Seven minutes 49 seconds. Thatâ€™s how long it takes the Volkswagen Golf GTi Clubsport S to scoot around the daunting Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Apart from setting a new record for front-wheel-drive cars at the dipping, diving 20.81km circuit, this benchmark is also more or less on par with the best times the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera and Ferrari 599 GTB could lay down at the same venue a decade ago. Itâ€™s also a massive 37 seconds quicker than a GTI Performance Pack (which has a PB of 8min 26sec).
Is that not a staggering feat? For a civilised four-cylinder hatchback (albeit offered solely in three-door, two-seat format) with genuine everyday usability, itâ€™s nothing less than mind bending. The fact that its pricing in Europe puts it in the same ballpark as the Golf R only adds to the seeming incongruity of the â€˜Sâ€™.
Now the bad news: while weâ€™re destined to get 500 examples of the lesser â€˜regularâ€™ Clubsport in Oz, the stove-hot â€˜Sâ€™ is a non-starter in our market. There are just 400 units of the latter set to roll out of the factory, with the majority of these earmarked for Germany and the UK.
That said, this motoring.com.au scribe did have the opportunity to get some wheel time in the car and that, too, at the Nordschleife, with Benny Leuchter â€“ the bloke who set the 7:49.21 benchmark â€“ serving as a pacemaker.
A bit of background about the Clubsport S: development first started in July, 2013, initially with just the VW-specification Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slick tyres mounted on a regular Golf GTI Performance Pack. Three months later, a prototype with an uprated powerplant and the first suspension tweaks hit the â€˜Ring.
In May 2014, an evolution with more suspension revisions and the first aero package (comprising a large rear wing) was rolled out, but this version had so much downforce that straight-line speed was severely compromised.
Further development resulted in a smaller rear wing, a new aluminium front sub-frame with bespoke knuckles delivering more negative camber and less toe-in under heavy braking. Thereâ€™s also adaptive damping to endow the â€˜Sâ€™ with the suspension compliance to remain unflustered by the bumps and undulations of the Nordschleife.
The brake discs are thicker, and there are special pads to withstand the punishment of belting around the â€˜Ring at race pace. Ripping out the back seat (itâ€™s replaced by a strut brace and partition net) and sound deadening contributes to a substantial weight-loss program, and the lightweight 19-inch â€˜Pretoriaâ€™ rims also save 1kg of unsprung mass at each corner.
The Clubsport S comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox. Yes, the dual-clutch DSG â€˜box can slip through the cogs quicker, but it would have added an extra 20kg, so it was a no-go from the outset.
Revised mapping, a bigger fuel pump and a freer flowing exhaust system liberate 228kW (7kW more than the Euro-spec Golf R) and 380Nm from the EA888 2.0-litre turbo motor, which is tasked with hauling around just 1360kg (kerb weight). The sprint to 100km/h takes 5.8sec, and the fact the Clubsport S has no speed limiter means it can hit 265km/h before running out of puff (the rear wing takes some toll here).
In line with its record-breaking job description, the Clubsport Sâ€™s ESC and traction control systems have been loosened up to be less intrusive, and the ABS system also has a heightened threshold, but the VAQ electronically controlled locking differential is exactly as per the GTI Performance Edition.
So, to the track. With the pint-sized Leuchter mounted up in the very same white Clubsport S he used to set the 7:49.21 benchmark, I trickle out onto the circuit behind him, having put the vehicle in Individual (read â€˜Nurburgringâ€™) mode, which means engine, transmission, steering and chassis-stabilising electronics are in their most hardcore settings, but the dampers are in Comfort mode to soak up the â€˜Ringâ€™s surface irregularities.
Unfortunately, the rain has started coming down, so Leuchter says speeds will need to be adapted accordingly, especially as the variable surface of the Nordschleife turns it into a skating rink in several sections the instant a layer of moisture settles on top.
Accelerating out of pitlane (the six-speed manual is an agreeably slick-shifting unit, and having three pedals really suits the character of this car) the added poke is evident from the outset, even though under throttle the sound quality from the bigger-bore exhaust system isnâ€™t hugely different from lesser Golf GTIs (there are far more pops and crackles on the overrun though).
Iâ€™ve never previously been to the â€˜Ring, so itâ€™s just as well Leuchter is leading the way â€“ especially in the slippery conditions today. Like Bathurst (or Mount Panorama, to be precise), you donâ€™t realise the frequency and degree of elevation changes until youâ€™re actually on the track. There are bumps and blind crests galore, so itâ€™s easy to see why Jackie Stewart dubbed this place â€œThe Green Hellâ€.
What also becomes clear is how supple the Clubsport Sâ€™s chassis is, especially in corners where Leuchter cuts across the high kerbing. Itâ€™s obviously the quickest line, so I do the same, without any spine-jarring consequences. Even the lumpy Karussell corner doesnâ€™t unduly unsettle the car.
Equally impressive is how effectively the 380 Newtons of twist are deployed, without any tell-tale tug on the steering or momentum-sapping traction-control intervention â€“ thatâ€™s the VAQ differential and sticky Michelin rubber at work. Turn-in is sharp and, although thereâ€™s the slightest trace of understeer as you push harder, itâ€™s easily quelled by lifting off a tad or a gentle dab on the brakes to get the nose tucked in.
Although the Nordschleife gets the adrenaline pumping (itâ€™s scary fast in parts, and there are few opportunities to get clear sight lines of what lies ahead), the Clubsport S contributes little to the drama â€“ it just gets on with the job of hustling down the road as quickly as possible, carrying far more corner speed than one would have thought possible.
The overriding impression is of deceptive pace and stability, even in todayâ€™s inhospitable conditions, and the carâ€™s high-speed composure is no doubt partly down to the aero package that generates 25kg of downforce (17kg over the rear axle and 8kg over the front) at top speed, whereas the standard Golf GTI experiences 60kg of lift at v-max.
Its unflappable manner is in many ways the greatest victory the Clubsport S scores. To create a bone-jarring, highly compromised lap-record setter would have been a mildly worthy achievement, but the fact the â€˜Sâ€™ is able to do this without sacrificing anything vis-Ã -vis a standard Volkswagen Golf GTI â€“ apart from back seats and air-con (which is a no-cost option that robs a couple of kW and adds 15-20kg) â€“ is a head-scratcher.
The somewhat manic Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy might feel a fraction more involving from behind the wheel, but the Clubsport Sâ€™s staggering all-around capabilities are unparalleled. Itâ€™s bound to go down as an all-time great, which makes it all the more the pity that we wonâ€™t see it on our shores.
On the roadâ€¦
With more rain bringing a premature halt to our Nurburgring lappery in the Clubsport S, it was a fitting opportunity to nab one of the lesser (non-S) Clubsports from the car park and peel off for a brief drive around the public roads in the vicinity.
This is in any case the more relevant car for us, as 500 units (a fifth of these with a manual gearbox) will be offered here from July, priced from $46,990 for the manual and $48,990 for the DSG version.
The Clubsport (which will be badged here as the â€˜Golf GTI 40 Yearsâ€™ edition to avoid a naming conflict with HSV, which has dibs on the Clubsport moniker), gets many of the same goodies as the â€˜Sâ€™, including the lift-eradicating aero package, adaptive chassis control and electronic locking diff, so itâ€™s virtually as rapid in real-world conditions.
That said, the 2.0-litre engine is in a less extreme state of tune, eking out 195kW and 350Nm (although outputs are bumped up to 213kW and 380Nm for 10-second bursts via an overboost function).
The Clubsport is easily distinguishable from the stock GTI via its unique front bumper with â€˜air-curtainâ€™ strakes channelling air into the side intakes, and thereâ€™s also a modest rear diffuser, rooftop spoiler and bespoke side sills. Adding to its visual identity are 19-inch â€˜Rubyâ€™ rims, a black stripe on the flanks and blacked-out mirror housings.
I slotted into a manual three-door car (weâ€™ll only get the five-door version in our market), and based on a very brief drive, the impression was of a hot-hatch that â€“ like its harder, faster â€˜Sâ€™ sibling that Iâ€™d just sampled â€“ comes across as a very civilised package, so much so that it feels no different to a regular GTI at normal trundling speeds.
Itâ€™s only when you chance upon a decent twisty road and begin to unfurl its dynamic repertoire that the Clubsport comes alive. Thereâ€™s the same poise, balance and suppleness as the â€˜Sâ€™, as well as a rich assortment of crackles and pyrotechnics from the exhaust on the overrun.
Although heavier and less potent than the â€˜Sâ€™, thereâ€™s plenty of punch and traction out of tight corners, and the steering is crisp and precise, even if not delivering huge levels of feedback to your fingertips.
For all intents and purposes, the Clubsport feels a lot like the all-wheel-driven Golf R, which we already know well and rate highly.Â To truly separate the two would require a back-to-back test but, based on our brief first acquaintance, the former comes across as an equally tasty package â€“ especially at its keen sub-$50k price point.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years edition pricing and specifications:
Price: $46,990 (plus ORCs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Output: 195kW/350Nm; (213kW/380Nm with overboost)
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch
Fuel consumption: 6.9L/100km (NEDC Combined)
CO2: 158g/km (NEDC Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star Euro NCAP