The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is the fastest, most extreme version of the firm’s iconic hot hatch. The limited edition model completed a lap around the fearsome Nurburgring race track in seven minutes and 49.21 seconds, beating the Honda Civic Type R’s 7:50.63, and the RenaultSport Megane Trophy R’s 7:54.36.
Its performance credentials are evident, but how does it compare to the Golf R – the current pinnacle of the Golf range? We put the two side-by-side to help you choose the one for you.
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VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – styling
You can’t deny the Golf GTI Clubsport S has presence. The more outlandish appearance compared to the rest of the Golf range isn’t just for show, either – Volkswagen claims the changes provide a tangible benefit to the performance when driving on a track. Deeper air dams and extra vents in the front bumper not only help improve engine cooling, but produce more aerodynamic downforce at speed. Likewise, the enlarged spoiler and diffuser at the rear achieve the same effect. Lightweight alloy wheels measure 19 inches in diameter, while the car is available in three colours from the original Mk1 Golf GTI – Tornado Red, Pure White or Deep Black.
The Golf R has a subtler appearance compared to the Clubsport, but still looks aggressive on the road. A unique front bumper design and subtle R badging distinguish it from lesser models at the front, while the door mirrors are finished in a contrasting silver shade. At the rear, the spoiler is less pronounced, and four exhaust pipes sit in place of the Clubsport’s two.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – interior
One look inside the cabin confirms the Golf GTI Clubsport S is anything but your typical practical family runabout. In order to save weight, Volkswagen has removed the rear seats, the boot floor, the parcel shelf and much of the sound deadening. A pair of racing seats offer increased side support during hard cornering, and the steering wheel is trimmed in Alcantara. In a nod to the original GTI, the ClubSport S features a golf ball gear knob.
The Golf R’s appearance is comparatively more conventional. Well-appointed and generously equipped, it offers supportive but less extreme sports seats in the front, and a rear bench with enough room for three people. If you need more space, the Golf R Estate increases boot volume from the standard car’s 380 litres to an enormous 606.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – driving
It isn’t just the Clubsport S’ cabin that’s been subjected to a diet. An aluminium front subframe and smaller battery shed pounds too, while aluminium brake covers with performance brake pads reduce weight further. The net result is a car that tips the scales at just 1,285kg. Compared to the Golf R which, thanks to its more generous equipment levels and four-wheel-drive system, weighs almost 200kg more.
The differences don’t end there, either. The Clubsport S features wheels wrapped in ultra-grippy Michelin Sport Cup 2 track day-spec tyres. Increased camber at the front wheels helps to make the most of the stickier rubber, and firmer engine mounts allow for faster responses. On a dry, smooth racetrack, the Clubsport S should be a significantly quicker tool in which to cover ground.
In everyday driving, however, the opposite is likely to be true. Track tyres can offer staggering grip in good conditions but, on a cold, damp morning, the road-biased set on the Golf R will feel more secure – especially in winter months. The four-wheel-drive system will deliver improved traction on wet roads, too.
Both cars feature drive mode selection. In addition to the Comfort, Normal and Race modes in the Golf R, the Clubsport S gets a Nurburgring Setting. This tweaks the Dynamic Chassis Control, throttle response and steering feel, Volkswagen says, offer the optimum settings for the incredibly testing circuit.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – engine
The 2.0-litre engine powering the GTI Clubsport S is a variation of the unit already used by the standard GTI and the Golf R. However, delving into the experience gained competing in the TCR touring car championship, the Clubsport S features some unique upgrades.
A revised engine computer, uprated fuel pump and redesigned exhaust system that backfires dramatically under heavy braking result in a total output of 306hp. Combined with the weight reduction, this helps the Clubsport S to a 5.8-second 0-62mph time. Flat out, it’ll reach 165mph.
The Golf R is marginally less potent, offering 296hp from its 2.0-litre. Despite this – and the extra mass it carries – it covers the 0-62mph sprint 0.7 seconds quicker than the Clubsport S. That can be put down to the greater traction off the line courtesy of its four-wheel drive.
Driving enthusiasts will be pleased to learn the Clubsport S is offered only with a manual transmission, because it’s lighter than the dual-clutch DSG automatic. The Golf R can be chosen with either a manual or the DSG, the latter of which is a £1,285 option.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – value for money
Volkswagen has yet to announce the pricing for the Clubsport S but it’s expected to be priced not only higher than the regular £27,500 GTI, but also more than the £31,125 asking price of the Golf R.
The price may seem steep for a car missing half its interior but it’s worth considering that, thanks to the limited production of 400 vehicles, the Clubsport S is likely to maintain extremely strong residual values.
VW Golf GTI Clubsport S vs Golf R – verdict
For the last word in driving thrills, the GTI Clubsport S will take some serious beating – not only from the Golf R, but any of the hot hatch offerings from rival manufacturers, too. With such a strong emphasis placed on handling balance and cornering grip, it’ll make the ideal choice for the track day enthusiast.
For those who need an everyday car with stunning all-season performance, however, the Golf R remains the obvious choice. It offers greater refinement, is better equipped, and is faster in a straight line. Additionally, it has seats in the back, so more people can come along for the ride.
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