2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport Review


More oomph and lower suspension brings Golf GTI closer to the reward of its best rivals.

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Go to a test track anywhere in the world of a manufacturer in the business making hot family cars and you’ll find a Golf GTI used for benchmarking. It has been the go-to daily-driven hot hatch for generations, with the odd blemish when Volkswagen has made something a bit fat or unsatisfying. Like, you could argue, the overly-synthetic current Mk8 GTI.

Here, driven in the UK, is VW’s alternative GTI, a more powerful and focused Golf but still one that aims to retain its daily usability. They all do, to an extent. Even the old Clubsport S, the one with no back seats, was rode well and was relatively habitable.

They won’t do that this time around, by the way, despite the name – the exclusively five-door Golf’s rear doors open up to a rear bench. Only Renault lets you open the doors to nothing but carpet and red painted metal stiffeners.

The Clubsport’s power is up by 37kW and torque 30Nm over a regular GTI, owing to a different turbo and revised cooling, so 221kW and 400Nm, so a satisfying round metric 300 horses to turn the heads of those looking at a Honda Civic or Megane.

The Golf’s 2.0-litre engine drives the front wheels through a seven-speed dual- clutch gearbox that has a lower final drive than the regular GTI. There’s an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential at the front too, suspension is 10mm lower all around and there are a few external indications – no Clubsport badges but a different lower grille, rear spoiler, sill extensions and graphics. Also on our test car were adaptive dampers and 19in alloy wheels.

Still, you get into a GTI on a cold winter’s morning, note that it has a 480+ kilometre range, find an exceptionally comfortable driving position – low enough, wheel generously adjustable – and feel pretty good about life. Until you try to change the temperature in the dark or use its touchscreen on the move. What happened to this former paragon of ergonomic excellence? Give us a couple more buttons.

One dash button changes the drive modes – with these adaptive dampers there’s a half-hidden one called Nurburgring but don’t panic, it’s actually pretty good for bumpy roads. They’re all fine, really, albeit it falls into the Hyundai i30 N trap of giving you too many options. Configure the Individual drive mode and it gives you 15 – fifteen – stages of damper stiffness. In case you want to stop every 150 metres and pick the right one for the next bit of road surface.

Anyway whatever it’s in I found it pretty enjoyable, with less of the artificial feel of a regular GTI. There’s quick and responsive steering that is at least accurate and smooth, if lacking the off-centre pickup of weight that makes good Ford hot hatches or a Toyota GR Yaris feel like you’re building force in the tyres. It’s a slickly rewarding car with an easygoing nature.

Cornering is similar – very capable, with good roll control and, even in crummy conditions, decent amounts of grip and traction. Get onto the power and as the diff begins to hook up you’ll feel it tweak at the steering, subtly and intuitively, just to let you know where you are. Which will be approaching the limits of the front end, rather than those at the back.

I’d want a drier test or quieter roads before backing the Clubsport into a bend with trailed brakes to see if it unsettles the rear like the most agile hatches, but it doesn’t feel like it’s particularly inclined to. But that’s fine: standard Golf GTI behaviour, and not unpleasant.

Still a default choice as a daily driver, then? Ergonomic issues aside, I think you’d feel pretty good about the prospect of a day behind the wheel.

Anyway, whatever it’s in I found it pretty enjoyable, with less of the artificial feel of a regular GTI. There’s quick and responsive steering that is at least accurate and smooth, if lacking the off-centre pickup of weight that makes good Ford hot hatches or a Toyota GR Yaris feel like you’re building force in the tyres. It’s a slickly rewarding car with an easygoing nature.

Cornering is similar – very capable, with good roll control and, even in crummy conditions, decent amounts of grip and traction. Get onto the power and as the diff begins to hook up you’ll feel it tweak at the steering, subtly and intuitively, just to let you know where you are. Which will be approaching the limits of the front end, rather than those at the back.

I’d want a drier test or quieter roads before backing the Clubsport into a bend with trailed brakes to see if it unsettles the rear like the most agile hatches, but it doesn’t feel like it’s particularly inclined to. But that’s fine: standard Golf GTI behaviour, and not unpleasant.

Still a default choice as a daily driver, then? Ergonomic issues aside, I think you’d feel pretty good about the prospect of a day behind the wheel.

Reach your favourite road and it gets that bit closer to the more rewarding hatches, too.

Matt Prior

Final Verdict:

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