Volkswagen Golf


Debut: 2012
Maker: Volkswagen
Predecessor: Golf VI



 Published on 3 Nov 2012
All rights reserved. 


Having past 38 years and sold over 29 million copies, Volkswagen Golf has entered the 7th generation. If you line up all seven generations together, you will be amazed with the subtleness and consistency of their evolutions. Their design philosophies seem unaltered throughout the years – no-nonsense, practical and a strong sense of solidity. A bit boring and lack of progress they might look, the Golfs are more resistant to aging than most contemporary rivals, and their sales success proved the approach is correct.

The Mk7 continues the evolutionary path. Its proportion is slightly altered, being slightly longer (by 59 mm), wider (by 13mm) and lower (by 28mm). The windscreen gets faster. The cabin is pushed rearward by 43 mm in relation to the front axle in an attempt to deliver a sportier proportion matching BMW 1-Series and Mercedes A-class, though it is far from successful. The blander nose, minimalist head/taillights and straighter lines preferred by Walter de Silva highlight superior assembly tolerance rather than aesthetic. Overall, the Mk7 does not look as interesting as my favourite Mk5, though it does get more aerodynamic efficient – Cd is reduced to a remarkable 0.27.


As I pointed out in the previous review, the outgoing Mk6 was not really a new generation but actually a revamp of Mk5. This mean the underpinning PQ35 platform is due for replacement in the Mk7. Taking its place is MQB – a German term translating to "Modular Transverse Matrix" – platform, already seen on Audi A3 and will soon apply to a variety of Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat to come. It emphasizes on the ability to adapt to different sizes and applications, from Polo to Passat, including 4WD, hybrid and electric powertrains. This will enhance the economy of scale thus reduce production costs and development time further. The MQB also stresses on lightweight construction. In the new Golf, the monocoque body employs a lot of high-strength steel and hot-stamped steel to cut 23 kg while improving rigidity and crash performance. Other areas see similar weight reduction, such as engines (up to 40 kg), running gears (up to 26 kg), seats (7 kg), air conditioning (2.7 kg) and electrical system (6 kg). Volkswagen claims total weight saving is up to 100 kg, although in most cases we found the actual weight saving is between 20 and 70 kg when compare with the equivalent old models.

Another major change is the rear suspension. While most models continue to employ multi-link setup, those with less than 120 hp are now served with torsion-beam axle. Why? Volkswagen believes the cooking models hardly need a sophisticated suspension, so it would rather save money and weight by adopting the simpler torsion-beam setup. On the more positive side, the new Golf introduces a couple of technologies for the first time: adaptive damping and an integrated control system (with Normal / Comfort / Sport mode to alter throttle, steering and DSG gearshift). In this respect it sounds more like a premium executive car.


As for engines, the Mk7 offers a mix of new and old engines. The entry-level 1.2 TSI 8-valve petrol (85hp / 105 hp) is no stranger to us. In contrast, the pair of 1.4 TSI engines comes from the new EA211 family. Improvements major on aluminum block, lighter moving parts, integrated exhaust/turbocharger, integrated intake/intercooler, improved cooling and the addition of dual-VVT. There are 2 states of tune – 122 hp / 147 lbft and 140 hp / 184 lbft. The latter also incorporates ACT cylinder deactivation system, which can shut down 2 of the 4 cylinders under part load by means of zero-lift cam lobes (a similar system is already used in Audi's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8). This engine is really impressive. It provides plenty of smooth power yet returns an amazing 60 mpg (EU combined) and CO2 emission of only 109 g/km, easily putting it at the top of its class. Moreover, the cylinder deactivation works seamlessly in an undetectable manner. Refinement is especially impressive.

A little sad though, the 160 hp 1.4 Twincharger engine has been discarded due to its high cost. If you want more performance, you have to wait for the 220 hp GTi.

On the diesel side, both the 1.6 TDI and 2.0 TDI come from the new EA288 family, although you might not notice. The smaller engine has its output unchanged at 105 hp, while the larger unit is boosted by 10 hp to 150 hp – still lagging behind some rivals. Their improvements lie in the compatibility with EU6 emission and potential for upgrades in the future.



Once entered the cabin, you will find a slightly more accommodating environment. The wheelbase has been stretched by 56 mm to 2637 mm, deliberating 15 mm of extra rear seat legroom. The wider cabin also affords 30 mm extra shoulder room. In addition to a 380-liter boot – 30 liters more than before and has a larger opening for easier access – the new Golf is highly practical.

However, what it really excels is build quality. This used to be the strength of Golf, and it becomes even better. The dashboard layout is now oriented to the driver and its design is slightly more stylish than the past. Most surfaces are covered with expensive soft-touch plastics – more than anyone else in the class with the exception of Audi A3 perhaps. All buttons are well damped and controls are well weighted. Its attention to details is unrivaled. As before, the instrument is clear and the rotary controls on center console is intuitive. A new infotainment system provides an 8-inch touch screen with amazing image clarity and easy to use menus. You can feel the tremendous effort spent into its development. Meanwhile, the driving position is perfect, thanks to vast range of adjustment. All-round visibility is good despite of the chunky C-pillars.


On the road, the new Golf feels incredibly refined. At low to moderate speed its engine noise is almost non-existent. Tire and suspension noise are equally well insulated from the cabin. It sets new class standards for cabin refinement. Ride quality is superb considering its chassis setup is not overly biased towards the comfort side. Compare with the previous generation, the Mk7 feels lighter, more agile, more neutral and more resistant to roll. Its steering is slightly quicker and more engaging, yet it becomes lighter at parking. It is unquestionably more interesting to drive than sister car Audi A3, although a Ford Focus or Alfa Giulietta might feel sportier.

Neither of these rivals provides a broad range of good engines and excellent gearboxes like the Volkswagen best seller. They can't match it for comfort, refinement and build quality, too. Therefore the new Golf is once again the champion of the class – such a result is perhaps as predictable as its new looks.
Verdict: 
 Published on 10 Jul 2013 All rights reserved. 
Golf GTI


Despite of those mesh grilles, extra louvers and 18-inch wheels, the new Golf GTI looks bland I must say. It might be hotter than lesser Golfs, but parking beside a Renault Megane RS265, Opel Astra OPC or even the new Mercedes A45 AMG it looks hopelessly dull, just like a white appliance versus artistic sculptures. You might say Golf GTI has always been conservative, but this generation is even more so than the Mk6 and especially the black-mask Mk5. The first impression is not very positive.

Get into the cabin, you may get the same feeling. New seats aside, it doesn't feel a lot different from lesser Golfs. Yes, the material and build quality is peerless (with the exception of sister car Audi S3). The functionality and equipment (if you can afford) approaches the level of executive cars. However, the maturity it displays is somewhat irrelevant to the spirit of hot hatches, which should be fun and exciting.

Open the bonnet, you will see the transverse engine is completely hidden under black plastic covers. I still moan the death of Alfa 147 GTA, the last hot hatch that generously revealed its alloy cam covers and chromed intake manifolds to your eyes. Anyway, time has changed and now refinement and low emission occupy higher priorities. Like last generation, the GTI is powered by the iron-block EA888 engine with 2-liter capacity and a turbocharger. However, this is the 3rd generation and many things have been improved. The block has been lightened; internal friction has been reduced; the exhaust manifold is now integrated with the cylinder head to improve cooling; on-demand cooling and lubrication have been adopted. More significant upgrades include dual-injection system (with stratified direct injection for part-load and conventional port injection for high load) and adoption of Audi's Valvelift 2-stage exhaust valve lift. It is hard to name the benefits of individual changes, but the combined results are Euro-6 emission compliance, 18-percent reduction of fuel consumption and a much stronger torque output, rising from the previous 206 lbft to 258 lbft, released from merely 1500 rpm to 4400 rpm. Meanwhile, maximum horsepower inches up from 211 to 220, or if you opt for the Performance package, to 230 hp. You might say not a big deal, but Car and Driver's test results show a big difference in the real world – 0-60 mph sprint is shortened from 6.3 to 5.6 seconds, while 0-100 mph is reduced by 2 seconds to 14.2.



Despite of its inferior top end power, it matches Ford Focus ST in straight line and trails Megane RS265 by a whisker. A45 AMG and M135i are clearly out of its reach, but then the more powerful Golf R is on the pipeline. What really surprises is how well it follows its more powerful rivals when the roads get twisty, as Autocar discovered. The Mk7 GTI is benefited from a lighter yet stiffer body shell and further refinement to its MacPherson strut and multi-link suspensions as well as adaptive dampers. On B-roads, it rides a lot smoother and quieter than all rivals bar BMW. Not only Comfort and Normal modes, but Sport mode also leaves enough compliance to be usable on normal roads. Such an absorbent manner allows you to drive it faster than would be otherwise possible on mountain roads. By the way, its engine smoothness is also first rate among its four-cylinder rivals. This mean it is easily the most comfortable to drive on day to day basis.

Meanwhile, the handling of the new chassis is also much improved from the old car. It offers more grip, more traction and less roll. The whole thing feels better tied down and more agile. The new variable-ratio steering plays an important role: its ratio progressively speeds up towards either sides, resulting in only 2.1 turns from lock to lock. This sharpens the handling in the twisty while keeping the car calm and refined at higher speed. The electrical assistance is not as feelsome as Renaultsport's, but its weighting and precision are beyond criticism.

The Performance model is even sharper, thanks to its new secret weapon – an electronic-controlled limited slip differential! This Haldex-built device is the first active LSD applied to a front-wheel-drive production car. It uses a hydraulic-activated multi-plate clutch to lock the differential progressively, resulting in a torque-vectoring that is finer and smoother than those brake-based systems or mechanical LSDs used by its rivals. It enables the car to cut understeer in corner entry and oversteer in situations you don't want. No wonder the GTI Performance shows a remarkably neutral and tidy handling. As the power is better distributed, it also produces incredible traction and front-end grip. Apart from the active LSD and the aforementioned power boost, the Performance package brings larger ventilated disc brakes.


 
Ultimately, the Golf GTI is not as good a driver's car as Renaultsport, because the latter's handling is sharper still, more fun and more communicative. To certain extent, the Volkswagen falls victim to its superior refinement. It is simply too calm, too tidy and the exhaust note too quiet to inspire thrills.

As an everyday hot hatch, however, it is close to flawless. The only rival standing in the way is BMW M135i. The GTI's active differential gives it an edge over its rear-drive rival with open differential, but the BMW strikes back with its creamy smooth straight-six and stronger performance. Neither cars have the looks to match their ingredients though. That said, no matter which one you choose, you won't be disappointed.
Verdict:
 Published on 12 Jul 2013 All rights reserved. 
Golf GTD


Since last generation, Volkswagen uses the "GTD" badge to represent the diesel equivalent of Golf GTI. In Mk7, the gap between GTD and GTI gets even smaller. Visually, they are identical except the wheel design and the color of the strip running across the front grille, i.e. red on GTI and chrome on GTD. This mean on the street you will be hard pressed to identify them without looking at the badges. Mechanically, they are also closely matched. The GTD gets the same suspension modifications with 15 mm lower ride height, stiffer springs and dampers, as well as the same electronic adaptive dampers and driver control system. It employs the same super-quick variable-ratio steering rack, the same 225/45R17 tires and 312 mm ventilated front brake discs, although the rear ones are smaller. It doesn't get the active LSD of GTI Performance, but like the standard GTI it employs XDS+ virtual LSD, which uses soft braking and ESP sensors to implement torque vectoring with quite satisfying effect.

The main difference lies on the engine, of course. The GTD employs a brand new EA288 2-liter 16V turbo diesel. Compare with the last generation, it is improved in every way – lighter, with lower friction, better cooling, increased common-rail fuel injection pressure and addition of variable exhaust cam phasing (a first for diesel engines), to name a few. The result is a maximum output increased from 170 to 184 hp, while peak torque improves from 258 to 280 pound-foot. By the way, this is exactly the same engine fitted to Seat Leon FR 2.0TDI. The GTD is capable to sprint from zero to 60 mph in just over 7 seconds and flat out on Autobahn at 143 mph. Not as quick as the GTI, but impressive for a diesel hatchback.

On the road, you will find the new engine a little smoother and freer revving at the top end, although bear in mind this is still a diesel engine. It runs out of steam above 4000 rpm, so it never thrills its driver like the petrol GTI. Neither is it as responsive at the lower end of the spectrum, as the power band is concentrated to the mid-range. Use the slick 6-speed manual to keep it running in mid-range, you will find it very quick. However, it is just not as flexible or as eager as the GTI, nor its exhaust note as delicious to ears, so the GTI is still clearly the choice of keen drivers.

Carrying an extra 26 kilograms, of which the majority is concentrated at the nose, its handling is slightly less agile. The lack of electronic LSD makes a big difference, too. Meanwhile, the ride is a bit firmer, probably because the extra weight at the nose necessitates stiffer springs. All in all, its chassis does not impress as much as the petrol version.

So why do people want GTD? The answer is lower running costs. While it is no cheaper to purchase, its combined fuel consumption of 67 mpg and emission level of 109 g/km should save a great deal of fuel bills and taxes. This mean it should be a popular choice for company cars in Europe. In fact, the GTD used to outsell GTI there. Expect the same will happen on the new generation.

Verdict:
 Published on 14 May 2014 All rights reserved. 
Golf R


In the past few years the hot hatch crown has been changing hands frequently. Long-time champion Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is too long in the tooth so that it can no longer fend off the competition from newer entries. This opens up opportunities to the likes of Renault Megane RS265, BMW M135i and Mercedes A45 AMG. All have their pros and cons thus none managed to dominate the class as convincingly as the Evo did in the past decade. The Megane was surely fun to drive and good to look at, but its mediocre engine and performance figures leave something to be desired. M135i, on the contrary, has a perfect powertrain combo but its soft suspension, slightly numb steering and open differential hardly make it the ultimate driving machine. The A45 AMG has tremendous performance and all-wheel traction to beat anything else on the road from point A to B, but its handling and ride shine only when you start pushing it hard. Moreover, its steep price tag sets it apart from the rest of the class. This mean, sooner or later it will be overshadowed. What we didn't expect is how soon it comes…

The car that rolls over the current champion is Volkswagen Golf R. You won't have guessed this from its civilized exterior design, which is no more exciting than the lesser Golf GTI, let alone the highly stylish A45 and Megane RS. You won't have guessed this from its bloodline either. Although Golf has long been renowned for GTI, its flagship R model has never been seriously considered as class leader. The original Mk4 and Mk5 Golf R32s were premium hot hatches powered by a classy VR6 and driven by 4motion. They were unquestionably desirable but not in the sense of driver's cars. In the last generation, the Golf R switched to a high-power 2-liter turbo four-cylinder motor in the attempt to cut fuel consumption and sharpen handling, though it still failed to impress. The new car adopts the same strategy, but its execution is far better.


Based on the lightweight MQB platform, the new car has an inherent advantage. It tips the scale at 1420 kg with standard Haldex 4WD system and optional DSG gearbox fitted, undercutting the old car by 46 kg and A45 by a valuable 60 kg. Much of this saving comes from the nose, so it guarantees improved balance and agility. The new EA888 engine is another major improvement. Compared with the one powering GTI, this version gets a larger turbo and stronger components (cylinder head, exhaust valves and pistons) in addition to the existing dual-variable cam phasing, 2-stage variable exhaust valve lift and dual-mode direct injection. Its output is lifted to a full 300 horsepower, while peak torque is 280 lbft. The latter is delivered continuously from 1800 to 5500 rpm, guaranteeing a flexibility that shades the AMG engine. Working in harmony with the excellent 6-speed DSG gearbox, the Golf R is surprisingly quick against the stop watch – it accomplished 0-60 mph sprint in only 4.5 seconds according to the test of German magazine Auto Zeitung. 0-100 mph was done in an equally sensational 10.8 seconds. Such performance is the closest yet to the mighty AMG, if not exactly there.

Strangely, on country roads where matter to hot hatches, the Golf R is easier to drive fast than AMG. Its engine has less turbo lag to overcome and its power delivery is smoother, allowing you to exploit its performance more easily. Okay, the EA888 doesn't roar as lovely, otherwise it would not have opted for sound synthesizer, whose soundtrack mixes a Subaru flat-4 with a large-capacity V6 and sounds too much artificial. Nevertheless, what it loses in sound quality is more than made up with the faster, cleaner gearshifts of DSG, which is still the standard to judge.



The Golf R also rides and handles brilliantly. Its suspension – stiffer and 5 mm lower than that of Golf GTI – returns a pretty firm ride even with adaptive dampers set to Comfort mode. To keen drivers, however, this hardcore setup is beautifully judged. It brings a keenness and accuracy not found on the GTI or even Mercedes. Compared with A45, the Golf R usually feels lighter and more responsive to turn-in. It storms through the twisty more fluently, with less body roll, brake dive or initial understeer. In other words, it feels more agile and more tied down. The variable-ratio steering is fast and accurate yet feeds you with decent feel. There is no hint of torque steer, and with a linear power delivery you can lean on the throttle earlier out of bend. Its handling is so intuitive, so vice-free.

On the other hand, the 4WD gives it a decisive edge in handling when compared with FWD rivals like Megane RS265 or Seat Leon Cupra 280. Mind you, it is not a permanent 4WD system like the Japanese rally specials, because the 4motion system implemented by Haldex multi-plate clutch sends power to the rear axle only when the front wheels start slipping. However, the 5th generation Haldex system gets more responsive than before, helping the Golf R to display remarkably little understeer. Its limit is now so high that you can rarely feel the understeer driving on public roads. When you push it really hard, you can sense a hint of understeer, which is then quickly followed by a stabilizing power transfer to the rear wheels. Surprisingly, there is even some throttle adjustability to play with on looser surfaces. Lift off mid-corner and its nose tuck in. Get back on throttle aggressively and you can push it into a 4-wheel drift – admittedly not in the extent of Evo or STI but this is rare in the field of front-biased 4WD cars. As a result, the Golf R is fun to drive.

For sheer driver engagement it still cannot quite match the highly interactive Megane, but the super Golf outclasses the latter in many other performance aspects. It is also the more usable, the more sophisticated and higher quality car. Only the dull look might drive off buyers.
Verdict:
 Published on 4 Sep 2014 All rights reserved. 
Golf GTE


One remarkable thing about Volkswagen’s MQB platform is its compatibility with electrification. This allows the introduction of pure electric e-Golf as well as plug-in hybrid Golf GTE. I will cover the former at a later date, but now let’s look at the GTE.

As implied by its name, the GTE is the electric version of GTI (just like GTD representing the diesel version of GTI) thus it is a rare performance hybrid on the market. Some of its underpinnings, like the stiffer suspensions and faster steering, come from the GTI, but the powertrain is not, of course. It comprises of a 150 hp 1.4 TSI engine and a synchronous motor with maximum output of 102 hp and 243 lbft. The latter is installed close to the 6-speed DSG gearbox, which has been modified to allow the engagement and disengagement of either power sources. The addition of e-motor could have made the car more nose-heavy, but this is counterbalanced by putting the 120 kg, 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seats. To make space for the battery, the fuel tank is made smaller (no problem as fuel economy is greatly enhanced by the hybrid system) and relocated to aft of the rear axle, i.e. under the boot floor. Inevitably, luggage space suffers as a result, reducing from 380 to only 272 liters. That loss of luggage space and the weight gain of 200 or so kilograms are the most obvious drawbacks of the hybrid conversion.



With both engine and motor working, total system output is 204 hp and 258 lbft – the latter is deliberately reduced to avoid overloading the DSG gearbox. That nearly matches the standard GTI. The weight penalty means it is inevitably slower against the clock – 0-60 mph sprint is quoted at 7.2 seconds, a full second adrift of the GTI – but in the real world it feels faster than it is, thanks to the instant stream of electric torque available from very low rpm. As expected for German engineering, the powertrain integration is excellent, with smooth and nearly imperceptible transition between petrol and electric power.

The extra weight does not hurt its handling as much as expected, perhaps owing to the low placement of battery. Mind you, it is not as agile as the GTI, but it offers solid roadholding and braking, while steering is quick and consistent.

Undoubtedly, the best part is fuel economy. If you charge it full at home, which takes less than 2 hours with 240V 16A socket, you may be able to see it travel up to 50 km in zero emission mode. The combined fuel consumption figure of 188 mpg might be a bit exaggerating, as is the CO2 emission of 35 grams per km, but in the real world it should guarantee better figures than any diesel Golfs, let alone any hot hatches. So this is the first time hot hatch drivers don’t need to sacrifice the pursuit of green motoring. The only price they have to pay is a higher price – about 10 percent more than the GTI. That’s very reasonable, thanks to the flexible MQB platform.
Verdict:
 Published on 20 Sep 2014 All rights reserved. 
e-Golf


Until now, electric cars are either dedicated designs or heavily modified from conventional cars. The e-Golf is the first electric car to be integrated into the production car program, being part of the Golf family. It is built on the same production line as the petrol and diesel Golfs. This is made possible by taking it into account at the earliest planning stage of the MQB platform.

Technology-wise, the e-Golf makes no breakthrough. Its synchronous motor produces 115 hp and 199 lbft of torque and sits in the engine compartment together with the single-speed gearbox and inverter/power control module. 24.2kWh of lithium-ion battery cells are packed under the front seats, transmission tunnel and rear seats, taking place of fuel tank. Its top speed is limited to 87 mph (140 km/h) to conserve battery. 0-60 mph acceleration is done just under 10 seconds, slightly quicker than a Nissan Leaf but no match for BMW i3. Depending on load and driving style, its travelling range is between 80 and 120 miles, slightly longer than the aforementioned rivals.



Ridiculously, what makes it special is how ordinary it looks and works. The e-Golf feels every bit as good as a Golf, no matter the build quality, refinement or usability. It also drives remarkably close to a diesel Golf. The electric motor is as smooth and torquey as expected. Powertrain noise is all but non-existent. Wind and road noises are well suppressed. The extra weight of batteries means it is at least 200 kg heavier than the diesel models, but it doesn’t feel as heavy in corners. In fact, it steers, grips and controls its body movement as good as other Golfs. The only noticeable difference is a slightly harsher ride, as its ride height is lowered to reduce frontal area hence drag.

To some drivers fancy with the idea of electric cars, the e-Golf might be too ordinary to be desirable. They are more likely to opt for the similarly-priced BMW i3. However, from functions point of view this car is probably the better, as it is more spacious, more comfortable, more reliable and more normal to drive. Electric cars have never come with so few compromises.
Verdict:
 Published on 6 Jun 2016 All rights reserved. 
Golf GTI Clubsport


To mark the 40th anniversary of Golf GTI, Volkswagen built this GTI Clubsport. Unlike the previous ED25, ED30 and ED35, it is an unlimited production model offered alongside the base GTI and GTI Performance. You can distinguish the car by its more pronounced air dam, skirts and the black rear spoiler extension. They successfully turn the aerodynamic lift to a slightly positive downforce at both axles. Inside, the cabin gets good-looking Recaro bucket seats and Alcantara trims to lift desirability even further. On the downside, this car is priced almost the same as the range-topping Golf R.

Unfortunately, its technical spec. is more a highly tuned GTI Performance than the equivalent of Golf R. The EA888 engine is tuned halfway between those cars, delivering 265 horsepower and 258 lbft of torque, although it provides an overboost to 290 hp and 280 lbft for up to 10 seconds. In contrast, a Seat Leon Cupra offers the same peak power and torque anytime you like. Moreover, the overboost is available only when the gearbox is at 3rd or above, seems like its front-wheel-drive hardware and electronic-controlled LSD have problems to tame the extra power. You can easily feel the stronger punch in straight line acceleration, but it can’t quite match the speed of Golf R and Leon Cupra.



At the chassis, Volkswagen dialed up its springs by 10 percent and retuned the adaptive dampers. Since the change is hardly dramatic, its ride remains very composed thus day-to-day usability remains peerless. Does it resist g-force stronger? It’s hard to tell, but the car does balance better, cornering with a more neutral attitude, primarily because the extra downforce allows Volkswagen to scale back the understeer built into its chassis without risking high-speed stability. Another noticeable improvement is the set of optional Michelin PS Cup 2 tires on 19-inch rims. They generate much stronger grip on dry roads, enabling aggressive cornering and sharper turn-in. Ultimately, it is still not quite as sharp or adjustable as Renault Megane RS275 Trophy, or as fast as Honda Civic Type R. Its steering feel and braking power have room for improvement, too. Most of these problems could be sorted out by the hotter Clubsport S which set new class record at Nurburgring recently, but that will be another story...

As a whole, the Clubsport is very expensive for the performance it offers. Golf R is not only more versatile but it remains the best performance Golf by some margin.
Verdict:
 Published on 11 Jun 2016 All rights reserved. 
Golf GTI Clubsport S


The title of "the fastest front-wheel-drive car in Nurburgring" has changed hands a few times since Seat Leon Cupra broke the 8-minute barrier in 2014. The specially prepared Leon (available as road car later) set a record at 7 min 58.4 sec that year. Soon afterwards, Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R lifted the bar to 7 min 54.4 sec. In 2015, Honda Civic Type R rewrote the record to 7 min 50.6 sec. Now its laurel is taken over by Volkswagen Golf GTi Clubsport S, which is the extreme version of Clubsport. It set a new record at 7 min 49.2 sec recently. Who knows how long it can stand?

As usual, the key to record breaking pace is the combination of more power and less weight. The GTi Clubsport S gets the most powerful version of EA888 2.0 TSI engine available in the group, i.e. the 310 hp / 280 lbft version already seen on Audi TT S. That makes it 10 ponies more than even the Golf R. Its chief difference from the Golf R engine is larger exhaust, which also produces angrier noises. To save weight, the engine is mated to 6-speed manual gearbox instead of DSG, even though that might rob it a couple of tenths of a second in 0-60 mph sprint.

The DSG would have added 20 kg. As it is not used, the car tips the scale at only 1285 kg, 30 kg lighter than the production GTi Clubsport or 116 kg less than the 4-wheel-drive Golf R. In other words, it is the lightest member of the Golf GTi family. Weight saving goes as far as ditching the rear seats (yes, it's strictly a 2-seater), air conditioning (it becomes a no-cost option), some sound deadening materials, carpets, the parcel shelf and adjustable floor in the boot. Besides, aluminum front suspension subframe, aluminum-hub brake discs and lighter alloy wheels also shed some weight.

The rest of the car is about the same as the Clubsport. It has VAQ active LSD to help distributing torque between the front wheels in hard cornering. It is shod with sticky Michelin PS Cup 2 tires. Adaptive damping and DCC driver control remain, but the latter gets an extra Individual mode to allow customizing the steering, throttle response, ESP and suspension. The default setting of Individual is tuned specially for Nurburgring, which means soft suspension setting to absorb the notorious bumps at Nurburgring while everything else is set to Race mode. Another important modification is a pair of new aluminum knuckles at the front suspension. It increases negative camber to enhance grip and reduce understeer at hard cornering. Outside, the Clubsport’s aerodynamic package is retained, which means a slight positive downforce can be generated at high speed.

Inevitably, the lack of 4-wheel-drive means the Clubsport S cannot match 4WD rivals like Golf R, Ford Focus RS, Mercedes A45 and Audi RS3 for standing start acceleration. It takes about 5.5 seconds to go from rest to 60 mph, about the same as Megane RS275 Trophy R and Honda Civic Type R. Without employing speed limiter, the Golf can top 164 mph. This should be the ultimate hot Golf as the 400-horsepower R400 has been cancelled amid dieselgate crisis. Its price and rarity also reflect this top status: £35,000 and 400 units only.

On the road, the Clubsport S feels very different from Clubsport. Its engine is more energetic, revving cleanly to 6800 rpm redline yet without losing low-end response. The exhaust note is louder and sportier but never intrusively so, very well judged. The manual gearshift is quick and tight, better than most rivals. Enter a corner, the car turns in more sharply, obviously due to the revised suspension geometry and reduced weight. The steering feels sharper, too. With VAQ and the racy Michelins Cup tires, it affords tremendous front-end grip and traction, yet the steering does not suffer from torque steer or corruption in feel, how can it be possible? The chassis balance is close to neutral, with a touch more understeer than Megane at the limit. You can tuck its nose back to line if you lift off throttle mid-corner, but the degree is more subtle than the Megane – its multi-link suspension keeps the tail more tied down than the torsion-beam arrangement of Renault. This means, the Volkswagen is not as entertaining as a track weapon, but it is easier and safer to drive fast.

However, the most impressive is how effortlessly its more sophisticated suspension absorbs nasty bumps on back roads and kerbs in Nurburgring. The superior composure it shows is the main reason why it can do a better Nurburgring lap time. Renault is not far behind in this respect (especially with Ohlins dampers), but Civic Type R is far more brutal in comparison. In fact, despite the weight savings, the Clubsport S keeps most of the traditional Volkswagen merits, including low noise level and high build quality. It is as good a useable road car as it is a lap record breaker. It’s a shame it has no rear seats, which effectively rules it out of the hot hatch class. In addition to the high price, the cheaper and more versatile Golf R is still a better bet.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Golf 1.2TSI
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4255 / 1799 / 1452 mm
2637 mm
Inline-4
1197 cc
SOHC 8 valves
Turbo
DI
105 hp
129 lbft
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
195/65R15
1170 kg
119 mph (c)
9.6 (c)
-
Golf 1.4TSI DSG
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4255 / 1799 / 1452 mm
2637 mm
Inline-4
1395 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI, cylinder deactivation
140 hp
184 lbft
7-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
225/45R17
1237 kg
132 mph (c)
7.9 (c)
-
Golf 2.0TDI
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4255 / 1799 / 1452 mm
2637 mm
Inline-4, diesel
1968 cc
DOHC 16 valves
VTG turbo
CDI
150 hp
236 lbft
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/45R17
1304 kg
134 mph (c)
8.1 (c) / 8.3*
25.7*




Performance tested by: *C&D





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed

0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

Golf GTD
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4268 / 1799 / 1442 mm
2631 mm
Inline-4, diesel
1968 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
VTG turbo
CDI
184 hp / 3500-4000 rpm
280 lbft / 1750-3250 rpm
6-speed manual

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/45R17
1302 kg
143 mph (c)

7.1 (c)

-

Golf GTI
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4268 / 1799 / 1442 mm
2631 mm
Inline-4
1984 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
220 hp / 4500-6200 rpm
258 lbft / 1500-4400 rpm
6-speed manual

F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
225/45R17
1276 kg
153 mph (c)

6M: 6.2 (c) / 5.8* / 5.8****
DSG: 5.6*
6M: 14.4* / 14.7****
DSG: 14.3*
Golf GTI Performance
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4268 / 1799 / 1442 mm
2631 mm
Inline-4
1984 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
230 hp / 4700-6200 rpm
258 lbft / 1500-4600 rpm
6-speed twin-clutch or
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
225/40ZR18
1327 kg
6M: 155 mph (c)
DSG: 154 mph (c)
6M: 6.1 (c) / 6.5** / 6.1***
DSG: 6.1 (c)
6M: 16.4** / 14.9***





Performance tested by: *C&D, **Autocar, ***AMS, ****R&T





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power


Max torque


Transmission

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight

Top speed

0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

Golf R
2014
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4276 / 1790 / 1436 mm
2632 mm
Inline-4
1984 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
300 hp / 5600-6200 rpm


280 lbft / 1800-5500 rpm


6-speed twin-clutch or
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
235/35YR19
6M: 1401 kg
DSG: 1420 kg
6M: 155 mph (limited)
DSG: 155 mph (limited)
6M: 4.9 (c)/ 4.9* / 5.2** / 5.1***
DSG: 4.7 (c) / 4.5* / 4.5***
6M: 11.6* / 12.2** / 11.8***
DSG: 10.8* / 11.7***
Golf GTE
2014
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4270 / 1799 / 1457 mm
2631 mm
Inline-4 + electric motor
1395 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI
Engine: 150 hp
Motor: 102 hp
Combined: 204 hp
Engine: 184 lbft
Motor: 243 lbft
Combined: 258 lbft
6-speed twin-clutch

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/45R17
1524 kg

138 mph (c)

7.2 (c) / 7.7****

18.2****

e-Golf
2014
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4270 / 1799 / 1450 mm
2631 mm
Electric motor
-
-
-
-
115 hp


199 lbft


1-speed

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
205/55R16
1510 kg

87 mph (limited)

9.8 (c) / 9.4***

-





Performance tested by: *Auto Zeitung, **R&T, ***C&D, ****Autocar





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque

Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Golf GTI Clubsport
2016
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4268 / 1799 / 1481 mm
2626 mm
Inline-4
1984 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
265 hp / 5350-6600 rpm (overboost: 290 hp)
258 lbft / 1700-5300 rpm (overboost: 280 lbft)
6-spd manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
235/35YR19
1300 kg
155 mph (c)
6.0 (c)
-
Golf GTI Clubsport S
2016
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4268 / 1799 / 1481 mm
2626 mm
Inline-4
1984 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL
Turbo
DI
310 hp / 5800-6500 rpm

280 lbft / 1850-5700 rpm

6-spd manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
Adaptive damping
235/35ZR19
1285 kg
164 mph (c)
5.5 (c)
-





























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