Extreme diet includes the removal of two seats
The Ford on A previous page is not the only car this month to challenge the right of the Volkswagen Golf R to call itself the best fast hatchback. There’s a threat from within, too.
It’s called the Golf GTI ClubSport S and ostensibly exists to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original Golf GTI. It’s a limited edition of just 400 units, 150 of which will be coming to the UK, its largest market. And typically you might expect such a car to have some anniversary badging, a little additional trim and no chance whatever of gaining a mention on these pages. But this is not a typical limited edition. Indeed it was built with just one goal in mind: to lap the Nürburgring faster than any other front-wheel drive car in history.
Whether you regard that a valid or even sensible aim, there’s no doubting the efforts made. While the Focus derives its pace through power and heavyweight technology, the Golf’s chief weapon is lightness. By deleting equipment up to and including the rear seats, its kerb weight has been reduced to 1360kg, making it a staggering 187kg lighter than the Focus; so despite having just 306bhp, it is the Golf that has the better power to weight ratio. Aerodynamic modifications turn considerable lift into modest downforce, the suspension has been tuned to suit the Nürburgring, while better brake cooling, lighter wheels and track day tyres complete the picture.
Its pace for a front-drive hatch is bewildering. It laps the ’Ring in 7min 49sec, just a couple of seconds shy of what Ferrari’s 599GTB flagship was doing 10 years ago. That’s two seconds lost, around a near 13-mile lap, to a Ferrari with exactly twice the power. What’s more the little Golf is fast everywhere: on the straights, under braking, into the apex and, most surprisingly, away again. The combination of those tyres and a clever limited-slip diff mean even traction appears not to be a problem.
It’s easy, too. In all but the quickest curves it steers as faithfully as you could wish. Cornering at three-figure speeds revealed a small amount of float, but that’s because VW deliberately shed some of the downforce it found in development to make it move more freely through the air at high speeds. At all other times it feels like a Golf, albeit one with grip beyond that of any other.
But while the Focus RS is too raw to use all the time, the ClubSport S is almost the reverse. The very fact it has just two seats marks it out as a purely recreational motor, yet it’s quiet, rides well and for all its undoubted pace, doesn’t really challenge the driver.
Just like the Ford, its biggest problem is the existence of the Golf R, which is not only thousands cheaper, fitted with four-wheel drive and very little less fun to drive, it also has five seats, not two. And it is VW’s refusal to equip the ClubSport S with the standard complement of chairs that relegates its role to that of an impressive, interesting and enjoyable curio, but a curio all the same.
Price – £35,000 (approx)
Engine – 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power – [email protected] rpm
Torque – 280lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission – six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Weight – 1360kg
Power to Weight – 225bhp per tonne
0-62mph – 5.8sec
Top speed – 165mph
Economy – 38.1 mpg
CO2 – 179g/km