It is fair to say that since the fifth generation of its iconic Golf GTI, Volkswagen has consistently produced a lineage of superb modern hot hatches. However, the Golf 7 GTI Clubsport S is arguably the most fun of them all, and it is a variant that could very likely remain the GTI high water mark, forever.
Words and images: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Let's add some interesting context right away. In a 2017 CAR magazine track test, a Golf GTI Clubsport S manual piloted by ex-racer Deon Joubert clocked a time of 1,24.60 seconds on a bone-dry Killarney racing circuit. To put that into perspective, that is the same time as a 2013 Audi RS4, 0.5 seconds slower than a 2012 BMW M5 F10 and 0.3 seconds faster than a 2016 BMW M2 M-DCT… driven by the same driver.
In other words... this thing is fast!
This car might not need an introduction for most of us petrolheads, but it is worth revisiting, as it is possibly the most exciting Golf GTI to have ever been produced by the factory. So, we tracked down an example in Cape Town that is used as a daily driver by its owner.
“This is my second Clubsport S," the owner explains. "The first one was almost new, and this one was slightly used when I purchased it, something I just felt I had to do because I missed the first one so much, and because it is such a good car. I only sold the first one as I had a BMW M2 on order, and then I bought this Clubsport S after I sold the M2.
“Overall it is my 10th GTI, and it is definitely the best of the bunch. It is such a balanced and focused car that gives such good feedback. There is no other Golf I’ll replace this Clubsport S with. There is also nothing for the money that can provide this level of performance and 'feel' for the driver. The steering delivers great feedback without being too heavily weighted.
“In terms of modifications, I would not add more power. I think that would ruin the balance. But I have, however, installed a forged short shifter (from VAG Café) which offers better feel when changing gears. I also had APR brake cables installed, resulting in better response and feedback on the brake pedal. I’ve also added spacers (10 mm) just to give it a slightly better stance. The final minor update outside are the wheels which I had painted in Satin Aurum Gold – Porsche enthusiasts will recognise the colour. They were originally gloss black, but they just 'disappeared'.
“Under the hood I installed a K&N filter for some added induction noise and there is also a turbo muffler delete, the latter allows for the various sounds from the turbo setup to be more audible.
“It just had its 40 000 km service. When I bought it, it had around 15 000 km on the clock. I thought mine was one of the highest-mileage examples in SA, but recently I spotted one for sale online with 90 000 km on the odo.
“I think, generally speaking, that these cars are not likely to see high mileage because it is a two seater, so ultimately not the most practical daily driver for most people.
However, this owner uses his Clubsport S daily, and also regularly ventures to the Western Cape’s mountain passes to fully enjoy what this hot hatch has to offer.
“This is the ultimate sleeper. People think this is only a GTI, and while it is true that in a straight line it won’t beat a lot of the very fast cars, when you introduce some tight corners into the mix it will leave a lot of sportscars (or rather, their drivers) squirming. The Recaro seats are also super comfortable in these driving situations."
“When looking for an example, you will definitely want to check that the car has not been tuned. That obviously voids the warranty and the motorplan. That said, the age of these cars are now coming up to the five-year mark, so that is not really going to be an issue going forward. Personally, I’m not a fan a chipping a car as I think the factory settings are optimal.
“Tyres are quite pricey, so check for tyre wear on any car you're considering. The brakes are powerful and generally you don’t need to overuse them. This example had a bit of a sticky clutch, which VW initially told me was my driving style, but it was slipping and they did replace it under warranty eventually. This happened shortly after I bought it. Otherwise the car hasn’t given me a day’s problems and I’ve just done the routine servicing.
“The 4-door Clubsport is a great alternative for someone who needs the extra seats and who is on a tighter budget. For 99% of driving conditions the 4-door has more than enough power for most people."
Next realistic dream car
“Realistically I would not replace this. The MK 8 GTI, as nice as it is, just does not have the tactility of this car. It has become even more digital, less analogue in feel. I would probably not even consider a Clubsport version of the MK8 GTI if VW did release such a car.
“I might go for another M2, as it looks likely to be the pick of the M range. If I had the cash, I would definitely go for a Porsche Cayman GT4 RS. Other than that, the only other car I can think of that would be more fun on the mountain passes would be a Porsche 911 GT3… which is also out of budget.