volkswagen’s new hatch packs a mighty punch

The Golf GTI Clubsport is not just another vehicle on the road, but one that offers drivers a rewarding, memorable experience

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 9:50pm

If you like golf, or the Golf, does that automatically make you a middle-aged Tory? With a Porsche Cayenne to take you to the ParkNShop Fusion and back? Not me: I’m a champagne socialist to my Belstaff and Tag Heuer core, and I like it.

The Golf, that is. Specifically the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport, not any old Golf and not any old clubsport (move over, Holden), but the 40th anniversary model of the Golf, a car made for the kind of understated high-performance motoring that doesn’t attract the attention of the traffic plods, and for fun on the open road delivered in no little style. But not made in great numbers, so you’ll have to blast straight into top gear if you want one because only 40 units are destined for Hong Kong.

What’s so special then about a car its detractors paint as just an overpriced school-run hatchback with dull looks that lost any “hot hatch” pretensions long ago?

Accusations of being pulchritudinously challenged can hardly be tossed the way of the Clubsport, which has new design elements sharp enough for Carnaby Street and a knowing elegance to match. Spoiler alert: below the front bumper the Clubsport has a spoiler masquerading as a splitter, plus another at the back end, which trumpets a new rear diffuser and motorsport roof spoiler. Nor is that front bumper all mouth and no trousers, featuring as it does wide lateral air inlets with “piano black” air deflectors. Downforce has never sounded so musical – or in its hardware looked so much like a shark.

Volkswagen has made the Clubsport the Manny Pacquiao of hatchbacks: compact, quick out of its corner, punching above its weight and a heavy hitter in every department, despite being lighter than its predecessors.

The black roof and Belvedere-design 18-inch alloy wheels of the Clubsport beef up the mean factor, as do, subtly, the nips and tucks low down along the flanks of the bodywork. These put this agile car into something like a boxer’s crouch – more of which later – particularly in the case of the three-door, rather than the five-door, edition, which says, “hip, discerning single bloke with cash” rather than “family man”.

Inside there’s room for four standard-issue adults (or five if one of them is the budget version) and no danger of compromising any shins on the bottom of the front seats – which turn out to be seductively comfortable racing-style bucket seats. All pews, plus the steering wheel and other cabin details, such as door panels and the regulation golf ball gear knob, are finished in faux-suede Alcantara, which ratchets up the general GTI-ishness an extra notch.

As well as being the 40th anniversary model of Golf, the Clubsport is a member of the seventh generation of Golfs. The mark one GTI made its still-reverberating bow in 1976 and although it wasn’t the first, it quickly became the benchmark “hot hatch” against which all others are judged. Its descendants remain thus. Which is perhaps why Volkswagen has made the Clubsport the Manny Pacquiao of hatchbacks: compact, quick out of its corner, punching above its weight and a heavy hitter in every department, despite being lighter than its predecessors.

The front-wheel drive Clubsport is pacey, all right: its two-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine produces 261 bhp – with a special topping of an additional 25 bhp in overboost mode, which is available in 10-second bursts – for a top speed limited to 250 km/h and a sprint time of zero to 100 km/h of 5.8 seconds. This power trip is controlled through a six-speed DSG gearbox with paddle shifters; and you may paddle and shift all you like, but you won’t put a dent in the GTI’s fail-safe handling, 100 kilometres per 6.9 litres of petrol average return and overall comfort in the ride, whatever the state of the roads.

The GTI is one of the two or three most powerful Golfs ever teed up by Volkswagen; and you can keep your SEAT Leon Cupra 290, Renault Mégane and Honda Civic – the GTI is the car to beat in its class. The company continues to offer all sorts of mark seven variants from which to choose if you find yourself 41st in the queue for the Clubsport – the TSI, GTE, TDI, the regular GTI, the planet-friendly BlueMotion – with a bewildering choice of power plants, transmission systems and standards of performance. But having driven a Clubsport you won’t be satisfied with anything less … assuming you can’t find a range-topping Golf R or – wait for it – the even more powerful, more spirited, two-seater Clubsport S. But that’s another, faster, story.

In the rather clumsy English translation, GTI means Grand Touring Injection; and though other manufacturers have come along and stuck the letters on the back of their cars, the abbreviation has become more or less synonymous with the Golf. Which is only fair for a car that has come to mean so much to so many. If you can get your hands on one, the 40th anniversary Golf will indubitably prove it’s worth HK$399,980. After all, with a Clubsport you’ll never be a club short.