Conspiracy theories fly as Toyota's LMP1 cars swap places at the death...
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What is this? The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S. It’s the hardest, fastest, most powerful Golf yet. And yep, that includes the R: the 306bhp 2.0-litre TSI engine driving the front wheels of this car is a whole 10bhp stronger than the one you’ll find driving all four of the Golf R’s wheels. Its peak is 19bhp healthier than the standard Clubsport’s, and nearly 90bhp higher than that of the entry level Golf GTI. That’s quite a lot, especially when you consider they’ve been stripping out weight, too. It all equates to 0-62mph in 5.9secs and a 165mph top speed. It costs £33,995, but if you like the sound of it, then tough luck. All 150 coming to the UK – of a 400-strong run – have gone. Hasn’t it got something to do with the Nürburgring?
Rather a lot: it holds the front-wheel-drive lap record there, its 7m 49s edging ahead of the Honda Civic Type-R and RenaultSport Megane 275 Trophy R. And, as its natural home, that’s where we first drove the Clubsport S. The whole “cars developed on the ‘Ring are rock solid to drive” myth must be put to bed soon, and now we’ve driven it on the road, this Golf should surely do it. It’s a great road car. Really? Yup. Its composure over a bumpy road is a thing to behold, when a fast Honda, Renault or even the Focus RS might be causing the odd wince as tough bits of tarmac come into view. The engine is an unexpected star. That VW has given its familiar 2.0-litre turbo four such character, such a raucous edge that will actually have you lunging for the 7,000rpm mark time after time, is worthy of praise. Yet it does all the effortless mid-range stuff and sensible fuel economy when you want to reign things in. And it must be said, it really flings the Clubsport S along; even alongside something more powerful, like the Focus RS, it feels rabid under hard acceleration. That’ll be the 200 or so kilos that separate the two cars, naturally in the 1,360kg GTI’s favour. But it’s not as fun as the Ford, surely… You’d be surprised. Yes, there’s no Drift Mode, no lurid chunks of power being thrown at the back axle to make you grin like an idiot. But this Golf is more serious than that. Clambering into its superbly set up sports seat, gripping its Alcantara wheel (with nerd-delighting dead centre stripe), and glancing the lack of rear seats in the mirror are enough to tell you that. And that lack of weight is immediate from the off. The car flicks around with an instant agility no heavier hatch can rival, and the steering has almost perfect weight. Very useful for knowing how much grip there is on the front axle (lots) to allow you to look for the Clubsport S’s playful edge. It won’t do skids, no. But it does have a brilliant neutral balance that means both ends of the car have a say in how you get around a corner. There’s tons of grip to keep you safe, but there’s still a sense of humour under all the Golf’s focus. Such as when the car’s Race or Individual modes are engaged (the latter is better on road, for it softens the suspension), you’ll get loopy little pops and crackles from the exhaust on a trailing throttle and during downshifts, while a full-bore upshift elicits a sharp bark, which echoes through that barren rear quarters. Lovely. Everything just feels spot on, honed and engineered to within an inch of its life. The (manual only) gearchange is crisper than any I’ve tried in a VW, and the brakes withstand plenty of use at road speeds. Fast Golfs have always been quietly talented cars that target all-round ability; this is one you’ll go out and drive for the hell of it. Only two seats? It’s definitely not an all-rounder. It’s useless for families, granted. But everything else about the Clubsport S is completely habitable. That ride quality helps, the great visibility and adjustable seat assist further, while you can spec all the goodies you can on any other Golf. Ours had heated seats and a reversing camera. In keeping with a two-seat, ‘Ring special? I’d argue not, and I’d be happy without those options. But that this is as accomplished a hot hatch as any other GTI – while making Golfs more hardcore, exciting and downright fun than they’ve ever been – is worthy of praise. It’s a great car.