What is it?
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 49bhp and torque 22lb ft over a regular GTI, owing to a different turbo and revised cooling, so 296bhp and 295lb ft, 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 (£785 extra) and 19in alloy wheels (£825).
What’s it like?
Still, you get into a GTI on a cold winter’s morning, note that it has a 300+ mile 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 UK 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.