2020 Volkswagen Golf review: the benchmark is back

2020 Volkswagen Golf

Back in September, Volkswagen revealed its ID.3 electric car. The Beetle, we were told, was ID.1 – the original ‘people’s car’ and beating heart of the brand – while the subsequent Golf was ID.2. Now, as a new Golf is launched to the world, there’s a sense it’s already yesterday’s hero.

So it felt until I spent an hour with some VW engineers, at least. These guys, whose specialist subjects ranged from engines to autonomous driving tech, still take the Golf very seriously. And rightly so: since 1974, more than 35 million have been sold. Somebody, somewhere, buys a new Golf every 40 seconds.

The ID range and its ‘new, dynamic era in the world of e-mobility’ may be coming, but the Golf hasn’t stood still. Indeed, this is the most radical, forward-thinking version of Das Auto yet. Not that you realise it at first…

The Golf club2020 Volkswagen Golf

Arriving in Portugal, I see the Mk8 Golf lined up alongside all seven previous generations. It looks a chip off the old block. Details have changed, such as the swoopy LED headlights and spot-the-difference VW logo, but the confident creases, kinked C-pillar and hewn-from-solid silhouette are instantly familiar.

In fact, the Golf uses the same ‘MQB’ platform as the outgoing model, so its wheelbase is identical. Overall, it’s a modest 29mm longer, 10mm wider and 4mm taller. Interior space is claimed to be ‘practically unchanged’.

Like most mid-size hatchbacks, the Golf is now five-door only – the three-door had dwindled to just five percent of sales. An estate version arrives in 2020, but the MPV-shaped Golf SV won’t be replaced. The arrival of the genre-busting T-Roc Cabriolet makes a drop-top look unlikely, too.

So far, so uneventful. Still, you can hardly blame design boss Klaus Bischoff for playing safe with a best-seller. He describes the Golf “an indicator of the present” that helps “millions of people [with] feeling at home”. One can only assume his interior design team missed the memo.

Crazy Golf2020 Volkswagen Golf

Inside, the new Golf has more in common with the ID.3 than its Mk7 predecessor. Volkswagen calls it a ‘digitalised workplace’ – and while it’s brimful of showroom appeal, learning your way around does initially feel like work.

Front-and-centre is the new Innovision digital dashboard, which has few physical buttons. A 10-inch central screen is standard in the UK (other countries get an 8.25-inch version), flanked by touch-sensitive sliders for heating/cooling and audio volume. The process is rather like swiping the screen of a smartphone.

You can also use gesture control for some functions, such as waving your hand to move between menus. Plus there’s voice control with integrated Amazon Alexa: say “Hello Volkswagen” to call up a song from your playlist, turn up the heating or find a nearby petrol station.

Ambient lighting is another feature that has filtered down from loftier cars. Pick from 32 colours or choose one of five ‘moods’: Infinity, Eternity, Euphoria, Vitality and Desire. Don’t choose the latter for a first date.

Putters and drivers2020 Volkswagen Golf

If all this sounds like the result of too many macchiatos at a marketing meeting, be reassured to know the Golf’s engines are steadfastly sensible. At least until the full suite of performance models – GTI, GTI TCR, GTD, GTE and R – arrive later in 2020.

The line-up at launch comprises 1.5 TSI four-cylinder petrol (130hp or 150hp) and 2.0 TDI diesel (115hp or 150hp), with the 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder petrol (90hp or 110hp) following soon afterwards. A 48v eTSI mild-hybrid system, which recuperates braking energy to save fuel, is available on 100hp, 130hp and 150hp petrol engines, but only with the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. Your other choice is a six-speed manual.

Details of the sportier versions are scarce, but we know the GTE plug-in hybrid will develop 245hp, a sizeable leap from 204hp in the Mk7. There won’t be a fully electric Mk8, as that box is ticked by the ID.3. However, Volkswagen has given the existing e-Golf a stay of execution until its new EV fully commences production.

As for trim levels, the structure now mirrors the German market, starting with ‘Golf’, then rising via Life and Style to top-spec R-Line. At the time of writing, UK equipment levels and prices had yet to be confirmed.

Time to tee off2020 Volkswagen Golf

My first instinct is to jump into the flawless Mk1 Golf and screech away in a cloud of hydrocarbons. However, I have a job to do, and the Mk8 awaits. Besides, it’s December and the new car has a proper heater. Heated steering wheel and seats, too.

I start in a 1.5 TSI petrol in Life trim with a manual ’box, predicted to be the best-selling version in the UK. As for the vivid Lime Yellow paint, that will be less common. More’s the pity.

As ever, the Golf feels impeccably well assembled – insert cliché about Germanic build quality here – although there are some plastics that wouldn’t pass muster in, say, a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The unlined glovebox, which causes loose items to rattle around, also smacks of penny-pinching.

The firmly padded seats, with an optional massage function, are very comfortable, and finding a good driving position is easy. The digital dials are also clear, augmented in some models by a head-up display (which projects essential driving data, such as your speed, onto the windscreen). Peering out over the plunging bonnet, I ease out the light clutch and I’m away.

Fore to the floor2020 Volkswagen Golf

The turbocharged 1.5-litre engine is no ball of fire, but it revs eagerly and propels the Golf to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and 139mph flat-out. Its Mk7 equivalent managed fuel economy of 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 116g/km, so expect similar figures when the Mk8 undergoes official WLTP tests soon.

Where the TSI motor really impresses is refinement; it’s turbine-smooth, isolated to the point of being almost inaudible around town. At speed, this only serves to amplify wind roar from the chunky door mirrors, although the Golf remains an able and long-legged cruiser. Countless development miles on Germany’s autobahns have clearly paid off.

The manual gearbox feels well-oiled and easy to operate. It’s likely to be around £1,400 cheaper than the DSG auto upfront, and require less maintenance longer-term. However, that’s only a concern if you keep the car beyond its three-year UK warranty (also the usual term of a PCP finance deal).

Par for the course2020 Volkswagen Golf

The VW’s chassis is also geared towards easygoing comfort. Its steering, light and accurate, filters out the fingertip feedback some drivers will crave in favour of calm control. Its suspension also strikes a good balance between absorbing bumps and resisting roll.

On a series of mountain switchbacks near Porto, the car was genuine fun: its well-weighted controls and unruffled composure helping me chase down locals in careworn Renault Clios, many of whom treated the road like a rally stage.

There are some caveats, though. All the launch cars had multi-link rear suspension, while cheaper models make do with a simpler torsion beam (also true for the Focus). P;us all were fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which includes continuously variable dampers and four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual.

Switching to Sport isn’t transformative, but it does add extra heft to the steering and more zing to the throttle response. Granted, the Golf isn’t as lively or engaging as a Ford Focus, but wasn’t it ever thus? The essential rightness of the recipe bodes well for the GTI and R.

Into the rough2020 Volkswagen Golf

I then swap into a 150hp diesel with an automatic transmission, also in Lime Yellow. This 2.0-litre TDI offers markedly more torque – 266lb ft at 1,750rpm, versus 184lb ft at 1,500rpm in the 150hp petrol – which is immediately apparent on the road. The instant oomph, combined with seamless shifts from the DSG ’box, make for a compelling combination.

Preferable to the petrol? Well, the TDI is certainly more vocal, although its subtle snarl is a world away from clattering diesels of old. Inevitably, it will also be more expensive to buy – probably by around £1,200 if Mk7 prices are an accurate guide.

Nonetheless, for all the bad press about diesel (much of Volkswagen’s own making, of course), it’s certainly no poor relation. The 0.3 seconds it gives away from zero to 62mph is amply compensated for by mid-range muscle. Plus, what’s not to like about more miles per gallon?

Help or handicap?2020 Volkswagen Golf

As for the Innovision cockpit, I’m not fully convinced. One thing I’ve always loved about the Golf – and I speak as a serial owner, with Mk1, Mk2, Mk4 and Mk5 models under my belt – is its no-nonsense approach to ergonomics. For its core audience, middle-aged and middle-class, the minimalist design and deference to touch controls may not be perceived as progress.

The slider for audio volume is a case in point. I found it only worked with a firm push, and I’d end up checking the screen for confirmation – thus taking my eyes off the road. Admittedly, there is a volume switch on the steering wheel, but that’s missing the point: technology should make things simpler. The same goes for the voice controls, which were hit-and-miss at best.

Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned. There is also much useful tech here. The optional matrix LED headlights, for example, are fantastic, actively dimming sections of the high beam so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic. The new Car2X wi-fi function is clever, too; it allows the car to communicate directly with others nearby (only other Golfs at present, but the EU-standard tech is being trialled by other brands) in order to warn drivers of approaching hazards.

Hole-in-one2020 Volkswagen Golf

Brands within the Volkswagen Group seem to be steadily moving upmarket. Thus Skoda becomes more like VW, while VW edges closer to Audi. Where Bugatti goes next is anyone’s guess.

Prise those redesigned roundels off the Golf and it could easily be an Audi A3. Its interior has the requisite wow-factor and the technology sets new standards for a ‘mainstream’ hatchback. Build quality and refinement also measure up to premium rivals. Let’s just hope the Golf’s price doesn’t.

Much has changed, then, but the Golf still feels like the benchmark in its class. Its broad appeal and breadth of abilities make it the default ‘people’s car’ – for 45 years and counting. Don’t write this Volkswagen out of history yet.

2020 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI: specification2020 Volkswagen Golf

Price: TBC
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power: 130hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 184lb ft at 1,500rpm
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 139mph
Fuel economy: TBC
Length/width/height: 4,284/1,789/1,456mm
Boot size: 380-1,237 litres
On sale: February 2020

2020 Volkswagen Golf: in pictures

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First look at futuristic new Mk8 Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf Mk8

This has been a year of important new car debuts, from the Land Rover Defender to the Porsche Taycan. Volkswagen will deliver 2019’s final big-hitter on October 24, with the launch of the eighth-generation Golf.

This sketch is our first preview of the highly-anticipated new model. Look past the pronounced haunches and enlarged wheels for an idea of the Mk8 Golf’s styling.

The design is, in Volkswagen’s words, ‘instantly recognisable as a Golf’, but ‘more dynamic than ever before’.

Volkswagen Golf Mk8

The car looks sleeker than the Mk7 it replaces, but still couldn’t be anything other than a Golf.

In the cabin, VW is doubling down on digital tech. It will be a ‘trendsetter in terms of its digtialised and connectivity-oriented interior world’. From what we can see, that means more screens and more touch-sensitive controls.

The most important Golf ever

Volkswagen Golf Mk8

This is a crucial crossover point for the Golf. Since its inception eight generations and more than 40 years ago, the Golf has been the standard-setter for the family hatchback class. Rivals have come and gone, while the Golf has remained the consummate all-rounder. 

Now, competition comes from rather closer to home, and we don’t just mean from elsewhere within the Volkswagen Group.

Volkswagen ID.3

We refer, of course, to the ID.3. VW says the electric ID is the third chapter for the ‘people’s car’, following on from the Beetle and Golf as chapters one and two. 

At the very least, the ID.3 will make any e-Golf replacement feel redundant. It’s going to be a fascinating couple of years, and an interesting launch for the Mk8 Golf.

Hole-in-one: the greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The term game-changer is bandied about all too frequently, but it could be used to describe the original Volkswagen Golf. Not only did it usher in a new era of water-cooled hatchbacks for a company with a heritage of air-cooled saloons and trucks, but it changed the shape of modern motoring. To mark the arrival of the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf, we celebrate with a small selection of the car’s best strokes.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

We start, perhaps predictably, at the beginning. Although the Volkswagen Golf arrived in 1974, we’d have to wait a year until the Golf GTI debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show, with the first right-hand-drive models not appearing in the UK until 1979. It was worth the wait. Our Tim Pitt is a fan and former owner. Writing for Car, he said: “Today, ‘GTI’ is a brand, the badge that adorns a range of Volkswagens from the Up to Golf GTI Clubsport S. Yet everything harks back to the Mk1. It’s the archetypal hot hatch, and still an engaging, exciting driver’s car.”

Volkswagen Golf Rallye

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

At the time of its launch, the Volkswagen Golf Rallye was the most powerful production Golf to date, but that was only half the story. Thanks to its Syncro four-wheel-drive system, it weighed a portly 230kg more than the contemporary Golf GTI 16v, which served to blunt its performance. According to Car, it was “As ugly as a Staffordshire bull terrier, but without the bite.” Time has been kind to the Rallye, mind. Your author owned one of the 80 UK-spec left-hand-drive models and still remembers the whine of the supercharger and the limpet-like all-weather grip.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR is the last hurrah for the Mk7.5 Golf, its name inspired by the Touring Car Racing series. It offers a 45hp boost over the Golf GTI Performance, but falls 10hp short of the Golf R, but that doesn’t mean it plays second fiddle to the all-weather hot hatch. Thanks to a raft of upgrades, it feels a tad more special than the R, especially if you opt for the Performance Pack. Having spent the day driving a TCR in Mid Wales, we think it’s a fitting send-off for the Mk7.5.

Volkswagen Golf R32

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The Mk4 was a landmark car and represented a turning point for the Volkswagen Golf. Boss Ferdinand Piech pushed the hatchback further upmarket, helping it to become the default choice in a competitive segment. In truth, the Mk4 didn’t represent the GTI’s finest hour, but the R32 was in a different league. Launched at the Madrid Motor Show in 2002, the R32 was powered by a 3.2-litre narrow-angle V6 engine and driven by a sophisticated 4Motion system. It also heralded the arrival of Volkswagen’s Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG).

Volkswagen Golf Cross Country

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Not the greatest Volkswagen Golf as such, but the Cross Country deserves credit for being ahead of the curve. Launched as a concept at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, the recipe for the Golf Cross Country will be familiar to today’s car buyers. Volkswagen entrusted Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria with the production of the go-anywhere Golf, which featured raised suspension, body armour and the Syncro four-wheel-drive system. It was a sales disaster, but it provided a brief glimpse into the future.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Volkswagen knew that it had dropped the ball with the Mk3 and Mk4 versions of the Golf GTI. A major rethink was required, which is why the GTI wasn’t launched alongside the standard Mk5 Golf, with Volkswagen choosing to unveil a ‘Concept GTI’ to generate interest. It worked: looking back, making such overt references to the Mk1 Golf GTI was a dangerous game. It’s just as well the Mk5 Golf GTI lived up to the hype.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

First came the Mk2 Golf GTI 8v. Then, when faced with a growing army of hot hatch rivals, Volkswagen responded with the launch of the Golf GTI 16v. It didn’t make the 8v redundant – some believe that it offers greater day to day driveability – but with 24 percent more power and 9 percent more torque, it became the most sought-after model in the range. It was also the quickest Golf GTI to date.

Volkswagen Golf VR6

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The Mk3 Golf gets a hard time in the media, and not all of it is justified. Even diehard Golf fans would be forced to admit that the Mk3 Golf wasn’t a high point for the badge, but the VR6 should be remembered with fondness. Although the six-cylinder engine debuted in the Passat, it was a first for a car in this class, and it gave the Golf grand tourer-like qualities. Volkswagen didn’t position it as a hot hatch, but as a relaxed, comfortable and rapid cruiser. Judged on these attributes, it’s a fine car, especially in Highline trim.

Volkswagen Golf G60 Limited

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The Golf G60 Limited is essentially a five-door hatchback with the inner workings of the Rallye. Not to be confused with the more attainable (and excellent) Golf G60, the G60 Limited was handbuilt at Volkswagen Motorsport in Hannover at a rate of one a week. With a top speed of 140mph, it had genuine Q-car qualities, placing it at the top table of the performance car elite. Just 71 were built, making the Limited one of the most desirable Golfs on the planet.

Volkswagen Golf Ecomatic

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Much like the Golf Cross Country, the Golf Ecomatic was very much ahead of the curve. To reduce fuel consumption and cut emissions, the Ecomatic’s 1.9-litre diesel engine could cut out in traffic and when coasting. The driver simply lifted the throttle to cut the engine, with Volkswagen claiming a 22 percent improvement in fuel economy over a standard Golf with the same engine. By today’s standards, it was unsophisticated, but it paved the way for future stop-start systems.

Volkswagen Citi Golf

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

The final Volkswagen Citi Golf rolled off the production line in 2009, a full 26 years after production of the Mk1 finished in Germany. A process of continual development kept the Golf current, although it lagged behind the safety and emissions standards laid out by European and U.S. markets. Not that this stopped the Citi Golf from becoming a cult favourite in South Africa, where some 377,500 cars were built.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

“Yes, the Golf GTI Clubsport S is fantastic. The extent to which Volkswagen has created a fully-formed Golf GTI with such a breadth of talent that makes it so special. This is the fastest and most capable Golf GTI ever, but it’s still a Golf GTI. And it’s this approachability, combined with its speed and engagement, that makes it such an impressive achievement. It’s quite the 40th birthday celebration for the original hot hatch, that’s for sure.” Our review from 2016 pretty much sums it up.

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet Mk1

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Aside from the Golf Cross Country, there’s been a strong emphasis on performance Golfs in this gallery. But the Golf is about so much more than B-road blasts and hot hatch thrills. An open version was never part of Volkswagen’s plans. Indeed, most analysts thought the market for convertibles had all but dried up. But Karmann had other ideas, which is why, after many years of development, the Golf Cabriolet debuted at the 1979 Geneva Motor Show. It outlived the Mk1, with production continuing until the launch of the Mk3 Golf in 1993.

Volkswagen Golf Anniversary

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

To celebrate the Golf GTI’s 25th anniversary, Volkswagen launched the aptly named Golf GTI Anniversary in 2002. Two versions were available – a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol and a 1.9-litre diesel. The availability of an oil-burner reflected the changing nature of the hot hatch market, with diesel becoming the acceptable face of the performance car world. Highlights included 18-inch BBS alloys, Recaro seats and a golf ball-shaped gearknob.

Volkswagen Golf R

Greatest Volkswagen Golfs

Although it was tempting to include the likes of the Bon Jovi, Pink Floyd and Genesis special editions, we’ll conclude with the evergreen Golf R. It’s arguably the best hot hatch all-rounder you can buy, offering understated styling, a glorious engine and superb ride and handling. When the Mk7.5 bows out, who knows what will happen to the Golf R? Volkswagen has unveiled a new logo for its R sub-division, but is remaining tight-lipped over plans. We should hear more following the Mk8 Golf’s launch at the end of October.

Volksawgen Beetle

How Volkswagen tried and failed to replace the Beetle

Volksawgen Beetle

Too much success can stunt the mind. That can apply to the collective mind of a company just as easily as it can a music artist struggling with that difficult second album.

And back in the late ‘60s, Volkswagen was having exactly this kind of problem with its Beetle.

Volksawgen Beetle

Not that this famous car was anywhere near reaching its popularity peak in 1967, when a 30% sales slump in its native Germany prompted VW’s management to take the challenge of replacing it a whole lot more seriously.

Although it hadn’t been ignoring the task entirely. During that same year VW revealed a whole heap of prototypes to a press becoming increasingly critical at the absence of a Beetle replacement. In fact, VW had developed no less than 70 potential successors since 1952, but none had made production and all shared the same basic rear-engine layout.

Some had been under development for as long as five years before being abandoned, others were simply styling mock-ups. And what they all pointed to, apart from the waste of millions of pounds-worth of r&d money, was the lack of a solid idea for replacing a car that by 1967, had been in quantity production for 22 years, having started life before WW2.

Hitler’s people carrier

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

The ‘Strength-through-Joy’ KdF-wagen was commissioned by one Adolf Hitler from Ferdinand Porsche, the Fuhrer keen for the KdF-wagen to become the affordable car of the people. And it actually became that very thing, though not entirely in the way Hitler had envisaged.

A few were produced before and during the conflict, the war-damaged Wolfsburg plant restarted in 1945 by British Army officer and engineer Major Ivan Hirst. In 1948 he handed over the running of the plant to Heinz Nordhoff, an inspirational ex-Opel manager who expanded production and successfully established excellent sales and service networks for VW overseas, most notably the US where for well over a decade, the Beetle became part of the fabric of North American life.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

In fact, it was not the only car that Wolfsburg was making. Volkswagen Type 1, as the Beetle was officially known, was joined by Volkswagen Type 2 (pictured above) in 1949, this the almost equally famous Transporter van and its Kombi brother.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

And in 1961 came the Volkswagen 1500 saloon (pictured above). It was still rear-engined and air-cooled, like a Beetle, still a two-door and still largely uninterested in ploughing a straight line on a breezy day. Despite this the 1500 did well, the Fastback and Variant estate versions helping it to sales of over three million between 1961-73.

The Beetle replacement, take one…

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

But the 1500  wasn’t a replacement for the Beetle. Another prototype came close to doing the job in 1960, when project EA97 got to the point where the production machinery to build it was being installed, and the first 100 pilot-build cars had been assembled.

A rear-engined two-door saloon, it was powered by an 1100cc engine and would have competed with the Hillman Imp, Renault 8, Simca 1000, NSU Prinz and Fiat 850, several of these big sellers.

But as author Russell Hayes’ excellent book ‘The Volkswagen Golf Story’ explains, EA97 was reckoned to be too close to the 1500 saloon – they looked pretty similar, besides – and now that VW had bought the Auto Union company, acquiring the Audi 60 saloon in the process, it suddenly had another in-house competitor.

So EA97 was cancelled at the last minute, losing VW yet more millions. But it was making so much money from the Beetle that this mattered a lot less than it would have done for other car companies.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Its next attempt came in the gruesome shape of the 1968 Volkswagen 411, another air-cooled rear-engined car, this time with four doors. Its styling was as tortured as the VW management’s efforts to solve their new Beetle problem, this ugly beast living four short years and selling only 266,000 copies in the process.

By now mild desperation was setting in, Nordhoff’s replacement Kurt Lotz arriving to a largely empty new model cupboard, 411 apart, making him particularly eager for some quick-fix solutions.

Making slow progress

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

One of those came with Volkswagen’s acquisition of NSU, makers of the little Prinz and the radical rotary-engined Ro80 executive saloon. Sitting between these two was a yet-to-be launched modern, front-wheel drive saloon. Crisply styled and glassy, it was a vast improvement on the 411, if far from as gaze-freezingly handsome as the futuristic Ro80, whose design legacy can still be seen in the Audi saloons of today.

Nevertheless, an eager Volkswagen took this NSU design over, relabelled it the VW K70 (pictured above) and optimistically built a new factory capable of making it at the rate of 500 per day.

But like many hastily conceived plans in the motor industry, the K70 soon hit problems. It was expensive to build, sharing almost no parts with other cars in the group, expensive to buy for the same reason and rust-prone. That slowed, sales, as did VW’s activities within other parts of its empire.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

When it bought Audi in the mid ‘60s it was simply to get its hands on another factory in which to build Beetles, because it couldn’t keep up with demand. Audi’s small 60 saloon (pictured above) continued to be made, but product development director Ludwig Kraus was instructed to halt new model development.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Instead he disobeyed, developing a new saloon in secret. It was eventually revealed to VW’s management, who got over their shock and annoyance to approve what became the 1969 Audi 100, pictured above. That car was a big hit, and would eventually keep a money-losing VW afloat, but in the meantime it seriously undermined the appeal of the less than stylish K70 that came a year later, giving VW yet another failure.

Replacing the Beetle bugs VW

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

If the K70 was a piece of misfiring opportunism, the EA266 prototype (pictured above) was the company’s main attempt to properly replace the Beetle. In fact, it was developed mostly by Porsche, whose engineers produced a hatchback with a water-cooled four cylinder that lay flat beneath the rear seats, to drive a gearbox and differential behind it.

In effect, this was a mid-engined hatchback, and development again advanced to the point of tooling being ordered. But despite its sporty mid-engined layout and Porsche parentage, EA266 apparently had handling issues, besides continuously perfuming its cabin with oily engine vapours via an access panel beneath a rear seat that was expected to get progressively grubbier as mechanics removed it to service the engine.

Nevertheless, EA266 was part of a major management review of VW’s new model plans in May 1969, along with a new front-wheel drive hatchback from Audi, its four-cylinder engine mounted longitudinally, and a similar prototype from VW itself whose front wheels were propelled by a Beetle engine.

Great Motoring Disaster VW Beetle replacement

It was this car, codenamed EA235, that would eventually lead to the VW Golf that became the Beetle’s real successor. A variation of it, codenamed EA276 (pictured above), can be found in Volkswagen’s museum.

At last: enter the VW Golf!

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

Neither prototype was a beauty, but one of VW boss Lotz’s best decisions during his brief and troubled career at the helm was to instruct Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign to style the car that would become the Golf, pictured in launch guise above.

It would be released in 1974, at the end of seven troubled years that had produced one of the ugliest family cars of the ‘60s in the 411, had proved the riskiness of opportunism with the K70 and ultimately, threatened the very existence of VW itself.

Great Motoring Disasters VW Beetle replacement

And that’s without including all the abandoned prototypes built between 1952 and 1967, VW beginning its long and painful quest for a successor when the post-war Beetle was only seven years old.

But the lesson was learnt – many of us can count our lives out in Golfs, VW now building the seventh version of this car since 1974. And this multi-brand group is a long way from being dependent on only one model, the mighty Golf one of a number of big sellers.

Past master: the Beetle returns

Concept One

There is a footnote here. For decades, the original Beetle was moribund. It was still produced in South America for an increasingly diminishing market, but eventually faded away for good in 2003.

Then came the craze for nostalgia, one arguably accelerated by Volkswagen, which showed a ‘modern’ concept version of the original Beetle in 1994, called Concept One. The world swooned. Production for the Californian-designed concept was approved.

1998: the Volkswagen Beetle is back

New Beeetle

The New Beetle was introduced in 1998. Ironically, it was based on the platform of the car that sealed its fate back in the 70s, the Volkswagen Golf, but this did ensure it drove well.

Built in Mexico, it was shamelessly retro, taking the original cues of the Beetle and exaggerating them with cartoon-like emphasis: the separate wings, round headlamps and tail lamps, rounded roofline and chunky running boards.

New Beetle cuts a dash

New Beeetle

The interior was retro-inspired too. This meant packaging was dreadful, with a tiny boot and cramped, rear seats, but few at the time seemed to mind, because it was so bold. It even came with a vase on the dashboard.

New Beeetle

Yes, a vase.

2011: New Beetle take two

New Beeetle

Sales clearly convinced Volkswagen it was worth replacing. An all-new car arrived in 2011, with more of a fastback profile to the roofline and a more sophisticated, more practical interior – but still clearly a Beetle.

As with the original New Beetle, this second retro recreation also came in convertible guise, and was later offered with a tiny 1.2-litre petrol engine – the smallest since the original model ceased production. Luckily, it was turbocharged, so wasn’t quite as lethargic as the 1960s models…

Today: the Beetle’s second coming comes to an end

New Beeetle

But sales of this second remake never quite took off. And, like the original, soon started to go the wrong way. It seemed the world had moved on: a retro Beetle was nice as a passing fad, but didn’t seem to have staying power.

Rumours had thus circulated for years that this model would be the final Beetle – its second coming would come to an end. On September 13 2018, it was confirmed.

This week, the final Beetle was once again produced, 21 years after it returned from the great scrapyard in the sky. The last models off the line are going to VW’s ever-expanding heritage collection, presumably to sit alongside the previous final Beetle.

Goodbye again, then Volkswagen Beetle. It’s been an interesting ride, for sure…

In pictures: the world’s greatest hot hatch festival

Worthersee Volkswagen FestivalThe Austrian town of Reifnitz on the side of Lake Worth, or Worthersee, has hosted the ‘GTI Treffen’ festival for 36 years. Originally a small meet of Volkswagen enthusiasts (just 100 cars attended the first event), more than 100,000 fans from all over Europe now head to the Alps at the end of May. We sent a snapper to the event and captured some of the weird and wacky VWs in attendance.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

If Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIs are your thing, you’ll be well catered for at Worthersee. The event was first created to celebrate the original GTI, and there are still loads in attendance today. From the original example to modified ones like this bright yellow GTI, we can get behind the subtle look.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf cabrioletWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

What were we saying about ‘subtle’? This modified third-generation Golf cabriolet is anything but. There really is something for everyone.

Audi A1Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Although predominantly a Volkswagen show, there are other VW Group cars in attendance. Such as this interesting Audi A1, which we can barely see thanks to its camo look.

Audi 100Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Brown with gold alloys doesn’t sound like a great look, but it works for us on this Audi 100.

Audi 50Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Audi 50 is what became known as the Volkswagen Polo… and the rest, as they say, is history. This fairly standard and incredibly tidy example received many admiring glances at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Passat CoupeWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Remember when Passats were cool? This B1 generation Passat Coupe is closely related to the Audi 80 of the same era.

Mk1 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

In a town full of modified Vee-dubs, there’s something very refreshing about a pair of properly mint Mk1 Golfs as the factory intended.

Volkswagen campersWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Well, if you’re visiting the Alps for a VW festival, is there a better way of doing it than an old-school VW camper?

Volkswagen BeetleWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Thanks to their popularity, classic Volkswagen Beetles are still a relatively common sight on the roads. Plenty made it to Worthersee, including this lovely green example complete with skis on the back.

Volkswagen Polo G40Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Polo G40 is the result of what happened when VW bolted a supercharger to the 1.3-litre engine in the GT. Although it wasn’t incredibly powerful (it produced 115hp), it’d beat both the Fiesta XR2i and Peugeot 205 GTi in the 0-62mph run.

Volkswagen LupoWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Ah, the VW Lupo. Pre-dating the popular Up, the Lupo wasn’t quite the sales success of its successor. They’ve got quite a following in Volkswagen circles, though. This was one of a number of modified examples on show at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Polo HarlequinWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

You can imagine the meeting that led to the creation of the Volkswagen Polo Harlequin. “We need to give the Polo a sales boost. Let’s launch a special edition. But what can we do with it?” The answer, apparently, was to paint every body panel a different colour. Around 3,800 were made (and presumably sold), including this modified example.

Volkswagen TouranWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

A Volkswagen Touran people carrier doesn’t seem the obvious choice as a base for a modified car. Name the VW, however, and you’ll probably find a modded version at Worthersee.

Mk2 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

We spotted this lovely Mk2 Volkswagen Golf in one of the car parks at Worthersee. The decals suggest it’s an Elite special edition… we don’t know much about it, but feel free to tell us more about it in the comments if you do!

2017 Volkswagen Golf

2017 Volkswagen Golf facelift: everything you need to know

2017 Volkswagen Golf

The popular Volkswagen Golf has been updated for 2017 – bringing with it new infotainment systems, more comprehensive safety systems, an all-new TSI petrol engine and DSG gearboxes with more gears. Styling has also been tweaked, but you’ll be hard pushed to notice: the most standout visual update is a vivid new metallic yellow colour.

2017 Volkswagen Golf

Trailed by Volkswagen for weeks, the revisions to the Golf are detailed but not earth-shattering. It’s the upgraded infotainment systems that the firm’s keenest to stress – every unit in the range is new.

2017 Volkswagen Golf

Basic Golfs get a higher-res 6.5in colour touchscreen instead of the old black and white system. The next level up now uses an 8.0in screen, and there’s now an even larger 9.2in ‘Discover Pro’ system with a super-high-res screen and, for the first time in this sector, gesture control.

Spot this new high-end Discover Pro system from its Apple-like full-width glass surface.

On the safety front, traffic jam assist allows the Golf to semi-autonomously drive itself in traffic (so long as you have all the options necessary, including a DSG gearbox). Emergency assist can spot if the driver has blacked out or fallen asleep and, if they don’t respond, will emergency-stop the car. The city emergency braking system also now detects pedestrians as well as other cars.

Those who tow will like the new Golf: it’s the first family hatch to have trailer assist, that semi-autonomously reverses a car hitched to a trailer. Park assist is also more intelligent and offers more driverless functionality.

Volkswagen is very proud of the ignition key now saving settings for individual drivers, including preferred climate control settings, instrument setups and driver’s seat adjustments. The fancy fully-electronic instruments first seen in the Audi TT are now offered in the Golf as well.

2017 Volkswagen Golf

From the outside, new Golfs are not immediately apparent. The bumpers have been redesigned, full LED tail lamps are standard and xenon headlights have been junked in favour of full LED units. The front wings are new, there are fresh wheel choices and, inside, new trims and fabrics.

2017 Volkswagen Golf

It’s the Golf GTI that’s perhaps the most visually evolved. The red bits in its headlights have been revised, and those units are now standard dual LED lamps. The Golf GTI has more power as well: 230hp as standard, 245hp for the GTI performance.

There’s no mention of the dreaded TDI diesels in the 2017 Golf press kit, but a new 1.5-litre TSI ‘Evo’ engine is highlighted. In regular guise, this engine has 150hp and is fitted with ACT cylinder deactivation so turns into a two-cylinder during light loads. This helps trim fuel consumption to 57.6mpg combined, and CO2 goes down to 110g/km.

2017 Volkswagen Golf

A 1.5 TSI Evo Bluemotion has a power chop to 130hp, but CO2 also falls to 104g/km: it averages 61.4mpg. The engine also has a variable geometry turbo – an impressive addition for a petrol car – and runs on a new combustion cycle similar to the eco-focused Miller Cycle. Oh, and when the driver releases the accelerator, the engine shuts down, as part of an extended coasting function. Previously, only hybrids have been able to do this: the real-world economy gains will be significant, promises Volkswagen.

Ageing six-speed DSG gearboxes will also be replaced by seven-speed units, further cutting CO2.

2017 Volkswagen Golf: prices and on-sale date

The Mk7.5 Golf is set to go on sale in March, with prices on average £650 less than its predecessor across the range. That’s despite the higher levels of standard kit, including improved infotainment systems on all models, and LED rear lights.

The entry-level 1.0-litre Golf S 85hp three-door retains its £17,625 starting price – making it cheaper than the entry-level Honda Civic (£18,235) but more expensive than the Ford Focus (£16,445).

Volkswagen’s diesel hot hatch, the Golf GTD, starts at £28,480 – an increase of more than £1,500 over the outgoing model, while the GTI rises to £27,865 (a small rise from £27,495). The flagship Golf R remains at £31,865.

Driving impressions

We’ve driven the 2017 Volkswagen Golf at its European launch event in Majorca, and can confirm the minor changes have secured its place amongst the best in class. The new 1.5-litre TSI engine in particular is a gem, with 150hp on tap and a 130hp Bluemotion version available for extra green credentials (and none of the nastiness associated with VW diesels).

Even combining the 1.4’s replacement with a seven-speed DSG gearbox, it packs a punch and is fun to drive without the ‘thrumminess’ of the three-cylinder 1.0-litre. It’s a really likeable engine that might make some think again about defaulting to a diesel Golf.

The new infotainment system is easy to use, while the minor changes to the Golf’s design mean it stills looks fresh (if not exciting). We even like the new Turmeric Yellow colour…

Keep an eye on Motoring Research – we’ll be publishing a full first drive review of the revised Golf GTI in the near future.

In pictures: 2017 Volkswagen Golf

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The best value new electric cars for 2017

The best value new electric cars for 2017

The best value new electric cars for 2017Electric car sales are growing year-on-year, by double-digit amounts. As concerns over city centre emissions grow, and the threat of penalties for combustion engines grows (diesel cars are particularly vulnerable here), many are now looking at electric vehicles (EVs) in a new light.

So is this the year to go electric?

Of course, traditionally, high-tech electric cars have not been cheap. Enter the government’s Plug-in-Car Grant. On electric cars with a range of at least 70 miles, this is worth £4,500 off the recommended retail price (the prices listed here are all pre-Plug-in Car Grant). List prices themselves are also becoming more affordable as sales gain critical mass.

Incremental improvements in battery technology are also stretching the range enough to make them a genuine option for most people. In the early days of EVs, you’d struggle to get 100 miles from a full charge. Now, you can get well over 150 miles from some models, and one real-world choice now claims a 250-mile range. The compromise-free EV is almost here.

In such a fast-growing sector, which are the models you should be looking at? Here, we’ve picked out 10 of the most significant EVs, and ranked them. We’ve also included key specs for driving range, battery size and price. All have their zero-emissions strengths, but some are better than others – particularly when you factor in range and price.

Hyundai IoniqThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 174 miles

Battery size: 28kWh

Price: £28,995 (Premium)

The fresh-faced Hyundai Ioniq is a car available in three flavours: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full EV. Here, we’re looking at the pure electric Ioniq, which is priced from an affordable £28,995. The claimed range is up to 174 miles, which is more than the class-leading Nissan Leaf. Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty is extended further for the electric bits here – they’re covered for eight years and 125,000 miles.

Renault ZoeThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 250 miles

Battery size: 41kWh

Price: £28,695 (i-Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge)

The Renault Zoe is a supermini electric car that’s both brilliant and badly flawed in equal measure. The brilliant bit is the stupendous range of this Z.E.40 model – a new 41kWh battery has stretched it to a Tesla-like 250 miles. But then, Renault has long eradicated the consumer appeal of this with its silly battery hire scheme, meaning you have to fork out £70 a month on top of the list price (or finance cost). The i-branded models cure this by including the battery in the asking price. Trouble is, they mean the asking price of this small EV is the same as the more-family-sized Ioniq EV…

Nissan LeafThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 155 miles

Battery size: 30kWh

Price: £30,290 (Acenta 30kWh)

The first mass-market electric car on sale in Britain is getting on a bit these days, but is a deservedly familiar sight. It was enhanced a little while ago with a larger-capacity 30kWh battery, taking the range up to 155 miles. That’s an improvement on the old 24kWh car, and will give existing owners a nice upgrade come trade-in time. It’s also built in Britain, for patriotic appeal. These days, it’s not the class-leader in terms of range or ability, but it’s still competitive.

BMW i3The best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 195 miles

Battery size: 33kWh

Price: £32,330 (94Ah)

The ultra-clever BMW i3 looks like nothing else, is made from lightweight carbon fibre and is a Tardis-like car that still drives like a real BMW. Trouble is, it’s perhaps a bit too quirky for some; what works in trendy parts of London might not quite be so appealing in rural Dorset. This 2017 model does have a big new battery, though – taking the range up to nearly 200 miles. And the car’s clever engineering means you stand a decent chance of achieving that, too.

Volkswagen e-GolfThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 118 miles

Battery size: 24.2kWh

Price: £31,680

There’s a facelifted Volkswagen e-Golf coming soon, but we’re still recommending this one if you’re able to strike a sharp deal with a retailer. It doesn’t have the biggest battery or the largest range in the family class, but it’s still a Golf, and that counts for a lot. It’s nice to drive and will always sell on for decent money. A few thousand pounds off will solve the issue of that list price, too…

Kia Soul EVThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 132 miles

Battery size: 27kWh

Price: £29,995

The quirky Kia Soul EV is an electric car that’s a bit different. Probably too different for many, but early adopters who like to stand out might love it. The range is decent and it’s extremely practical inside for five, while a fulsome level of standard kit means you shouldn’t feel short-changed by the sub-£30k list price.

Tesla Model S 60The best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 253 miles

Battery size: 60kWh

Price: £65,680 (Model S 60)

We have to include the mighty Tesla Model S here, despite even the basic car costing a whopping £65,000. That’s because it’s a genuine luxury car that’s shaken up the electric car market ever since its launch. The range is long, performance is stupendous and the interior, dominated by that famous touchscreen, is superb. Pity new car buyers no longer get free charges from the ever-growing Supercharger network.

Volkswagen e-UpThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 99 miles

Battery size: 18.7kWh

Price: £25,280

Volkswagen has recently facelifted the little e-Up. Frankly, while able, it’s a bit too expensive for what it is: a tiny city car with a sub-100-mile range. The Plug-in Car Grant helps, but it’s still more than £20k – you can get a petrol-engined Up for less than £10k. Despite this, it’s a likeable and able car that drives well and serves as a nice introduction to electric motoring.

Renault TwizyThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 62 miles

Battery size: 6.1kWh

Price: £6,895 (Expression)

One of the cheapest cars on sale in Britain is also a fully-electric one. The Twizy is rather compromised, of course: it’s a quadricycle, so doesn’t meet the same standards of refinement (or, as Euro NCAP pointed out, crash safety) as a normal car. The range is also just 62 miles, and it’s so slow, it can’t even clock a 0-60mph time because it can’t reach 60mph. Still, for those who want a cheap electric car runabout they can park anywhere, it’s still worth a look.

Smart edThe best value new electric cars for 2017

Range: 99 miles

Battery size: 17.2kWh

Price: TBC

One of the freshest EVs on the UK new car market is the soon-to-be-launched Smart ed range. Because we don’t yet have prices, we can’t yet fully judge its competitiveness – but the range is looking OK for a city car and the manoeuvrability of the Fortwo two-seater is peerless. There’s now even a Forfour ed for those who need a city-friendly five-door four-seater.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S review: why it’s a record-breaking ace

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport SWas the key reason for creating the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S to secure the Nürburgring Nordschleife record for a front-drive hot hatch, I ask Karsten Schebsdat, the ex-Porsche dynamics guru who’s led this project?

He nods. That, he says, is why the board signed off the project. “We knew we had a good idea on how to get it; the board agreed and gave us the cash to go do it.”

The seeds were sown back in summer 2013, when Schebsdat’s team ran some tests on a Golf GTI Performance Pack (the 230hp model) running fancy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres: semi-slicks that are about as close to road-legal racing rubber as you can get. The speed step-up was extraordinary, he says. But what more could we do, he and his team then thought…

310hp Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is new king of the Nürburgring

By October, the 2.0-litre TSI engine was up to 300hp and the first suspension tuning work was complete. Come May 2014, the car had some new downforce-generating wings and spoilers (although the original monster rear spoiler actually proved too big…). It got fancy new suspension bits in March 2015 and, by May, was 30kg lighter and running its first tests. If you drove public laps of the Nürburgring that summer, you may have seen it testing.

The car was ready. All they needed was the lap record, to complete the project (and keep the bosses happy). The Clubsport S was to be revealed at the 2016 Worthersee show, as part of a Golf GTI 40th anniversary special – but, once Nordschleife speed restrictions were lifted, VW’s first private track booking in March was rained off. The only chance they had to do it was at another rush-booked session in April: if anything went wrong, that was it. No pressure.

In the end, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S, in the hands of VW driver Benny Leuchter, aced it. They did three or four laps below 7 minutes 50 seconds, and one in 7:49.24. More than a second faster than the Honda Civic Type R. The limited-to-400 car, due in the UK this winter for around £35,000, was validated. And now we’ve driven it around the Nürburgring to find out just what it’s like to drive.

It looks subtle, like a Golf Clubsport

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Visually, you won’t spot the record-breaking Golf at first glance. The engineering work is concentrated beneath the surface: on top, the Clubsport S uses the same all-new front bumper and enlarged rear roof spoiler as the ‘regular’ special-run Golf Clubsport (the UK gets 1,000 of those, compared to only 150 of the S). The unique bits are the 19-inch alloys, black roof, tinted rear glass and ‘Clubsport S’ graphics on the rear of the side sills.

The Clubsport S is also two-door only: unlike Honda and Ford, Volkswagen has a two-door version of its Golf family hatch, and it’s exploiting the slightly stiffer, slightly lighter advantage here. As it’s arrived in the Golf GTI’s 40th year, colours hark back to the original choice: either red, white or black.

It is a two-seater

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Inside, to save weight, Volkswagen has got rid of the rear seats. And the parcel shelf. And the fancy flexible boot floor. And soundproofing pads fitted to the inside of the bodyshell during production. And fitted a smaller battery. In all, the kerb weight is cut to 1,360kg, pretty light by modern car standards, considering it’s still a Golf and isn’t packed with carbon fibre this and aluminium that to push up the price unrealistically.

So for all its GTI-stripe seatbelts, brilliantly hip-hugging bucket seats and race-like Alcantara steering wheel, it’s the fact there are no seats behind you, just a huge open space, that makes this Golf feel special to sit in. And not dissimilar to a race car. There’s never been a production Golf like this before and, for the company, it’s a big step to series-produce a Golf GTI with two fewer seats than a Porsche 911. But such is the purpose and intent of this very special limited-run machine.

Don’t whatever you do choose the one without air con though. It’s a no-cost option and, yes, going without saves 20kg and theoretically makes it a tiny bit faster and freer-revving thanks to the lack of drag on the engine. But sweating behind the wheel isn’t very modern Golf-like. The rest of it is so well-developed, this is a step too far. Purists can argue over it but we’re sticking with a/c.

It has a wickedly fast engine

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

The tuned EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine produces 310hp and 280lb ft of torque. It starts pulling from 1,700rpm and maximum drive is yours until 5,300rpm; peak power is from 5,800 – 6,500rpm. 0-62mph takes 5.3 seconds and, at 165mph, this is the fastest Golf ever (and the first not to have a 155mph speed limiter). It’s the same setup as used by the Golf GTI TCR racing car, compete with modified exhaust whose bigger pipework pops, bangs and crackles wickedly under braking (made all the more prominent by no rear seats and less soundproofing).

This glorious engine is wonderful. Exceptionally free revving, the noise at higher revs is rorty, prominent and turbine-smooth, throttle response is exceptional and the effervescence is akin to the sparky Mk2 Golf GTI 16v, albeit with twice as much power and leagues-ahead engine muscle.

Because torque is spread so wide, and it’s so willing to rev, it’s always indecently fast. No demand to be in the right gear at the right time here (good job: it’s manual only). It’s forgiving and seems happy to always demonstrate to you how fast it is – never mind the Golf GTI, this is a step on even from the Golf R, certainly in terms of how much satisfaction you draw from all this speed.

The tyres are key to it all

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are where it starts with the Clubsport S. They have lots more traction and grip, and they also respond much more quickly to inputs: right away, the car feels more focused, sharper, pointier and more alert to small steering inputs. The initial layer of ‘sneeze factor’ softness in the steering is reduced: turning forces build much more quickly here. An extra bit of weight is nice, too.

The mechanical grip of the Clubsport S allows you to lean on it almost perilously hard on a Nürburgring hot lap and it rarely cries enough. When it does, the controllability and ‘feel’ during a slide is extra-enhanced: even here, it feels keyed in and heroic, without the sliding softness of the regular car. The tyres quickly nibble back at the road surface to grip again: they make you feel like a racer, or certainly someone who knows what they’re doing.

Go faster to feel better

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Despite its bodykit, the regular Golf GTI generates 60kg of lift at speed. You don’t want this, as it makes cars nervous and slip-prone. The Clubsport S generates 25kg of downforce at speed, with most of that on the rear axle. It’s pushed into the ground – and the faster you go, the more it’s pushed down.

The effects are particularly felt over 70mph. Bit of a problem for UK road laws but, on a circuit like the Nürburgring, another reason why the Clubsport S feels so great at speed. The confidence you have from the more clamped-down feel of the back end calms the nerves and makes you happier to press on.

The Clubsport S also has a trick electronically-controlled differential which manages power delivery: if it’s about to be spun away on one side of the car, the diff lock effect channels it to the other side with more grip. Drive it fast but tentatively around the ‘Ring and you might get understeer – but this isn’t naturally an understeer-prone car. So try more throttle: plant the accelerator around that third-gear sweep, to feel the diff bite and the front end pulled into the corner rather than washing out of it. Brilliantly effective, hilariously satisfying.

The steering doesn’t squirm like a snake under power

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

310hp and diesel-like pulling power, all delivered through the front wheels only? A recipe for arm-snapping torque steer through the wheel, surely? Nope. It’s amazing how little wheel fight there is from the Clubsport S under power. It bites the tarmac rather than bites your arm off.

There’s serious electronic trickery at work here in the differential to quell this, explains Schebsdat, and sheer mechanical grip of the Michelin tyres also helps. It means the ability to effectively deliver 310hp without the extra weight and complexity of a Golf R’s four-wheel drive. The Clubsport S benefits from this purity: this is what makes it distinct from the similar-power Golf R.

The Clubsport S is brilliant at kerb-hopping

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Those who say cars developed at the Nürburgring are all ultra-stiff road-racers are wrong. To go fast here, you need controlled but compliant suspension. The small Clubsport S team has spent thousands of man hours tuning the DCC dynamic chassis control adaptive dampers to achieve this – and have even created a bespoke Nürburgring setting to do it. (Yes, it has a Nürburgring button, albeit a virtual one).

In this mode, everything is set to sport apart from the dampers, which go to comfort mode. So there’s both control when the body’s moving, but also the ability to absorb the monster inputs delivered by the ‘Ring’s bumps, cambers and undulations (this mode should also be perfect for twisty, broken-up British B-roads, adds Schebsdat).

A hot lap following Leuchter demonstrates this. “Use the kerbs” he shouts on the radio, before pretty much driving entirely over them at 95mph. Wow. I do the same. Wow! It’s miraculous – the Clubsport S absorbs the shocking forces amazingly, but remains planted and in control, even when I land hard off them.

This is an amazing level of suspension compliance and control that truly sets the Golf apart from stiffer, more racecar-like rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Sport Megane 275. Suspension dampers almost have the depth, ability and tailored, other-level feel of a racing car and the Clubsport S is hugely satisfying and able as a result.

Bespoke detail overload

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Volkswagen has done a proper job with the Golf GTI Clubsport S. Detail engineering abounds: there are bespoke front suspension knuckles, an aluminium subframe, modified rear suspension bushes. Toe and camber angles front and rear are unique. Brakes have new pads and aluminium rotors for better feel and heat management.

Schebsdat explains it’s the tiny details that make the big differences. The Clubsport S is packed with them, which is why it feels so special to drive. Fast, yes, but also with a custom-developed character that you feel with each input into the firm, weighty Alcantara steering wheel, each movement from the suspension, even every time you just lightly brush the brakes to balance the car through a 100mph Nordschleife curve.

This isn’t a car that’s just happened upon a Nürburgring lap record. And it feels it.

It’s the fastest Golf ever but is still a Golf

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

So it’s very fast, very able and has hidden depths. But while this 1-of-400 Golf is unlike any other Golf ever, it’s still a Golf. It’s still linear and faithful, has no nasty tricks up its sleeve, won’t bite you if you relax for a second, or get a corner wrong (and if you happen to be following a racing driver when you do so, the spread of engine drive and amount of grip available helps you catch the pack without getting too ragged and edgy).

Schebsdat explains the brief is always to develop VW cars with the firm’s DNA. You can chase records all day long with bespoke engineering but if it’s a VW, if it doesn’t feel like a VW, it’s out.

And this is perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Clubsport S: it’s the fastest hot hatch around the Nürburgring but doesn’t feel like it’s had to be custom-built or compromised to achieve this. This is an indecently fast, involving and capable Golf GTI, but other Golf GTI drivers will still find plenty that feels familiar.

This makes it a Nürburgring lap record car that doesn’t demand you be a racer to get the best from it – and it certainly won’t frighten you silly if you try a hot lap yourself. Approachable but not edgy yet still engaging and satisfying: just how you’d want an ultra-quick Golf GTI to be.

Verdict: 2016 Golf GTI Clubsport S

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Yes, the Golf GTI Clubsport S is fantastic. It’s already the best in its class: no rival is (yet) faster than this around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. But it’s so much more than just a lap record special – it’s the extent to which Volkswagen has created a fully-formed Golf GTI with such a breadth of talent that makes it so special.

This is the fastest and most capable Golf GTI ever, but it’s still a Golf GTI. And it’s this approachability, combined with its speed and engagement, that makes it such an impressive achievement. It’s quite the 40th birthday celebration for the original hot hatch, that’s for sure.


  • Exceptional speed, depth and ability…
  • …Delivered in an exceptionally linear and Golf-like way
  • Very desirable, very pleasing limited-run car


  • They’re only making 400
  • No air con is a step too far
  • The fact we can’t yet get these transformative changes in a series Golf GTI

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S: Specification

Price: £35,000 (est)

Engine: 2.0-litre EA888 four-cylinder turbo petrol

Gearbox: six-speed manual

Power: 310hp

Torque: 280lb ft

0-62mph: 5.3 seconds

Top speed: 165mph

Fuel economy: 38.1mpg

CO2 emissions: 174g/km

Fastest hot hatches

The 10 fastest hot hatches around the Nurburgring

Fastest hot hatcheshe Nurburgring is the world’s most notorious racetrack. Its 13 miles of tortuously twisty tarmac serve as a proving ground for new cars – with manufacturers competing to set the lowest lap times.

As Volkswagen launches its new track-oriented new Golf Clubsport S, we’re celebrating the 10 fastest hot hatchbacks ever to lap the Nurburgring. Let the countdown commence…

Fastest hot hatches10. Volkswagen Golf R32 

Lap time: 8min 53.0sec

Golf GTI not fast enough? In 2003, Volkswagen launched the 240hp Golf R32, with the 250hp Mk5 version seen here following in 2005. It boasted a 3.2-litre VR6 engine and four-wheel drive.

Lapping the Nurburgring in less than nine minutes is no mean feat for a car as comfortable and family-focused as the Golf R32. Interestingly, the car was actually faster to 62mph (6.2sec) when fitted with Volkswagen’s DSG semi-automatic gearbox.

Fastest hot hatches9. Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring

Lap time: 8min 35.0sec

A dedicated Nurburgring special edition? Yep, and Vauxhall built 835 of them to celebrate the car’s 8min 35sec lap time. A Corsa VXR Nurburgring followed in 2011.

For £1,500 more than the standard VXR, you got an extra 15hp, a Remus exhaust, white alloy wheels and lots of stickers. Alternatively, replicate the look yourself with one of those two-quid Nurburgring stickers off eBay…

Fastest hot hatches8. Ford Focus ST (2005)

Lap time: 8min 35.0sec

Fast and (usually) orange, the original Focus ST matched the 8min 35sec time of its arch-rival Astra. Its 225hp five-cylinder engine came from Volvo and is famously thirsty when driven hard.

Today, you can buy estate and diesel versions of the ST, but the 2005 original remains our favourite. Like many fast Fords, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s more characterful than a contemporary Golf GTI.

Fastest hot hatches7. Ford Focus RS

Lap time: 8min 26.0sec

Brightly-coloured fast Fords, you say? Meet the daddy. The Mk2 Focus RS is a modern classic, with in-yer-face styling and a mighty 305hp turbocharged four-pot.

Ford hasn’t attempted the ’Ring in the latest (Mk3) Focus RS yet. However, with 350hp, it’s likely to be even quicker. We reckon the Ultimate Green paint seen here is worth a least 10 seconds off the lap time….

Fastest hot hatches6. Renault Megane RS R26.R

Lap time: 8min 16.90sec

Meet the first in a string of ever-faster Renault Meganes competing for top honours at the Nurburgring. The R26.R was the most extreme version of the ‘shaking that ass’ Mk2 Megane. Only 450 were made.

This isn’t your typical hot hatchback. The stripped-out R26.R has no rear seats, passenger airbags or radio. Crucially, it came shod with super-sticky Michelin or Toyo tyres, which were biased for track (and dry weather) use.

Fastest hot hatches5. Renault Megane RS Trophy

Lap time: 8min 7.97sec

Another Megane, this time the – even faster – third-generation car. The limited-edition RS Trophy boasted 265hp and a top speed of nearly 160mph. Heady stuff for a hot hatch.

More impressive, though, was the Trophy’s ability to go around corners. It lapped the Nurburgring in 8min 7.97sec – without resorting to the extreme weight-loss measures of its R26.R predecessor.

Fastest hot hatches4. SEAT Leon Cupra

Lap time: 7min 58.4sec

Spanish carmaker SEAT is known for breaking ’Ring records – its Leon ST Cupra 280 is currently the fastest estate to lap the track. The hatchback Cupra can’t make that claim, but it still edges under eight minutes.

The record-breaking (at the time) Leon was fitted with beefed-up Brembo brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – both available as part of SEAT’s Performance Pack option. The Cupra has since gained an extra 10hp, potentially making it even quicker.

Fastest hot hatches3. Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R

Lap time: 7min 54.36sec

Our third Megane – and the fastest to date – is the RS 275 Trophy-R. The car was developed in response to SEAT breaking the front-wheel-drive record with the Leon Cupra 280, and it succeeded in taking the title back.

The 2014 Trophy-R was a serious performance machine with race-style Ohlins dampers, bigger front brakes and polycarbonate Recaro seats. With no air conditioning or radio, it’s more suited to track days than trips to Tesco.

Fastest hot hatches2. Honda Civic Type R

Lap time: 7min 50.63sec

As a statement of intent, launching a new hot hatch by setting a 7min 50.63sec Nurburgring lap time takes some beating. The bodykitted Civic really is as fast as its furious styling suggests.

Honda set its lap time with a car ‘in a standard state of tune’. However, it did admit removing ‘equipment such as air conditioning, the front passenger seat and audio equipment’ in order to ‘offset the additional weight of a full roll cage (installed specifically for safety reasons and not to add rigidity)’.

Fastest hot hatches1. Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Lap time: 7min 49.21sec

That brings us to the current Nurburgring record-holder: the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S. Built to mark 40 years of the Golf GTI, the 310hp hatchback has been dubbed ‘the GT3 of GTIs’.

The Clubsport S is even quicker than the four-wheel-drive Golf R and only 400 will be made. Thank a strict weight-saving diet, including a smaller battery, less sound deadening and no rear seats. Hey, nobody said giant-killing hot hatches had to practical.

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