Volkswagen

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport Review (2021)

With the world premiere of the new VW Golf GTI Clubsport, Volkswagen is writing the next chapter of the never-ending Golf story. The Clubsport has a power output of 221 kW (300 PS) and is the new flagship model of the eighth Golf GTI generation. The additional power compared with the classic Golf GTI is 41 kW (55 PS). Volkswagen is continuing the tradition of high-performance GTI models with the new Golf GTI Clubsport: The first Golf GTI Clubsport was launched in 2016 on the 40th birthday of the iconic sports car. The number one in the Clubsport series developed 195 kW (265 PS) and temporarily delivered 213 kW (290 PS) using a boost function. This car was followed in the same year by the Golf GTI Clubsport S in a limited edition of 400 units with a continuously available output of 228 kW (310 PS). Racing driver Benjamin Leuchter set a new lap record for front-wheel-drive cars on the Nürburgring Nordschleife with the Golf GTI Clubsport S in May 2016. The time: 07:49:21 minutes. The new Golf GTI Clubsport now being launched is positioned between the first Clubsport and the Clubsport S with its output of 300 PS. The technical progress incorporated into the vehicle makes it stand out – an enhanced engine and the newly tuned running gear, which is fully connected for the first time, make the new Golf GTI Clubsport one of the world’s best front-wheel-drive sports cars.

EA888 evo

The turbocharged engine in the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport is based on the TSI series EA888 evo4 – compared with the predecessor (EA888 evo3), this engine offers an even more agile response and increased efficiency.

Vehicle Dynamics Manager

The running gear has been completely reconfigured and features significant enhancements: in the 245 PS GTI, the new Vehicle Dynamics Manager already closely integrates control of the electronic differential locks (XDS) and the lateral dynamics components of the optional adaptive chassis control DCC. And this offers noticeable performance benefits. In the new Golf GTI Clubsport, the standard electromechanical front-axle locking differential is now included in the Vehicle Dynamics Manager’s network for the first time. This intelligent network defines a new benchmark for front-wheel-drive sports cars.

Statement by the running gear engineer

Karsten Schebsdat, Head of Driving Dynamics, Steering and Control Systems at Volkswagen: “Networking all driving dynamics systems means that the new Golf GTI Clubsport handles even more neutrally and precisely than the classic Golf GTI. For the legendary Nordschleife, we have also exclusively programmed an activatable Special profile, which specifically adapts the running gear components of the new Golf GTI Clubsport to this race track.”

The racing driver’s assessment

Benjamin Leuchter played an important part in testing and configuring the new Golf GTI Clubsport on the Nürburgring: “The car has a quite unique character. Compared to the predecessor, it is possible to drive much faster into corners. This is due to the new axle kinematics with a significantly increased camber on the front axle, networking of the front-axle locking differential with the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, and a generally sharper running gear setup.” The racing driver adds: “What is more, when accelerating out of a bend, you now have the advantage that propulsion is improved due to the much higher power. Thanks to the networking of the front-axle locking differential with the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, the driver is also able to transfer this additional power to the track.” At the same time, a new, larger 18-inch brake system also further improves on the superior braking characteristics already offered by the 245 PS GTI. In addition, new front and rear spoilers reduce lift and thus optimise the agility, steering responsiveness, driving dynamics and stability at high speeds.

Measurable key dynamic data

The new Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport accelerates to 100 km/h in under 6 seconds; the top speed is capped at 250 km/h.

Front end

GTI fans – and with more than 2.3 million units built, there are more of them than for any other compact sports car – will immediately recognise the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport thanks to its individually designed front end. This is practically open at the bottom in the bumper – only the radiator grille trim with the honeycomb design typical for GTI models and the larger aerodynamic wings offer resistance to the head wind. The wings – air guide elements- are painted in the exterior colour; the upper grille surround, the grille itself, and the front spoiler (designed as a splitter) are finished in matt-grain black. The wings and the new spoiler reduce the front lift. The standard LED Plus headlights and the optional IQ.LIGHT – LED matrix headlights are framed at the top by a red crossbar typical for GTI models. This extends into the side wings and is visually continued in the badge plate, also known as the “flitzer”, in the area around the A-pillars (also in red with the GTI lettering in chrome). As on all Golf GTI models, the crossbar is completely illuminated below the red stripe and therefore functions as LED daytime running lights. There is also of course GTI lettering (in red) in the narrow upper radiator grille.

Rear end

Like the first VW Golf GTI Clubsport, the new model based on the eighth generation also features a two-part roof spoiler that is open towards the roof. The spoiler is finished in high-gloss black and is the most distinctive hallmark feature of the Clubsport at the rear. However, the wing is more than just a design feature – it also reduces the lift at the rear. Also customised for the Clubsport: the diffuser and the oval tailpipes of the exhaust system instead of the circular tailpipes on the normal GTI (the tailpipes are also positioned 40 mm further towards the outside). Typical for the eighth generation of the Golf GTI: the red GTI lettering positioned centrally below the VW badge. The tail light clusters of all Golf versions are always designed in LED technology.

Silhouette

The new Golf GTI Clubsport is equipped as standard with 18-inch alloy wheels in the Richmond design (7.5 J x 18 ET 51) fitted with 225/40 R18 tyres; the five spokes and the outer rim flange are burnished, while the wheel itself is finished in high-gloss black. The Golf GTI with 245 PS leaves the factory with the 17-inch version of these wheels finished in the single colour silver. Various 19-inch wheels will be optionally available for the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport The red brake calipers with the GTI lettering are visible through the wheel rims. Other specific features in the silhouette include the widened side sills with a black stripe graphic. Typical for the Golf GTI: the three letters GTI are projected onto the ground by the surround lighting when the vehicle is unlocked and locked in the dark.

Clubsport seat design

Red decorative stitching on the seats, centre armrest, floor mats and multifunction steering wheel immediately show that the interior belongs to a Golf GTI. The sports steering wheel is finished in perforated leather at 9 and 3 o’clock, offering comfortable grip; the steering wheel clip at 6 o’clock is customised by GTI lettering and red accents. Large paddles on the steering wheel facilitate manual interventions in the otherwise automatic gear changes of the 7-speed dual clutch gearbox (DSG). The standard ArtVelours covers of the premium sport seats (with integrated head restraints) have also been newly designed; seats covered in perforated leather and also with red decorative stitching are also optionally available. The door inserts are also attractively finished with ArtVelours trim covers. The standard Digital Cockpit also has a specific GTI look. Like every Golf GTI, the equipment in the Clubsport includes an “Engine” button that pulsates in red before the engine is started, pedal caps in brushed stainless steel, and a black headliner.

Exclusive as standard

The 300 PS model shares many other standard features with the 245 PS GTI. In addition to the details already mentioned above, this includes 30-colour background lighting, LED lights in the footwell (light colour can also be selected), four USB-C ports, the Discover Media navigation system with the online services and functions of We Connect and We Connect Plus as well as DAB+, App-Connect including App-Connect Wireless for Apple CarPlay, voice control, mobile phone interface with inductive charging function, Air Care Climatronic and the sporty progressive steering system.

EA888 evo4 – GTI TSI

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the new Golf GTI Clubsport is based on the power system in the 245 PS GTI. The power output was increased to the aforementioned 221 kW (300 PS) by parameters such as engine management, charge pressure and other internal engine measures. The drive system is the latest evolutionary stage of the TSI engine EA888: the generation evo4. The predecessor of the current Golf GTI and thus also the last Golf GTI Clubsport were still powered by a third-generation engine. The engine developers have enhanced the new fourth generation in many areas in order to further reduce emissions and optimise power development. The measures include new fuel injectors, an increase in the injection pressure from 200 to 350 bar as well as improvements in terms of internal friction. The new Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport also complies with the latest and most stringent Euro 6d-ISC-FCM emission standard. The 1,984 cc turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers a maximum torque of 400 Nm – 30 Nm more than the standard GTI. The TSI transfers this power to the standard 7-speed DSG dual clutch gearbox.

Optimised front axle and steering

The sports running gear in the 300 PS Golf GTI Clubsport is lowered by 15 mm and has been given a new and specific setup compared with the Golf GTI with 245 PS. The focus here was on achieving the best possible performance and maximum driving pleasure. The engineers used the sports running gear already enhanced for the “normal” eighth-generation Golf GTI and specifically tuned the layout with a McPherson front axle and a four-link rear axle. They increased the positive camber on the front axle to allow higher cornering speeds and also increased lateral guidance. The development team thus also achieved significantly more neutral handling in overrun mode and during acceleration. At the same time, the response of the progressive steering was made more direct when steering into bends. The yaw response is characterised here by a high degree of linearity right up to high speeds – this can be perceived continuously the driver and there is also more “road feedback” when cornering.

Intelligently networked running gear

Volkswagen uses a completely new driving dynamics control system in the eight-generation Golf: the Vehicle Dynamics Manager. This now finally exploits its enormous potential in the new Golf GTI Clubsport because it does not just integrate the electronic differential locks (XDS) and the optionally controlled shock absorbers of the adaptive chassis control (DCC), but also – for the first time – the standard front-axle locking differential (VAQ). The driver chooses their individual configuration by means of driving mode selection feature, which is also fitted as standard. The electromechanically adjustable running gear systems once again significantly enhance the bandwidth between maximum dynamics and the highest levels of comfort.

The Vehicle Dynamics Manager

A performance-optimised application of the Vehicle Dynamics Manager is used in the new Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport. The Vehicle Dynamics Manager coordinates the functions of the front-axle locking differential, the electronic differential locks (XDS), and the lateral dynamics components of the optionally also electronically controlled shock absorbers (DCC) during every driving manoeuvre. In this process, adapting the individual wheel damping (200 times a second) guarantees particularly agile and accurate handling. Adaptation of the locking action of the front-axle locking differential also optimises both agility and stability. In parallel to this, targeted braking intervention on the vehicle side on the inside of a bend further reduces understeer in the transition and limit ranges. Thanks to the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, the roll tendency is also reduced (via DCC), the car responds faster to even small steering movements (via DCC and the front-axle locking differential), the traction is improved in the Sport profile due to the increased locking torque of the front-axle locking differential, and the yaw and load change damping are optimised at high speeds (via front-axle locking differential and DCC). The running gear engineers have completely eliminated the understeer typical of front-wheel-drive vehicles through the new technology network. The Golf GTI Clubsport offers neutral handling even when driven through the demanding corners and hairpins of the Nürburgring Nordschleife at extreme speeds, and accelerates onto the straights again without any loss of traction. This is assisted by the new Special driving profile implemented exclusively in the Golf GTI Clubsport. This configuration is optimised for driving on the Nürburgring.

Front-axle locking differential

In contrast to fully mechanical differential locks, the electromechanical differential lock integrated in the Golf GTI and Golf GTI Clubsport offers benefits such as the variable locking ratio depending on the ESC, EDS and XDS+ functions. This makes it possible to completely avoid the kind of negative influences on steering precision that occur with mechanical locks. The locking torque is controlled electro-hydraulically via a multi-plate clutch between the differential cage and the right-hand side shaft depending on the current driving situation. When cornering, the lock therefore optimises the traction and handling of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport, which remains neutral right into the limit range, thereby permitting much higher cornering speeds. The traction disadvantages of front-wheel-drive cars are therefore practically eliminated by the front-axle locking differential, which significantly improves performance and thus also increases driving pleasure as a result.

The adaptive chassis control (DCC)

The adaptive chassis control (DCC) continuously reacts to the road surface and driving situation while taking into account steering, braking and acceleration manoeuvres, for example. In the Golf GTI and Golf GTI Clubsport, the lateral dynamics components of the DCC running gear are also coordinated and further optimised by the Vehicle Dynamics Manager. By means of the set driving profile mode, the driver can influence the reduction in body motion as desired. The required damping is calculated for each wheel and adjusted at the four shock absorbers within fractions of a second. This ensures that DCC always provides the highest level of driving comfort and ideal driving dynamics in conjunction with the Vehicle Dynamics Manager.

The driving profiles

The driving profiles Eco, Comfort, Sport, Individual and – as a new profile – Special are available in the Golf GTI Clubsport. The Comfort profile offers good comfort for everyday driving, while nevertheless still ensuring high steering precision; the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport offers sporty and confident handling right into the limit range here as well. In the Sport profile, the running gear is even firmer, and the roll tendency of the body is reduced further. The car becomes more agile and manoeuvrable, and handling remains neutral right into the limit range. The further improved traction and even lower understeer during acceleration are noticeable here. In the Individual profile, the driver can precisely adjust and save a personal driving profile using a digital slider. Under Comfort, this results in maximum decoupling of the body for even greater comfort. Above Sport, the tuning becomes even more dynamic and very direct; minimum roll is then combined with maximum agility.

The Special driving profile

The Special profile implemented exclusively in the Golf GTI Clubsport is a sub-program of Sport. All systems relevant for driving dynamics are adapted to the very specific track characteristics of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. In this profile, the engineers achieve maximum running gear performance through a special vertical setup of the adaptive chassis control DCC as well as a customised lateral dynamics setup of the Vehicle Dynamics Manager. Benjamin Leuchter: “The suspension of the Golf GTI Clubsport is not super, super hard in the Special profile, but is much softer than in the Sport setting. That is because the track at the Nürburgring is very undulating. This new configuration therefore provides us with better contact with the track. As a result, the Special profile makes it possible to drive a good deal faster on the Nordschleife than in the Sport profile. Compared with the 245 PS GTI, the new GTI Clubsport is naturally also faster on the Nordschleife – by up to 13 seconds per lap in our tests.”

Progressive steering

Progressive steering is installed as standard in the Golf GTI and Golf GTI Clubsport. This system has also been enhanced – the running gear engineers set up the progressive steering ratio more directly while applying new software algorithms and a new software application. How progressive steering works: conventional steering systems operate on the basis of a fixed gear ratio. However, the progressive steering applies a progressive gear ratio. This significantly reduces the effort required to steer when manoeuvring and parking. On winding country roads and when turning off, the driver will notice a greater dynamic response thanks to the more direct setup. It also means that the driver does not have to change their hand position as frequently. It takes a mere 2.1 turns of the steering wheel to turn it from lock to lock in the new Golf GTI and Golf GTI Clubsport. In terms of technology, progressive steering is essentially differentiated from the basic steering system by variable steering rack and pinion gearing as well as a more powerful electric motor. In functional terms, this means the following: unlike in systems with a fixed steering ratio, which are always forced to compromise between driving dynamics and comfort, the teeth of the steering rack vary significantly over the range of the steering movement. As a result, the transition between indirect steering response in the central range (driving straight ahead) and direct steering response for larger steering wheel turn angles has been set up progressively to enable a more agile steering response in driving dynamics situations.

The 18-inch brake system

Benjamin Leuchter emphasises the importance of the brakes: “A really good sports car brakes just as well as it accelerates. If you increase the power, you must also adapt the brakes at the same time. And that is exactly what we have done in the new Golf GTI Clubsport.” In detail, the new GTI flagship models features new front brakes with 18-inch brake discs instead of the previous 17-inch design. These discs offer braking power corresponding to the higher performance. The brakes are built with pin discs and a brake pot made of aluminium, which reduces the weight by 600 grams on each side. A speed-dependent map in the electromechanical brake servo ensures precise brake control. The brakes respond harmoniously when manoeuvring, for example, but bite instantaneously and powerfully at high speeds. Thanks to precise optimisation in the high brake pressure range, the new brakes still permit very exact control even just before ABS intervention. A larger brake master cylinder ensures crisp, precise response in combination with sporty and short brake pedal travel. The specific tuning of the brake pedal characteristic also supports this sportier and more direct brake pedal feeling subjectively in the driver’s perception.

The individual ESC control

When the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport is started, the ESC is always active as a full system – like in every Golf. However, Clubsport drivers can adapt the ESC in two stages. In ESC Sport mode, the ESC thresholds and ASR slip thresholds are increased to reduce the intensity of interventions. In ESC Off mode, experienced drivers can additionally deactivate ESC altogether for all driving situations. However, Front Assist and Swerve Assist reactivate the full ESC system in emergencies.

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