Born in the 1970s, the hot hatch exploded in popularity during the 1980s, offering power to the people like never before. Today, these icons of their era are fast-appreciating classic cars. We’ve rounded-up the 20 greatest hot hatches of the 80s – do you agree with our choices?
Peugeot 205 GTI
Where else to start but with the Peugeot 205 GTI? Chic styling, superb steering and finely-balanced handling made for a near-irresistible package. Buyers could choose from 105hp (later 115hp) 1.6-litre or 126hp 1.9-litre engines, plus a convertible CTI. Recently voted the greatest hot hatch of all time, the best examples now fetch in excess of £20,000.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
If a 205 seems a bit fragile (or expensive), how about a Mk2 Golf GTI? With its red go-faster stripes and aspirational Volkswagen badge, the Golf encapsulates the 80s like few other cars. The 112hp 8v GTI was launched in 1985, with the high-revving 139hp 16v following in 1986. Practical and solidly-built, the Golf makes for a great daily-driver classic.
Volkswagen Golf Rallye
Looking like a GTI after several months at the gym, the wide-arched Golf Rallye was a homologation special. It boasted four-wheel drive and a 160hp 1.8-litre supercharged engine. Only 5,000 were made, although the Rallye’s G60 engine also saw service in the Corrado, Passat and super-rare 16v Golf Limited.
Ford Escort RS Turbo
Like some of its owners, the original Escort RS Turbo was a bit rough around the edges. It certainly isn’t the greatest hot hatchback to drive, but it was quick (132hp was a big deal in 1985) and looked great. All 5,000 cars were painted white – apart from a single black example built for Princess Diana.
Vauxhall Astra GTE
Vauxhall’s riposte to the RS Turbo was the Mk2 Astra GTE 16v. With 158hp, it was one of the most powerful hot hatches of the 1980s. The benchmark 60mph arrived in just 7.0 seconds, with a touch of torque steer along the way. The Astra’s aerodynamic styling has aged remarkably well – its digital dashboard, less so.
Renault 5 GT Turbo
After the bonkers mid-engined 5 Turbo and Turbo 2, the 1985 GT Turbo was Renault’s mainstream hot hatch. It packed a revvy 115hp 1.4-litre engine and blasted to 60mph in 7.5 seconds. A darling of the Max Power tuning scene, there are few standard GT Turbos left – and prices are rising rapidly.
Renault 11 Turbo
The same 115hp 1.4-litre turbocharged engine was used in the Renault 11 Turbo. Although not as quick as the lightweight 5, the 11 is much rarer – we couldn’t find a single one for sale in the UK at the time of writing. It was also a successful rally car, winning several national rally championships in the late 1980s.
Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo
Bristling with retro rally cool, the Mazda 323 4×4 Turbo had a 151hp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive. No wonder Motoring Research’s Gavin Braithwaite-Smith calls it the ‘Japanese Integrale’. Only 500 were sold in the UK and a mere 13 remain on the road.
Lancia Delta Integrale
So that was the Japanese Integrale – now here’s the real thing. The hot Delta is most famous for its success at rallying, but was also a formidable road car. The original Integrale 8v produced 188hp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, although later Evoluzione models made up to 215hp. The very best Integrales now fetch in excess of £50,000.
Ford Fiesta XR2
Back down to Earth with the Ford Fiesta XR2. The original 85hp Mk1 XR2 hit 60mph in 9.3 seconds – not exactly scorching, even for 1981. The 97hp Mk2 version arrived two years later, becoming one of the most popular hot hatches of the 1980s. A mint Mk2 XR2 will set you back around £8,000 today.
Peugeot 309 GTI
While the 205 GTI grabs the headlines, the frumpier 309 GTI provides similar thrills for much less cash. The 309 borrowed the more powerful 126hp 1.9-litre engine from its little brother, and was reckoned by road testers at the time to offer even better handling. A 16-valve GTI-16 version was also built, but never sold in the UK.
MG Maestro Turbo
While we’re on the subject of unsung heroes, how about the MG Maestro Turbo? Trumpeted in advertising as being faster than a Golf GTI, the bodykitted Brit could hit 60mph in just 6.7 seconds. Top speed was 128mph. Only 505 were made and less than 20 are still on the road.
MG Metro Turbo
Another British car, another memorable ad campaign. The Metro was sold as ‘The British car to beat the world’, and the MG Turbo version was its flagship. With 94hp, it could reach 60mph in 8.9 seconds and boasted handling that was allegedly tuned by Lotus.
The Audi Quattro probably isn’t the first car that springs to mind when we say ‘hot hatch’. But this road-going rally car has a hatchback – and boy, is it hot. Launched in 1980, the ‘Ur-Quattro’ had a 200hp five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive. The 1989 20v version upped output to 220hp, cutting the 0-60mph dash to just 6.2 seconds.
Fiat Strada Abarth 130tc
Carburettors were becoming pretty old-school by 1983, but there was no arguing with the noise of the twin Solexes or Webers fitted to the Abarth 130tc. With 130hp, the hottest Strada (called Ritmo in Europe) could hit 62mph in a brisk 7.8 seconds. Even a perfect 130tc should set you back less than £5,000 – if you can find one.
Toyota Corolla GT AE86
If you fancy a cheap Corolla GT AE86, you’ve missed the boat. Starring roles in Gran Turismo and the cult Initial D drifting film mean the best examples of this outwardly humble hatchback can nudge £20,000. Key to the Toyota’s appeal is its playful rear-wheel-drive chassis, which begs to go sideways at every opportunity.
Citroen Visa GTI
Bet you’d forgotten this one. Launched in 1985, the Visa GTI used the same 105hp or 115hp 1.6-litre engine as the Peugeot 205 GTI. With five doors, it’s more practical than a 205 – and much rarer, too. The ‘How Many Left’ website lists just four Visa GTIs as taxed for UK roads.
Citroen AX GT
Citroen also made an AX GTI, but a 1992 launch-date disqualifies it from this round-up. However, the less powerful AX GT was still a credible hot hatch; a modest 86hp from its 1.4-litre engine worked wonders in a car weighing less than 850kg. Fragile, but fun.
Daihatsu Charade GTti
No, that isn’t a mis-print, the sportiest Charade did have an extra ‘t’ to its name. In 1987, the GTti was the world’s most powerful 1.0-litre production car, with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 100hp. It sprinted to 60mph in 8.0 seconds, topping out at 114mph.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Bigger – and badder – than your typical hot hatchback, the mighty Sierra RS Cosworth is a fitting way to finish our top 20. It packed a 204hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine for 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a heady 149mph top speed. It beat all-comers on the racetrack and its huge rear wing launched a thousand copycat bodykits. We want one.
Volkswagen has unveiled its new flagship Golf GTI at the Wörthersee festival in Austria. Presented in ‘near production-ready’ form, the GTI TCR uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine delivering 290hp to its front wheels via a dual-clutch gearbox. Top speed is 164mph with the electronic limiter removed.
The TCR is the road-going version of VW’s 350hp Golf TCR racer. A redesigned front bumper and splitter feeds air to two extra radiators, while the rear boasts a larger roof spoiler and aggressive diffuser housing twin tailpipes. A new colour, Pure Grey, is available exclusively for this special edition.
That 290hp output – developed at 5,000-6,800rpm – comfortably outguns the 245hp Golf GTI Performance and isn’t far behind the 310hp, 4WD Golf R. It’s also snaps at the heels of the 310hp GTI Clubsport S from 2016 – the car that broke the front-wheel-drive Nürburgring lap record. Maximum torque of 273lb ft arrives at 1,600rpm.
The GTI rides on forged 18-inch alloys, with beefed-up brakes and a locking front differential. A stainless steel exhaust is standard, although many buyers will doubtless choose the (optional) titanium system from Akrapovič.
Inside, the TCR has hip-hugging sports seats, a racing-style ‘12 o’clock’ marker on the steering wheel and (oh yes…) go-faster stripes on the seatbelts. You’ll also spot illuminated TCR logos on the sills and projected onto the road surface when you open the door.
If you want the full-whack 164mph – standard VMax is 155mph – the limiter is removed as part of a special package that also includes 19-inch wheels, 20mm-lower suspension and Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). The latter allows the driver to switch the electronic dampers between three levels of stiffness.
It’s not yet known whether the TCR will, in future, be offered with a manual gearbox, nor indeed how much it will cost. As a guideline, the Golf GTI Performance lists at £29,820, while the Golf R is £32,850 – so expect something between the two. Whatever the final price and spec, future classic status is assured.
Volkswagen has a history of using Wörthersee – the world’s biggest festival for VW cars and culture – to reveal show-stopping concepts. Read on to revisit the highlights from previous years.
2013 Volkswagen Design Vision GTI
The wildest Wörthersee concept of all debuted in 2013. Looking like a Mk7 Golf after six months on steroids, the Design Vision GTI packed a 503hp 3.0-litre V6, semi-auto DSG gearbox and four-wheel drive. It blitzed to 62mph in 3.9 seconds and hit 186mph flat-out. Huge 20-inch alloys housed ceramic brake discs, allowing this uber-GTI to “eat up any race track”.
Inside, there was a rollcage in lieu of rear seats, plus lightweight fabric door pulls inspired by RS Porsches. Fittingly, it was painted white (‘White Club’), a colour popularised by the Mk5 Golf GTI.
2014 Volkswagen GTI Roadster
This 2014 concept used the same 503hp V6 as the Design Vision GTI, but could scarcely have looked more different. Its full title was ‘Volkswagen GTI Roadster Vision Gran Turismo’ – a nod to its appearance in the popular Playstation game.
Reimagining the Golf GTI as a hedonistic sports car, the Roadster had a chopped, speedster-style windscreen, upwards-opening doors and a huge rear wing. Its design was the result of an in-house competition and the car debuted ‘virtually’ in Gran Turismo three days before it was revealed at Wörthersee. Its colour, Tornado Red, is another classic GTI hue.
2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport
Volkswagen had two surprises for fans in 2015. The first, the Golf GTI Clubsport, was a special edition to mark 40 years of the GTI the following year. With 265hp – or 290hp for limited periods on overboost – it was also the most powerful Golf GTI to date. Zero to 62mph took 6.3 seconds and top speed was 155mph.
A bespoke suspension set-up, trick front differential and downforce-inducing rear diffuser ensured the Clubsport wasn’t merely quick in a straight line. Inside, it boasted lashings of Alcantara trim, plus optional hip-hugging bucket seats.
2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport
VW’s second show car for 2015 was rather more radical. In its own words: “the Golf GTE Sport transfers the Volkswagen GT tradition into tomorrow’s world”. The carbon-bodied hot hatch was a plug-in hybrid, its 300hp petrol engine supported by two electric motors. Total output was 400hp: good for 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and 174mph.
Lift up the scissor doors and the GTE Sport’s interior was even more futuristic. A central spar divides the cabin in two, with minimal instrumentation and a steering wheel that resembles a gaming joypad. Sadly, this one never made production.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S
On the 40th anniversary of the GTI, Volkswagen treated Wörthersee worshippers to the Clubsport S. Displayed alongside all seven generations of GTI, this 310hp crazy Golf had the number ’07:49:21′ emblazoned across its bonnet – its record breaking Nürburgring lap-time.
Just 400 examples of the GTI Clubsport S were built – a sizeable 150 of which came to the UK. The car had an aluminium front subframe, no rear seats and wore track-oriented Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. The 0-62mph sprint was quoted as 5.8 seconds, while top speed is TCR-topping 165mph.
2017 Volkswagen Up GTI
Look familiar? This is the Up GTI concept, revealed at Wörthersee in 2017, but the production car – now on sale – looks very similar. Amazingly, this smallest of VW hot hatches is around the same size as the original Mk1 Golf GTI. A 115hp output from its 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine is near-identical, too (0-62mph in 8.8sec, 122mph).
The Up’s styling borrows much from its Golf GTI big brother, including trademark red go-faster stripes and ‘Clark’ tartan seat trim. At the time of writing, prices start from £13,750, making this pocket rocket a bit of a bargain.
2017 Volkswagen Golf GTE Performance
Another highlight last year was the world premiere of the Golf GTE Performance Concept. This turned up the wick on Volkwagen’s plug-in hybrid Golf GTE, raising output from 204hp to 272hp. The added oomph was complemented by bigger brakes, a wider track and the roof spoiler from the GTI Clubsport S, plus some rather natty graphics.
Is this the future for the Golf GTI? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: Volkswagen has plenty of surprises in store for Wörthersee yet. Click through our gallery below for more photos of all the cars featured here.
Even if it wasn’t strictly the first, Volkswagen is synonymous with creating the hot hatchback. Its legendary GTI badge has been associated with warmed-over Golfs for over four decades, and has also graced other Volkswagen models, too. But GTIs aren’t the only performance cars the Wolfsburg carmaker is famous for. A slew of racing- and luxury-inspired models have been launched in recent years. Here are a few of the more notable – and not quite so notable – hot VWs.
1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Let’s start with the grandad of them all, the Mk1 Golf GTI. Conceived as an undercover and out-of-hours project, the ‘Sport Golf’ finally received factory blessing for a 5,000-unit limited production run in 1975. The first hot Golf arrived a year later and married the Audi 80 (B1) GTE’s 110bhp fuel-injected 1.6-litre engine to a stiffened chassis and instantly became a cult hit. Offering sports-car-like performance with saloon practicality, the early 810kg Golf GTI sprinted to 60mph in around nine seconds, and introduced the world to hot hatch chequered seat patterns, golf ball gear knobs and wheel-in-the-air attitude. A 1.8-litre 112bhp version arrived in 1982, and the car is now a bona-fide legend.
1972 Volkswagen GT Beetle
Rarely do the original Beetle and performance go together. But in 1972, 2,500 GT Beetles were produced to celebrate 300,000 UK Beetle imports. Based on the European 1300S, the sportiest Beetle yet had a 1584cc engine, 4.5J ‘Lemmerz’ GT steel wheels, front disc brakes, and only came in three fruity colours: Apple Green, Lemon Yellow and Tomato Red. A very heady (for a Beetle) top speed of 85mph and a power output of 50bhp meant the GT Beetle could show a clean pair of tyre tracks to a contemporary 1302 S.
1997 Volkswagen W12 Coupé
Sometimes referred to as the Volkswagen Nardo, the W12 Coupé was perhaps the most extreme Volkswagen yet. A low-slung supercar powered by a 414bhp, 5.6-litre W12 engine, the W12 Coupé was styled by Mk1 Golf and Scirocco designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Mid-engined and four-wheel drive, the car remained a concept, but a further two W12 sports cars were made: a roadster in 1998 and a monstrous 3.5-seconds-to-62mph 591bhp coupé in 2001. In 2002, a W12 coupé took the world record for all speed classes over 24 hours at the Nardo Ring: the car covered a distance of 7,740.576 kilometres (4,809.8 miles) at an average speed of 322.891kph (200.6mph). The W12 coupé is also a gaming star, having appeared in several racing games – including the legendary Gran Turismo series.
1989 Volkswagen Golf G60 Limited
Undoubtedly the rarest of all the Mk2 Golf GTI variants, the Golf G60 Limited was hand-built and designed by Volkswagen Motorsport. Only 71 were ever made, almost exclusively with five doors – only two three-door models are reported to exist. The 210bhp supercharged engine was mated to Syncro four-wheel drive for a 7.2-second 0-62mph time. Basically a Golf Rallye without the striking party frock, equipment was generous, but the car was much more subtle. Blue bumper piping replaced the standard GTI’s red trim, and a ‘Volkswagen Motorsport’ badge adorned a single-headlamp grille. BBS RM012 15-inch alloy wheels helped mark out the stealthiest of Golfs, while a numbered plaque proclaimed its limited status. At a price of DM68,500, most G60 Limiteds were originally sold to Volkswagen management and employees.
1998 Volkswagen Polo GTI
The first Polo GTI was a limited production car, launched in the autumn of 1998. Based on the original Mk3 Polo from 1994, the 3,000-run GTI was marked out by its 15-inch BBS alloys, Golf GTI-style badges and bright red brake calipers and seatbelts. A new 1.6-litre 16v engine was good for 120bhp and 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds. Even though it was lowered by 15mm and had a wider track, it wasn’t as agile as many rivals. But, it was more fun than the Golf GTI of the same period and, at £11,000, German drivers got a bit of a bargain. When the proper full-scale series production car arrived a year later, the price was nearer to £14,000.
2001 Volkswagen Lupo GTI
Just as the first Volkswagen Polo GTI was nearing the end of its life, Volkswagen dropped its 125bhp 16v 1.6-litre engine into the baby Lupo. A price tag of around £13,000 meant the hot Lupo was undeniably expensive, but extensive use of aluminium meant that, at 978kg, it was also very light. A striking body kit, a pair of central exhausts and a fake allen-bolted instrument cluster meant the baby GTI was stylish as well as fast – plus a six-speed gearbox was standard from 2002. A 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and 127mph top speed made for a proper rabid and rapid little wolf.
2001 Volkswagen Passat W8
Its near-£30,000 asking price may have been more Mercedes territory, but the oft-forgotten 4.0-litre Passat W8 was aiming for the big boys. Like the Golf VR6 from almost 10 years earlier, the 275bhp all-wheel-drive Passat was more of an executive express than an extreme performance car. A 6.3-second 0-60mph time meant it was as hot as the curry from which its ‘Madras’ alloy wheels took their name, while grippy handling and a fully-loaded kit list ensured the big-engined Passat could hold its head up high, even if sales were low.
2001 Volkswagen New Beetle RSi
There was undoubtedly something in the water in Wolfsburg during the early 2000s. Along with the outlandish W12 Coupé and intriguing Passat W8, Volkwagen also introduced the New Beetle RSi. Conceived as a testing platform for the upcoming Golf R32 – the new Beetle was based on Mk4 Golf running gear – the RSi featured a 225bhp 3.2-litre V6 up front. Even though weight was around the 1,500kg mark thanks to VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system, the cartoon-winged and skirted Bug dispatched the 0-62mph dash in 6.4 seconds. The 9Jx18 OZ Superturismo rims were a defining highlight, along with the bright terracotta leather Recaro seats and extensive use of carbonfibre and billet aluminium in the interior. Only 250 were made, at an asking price of almost £45,000.
1992 Volkswagen Golf VR6
The arrival of the Mk3 Golf in 1991 saw the GTI lose its way, becoming overweight and underpowered. Even a 150bhp 16v model couldn’t re-ignite the hot Golf’s vim. Not to worry, though, as Volkswagen had a solution: the 174bhp Golf VR6. The world’s first six-cylinder compact car, the VR6 was marketed as more of a luxury express than a hot hatchback. A 7.2-second to 62mph time comfortably beat that of the multi-valve GTI, while the silky smooth delivery from its 2.8-litre V6 engine and top speed of 150mph ensured it was quite special. High-end fixtures and fittings meant the six-pot had a very different feel to its GTI siblings.
1983 Volkswagen Scirocco Bimotor
In the 1990s, there was a trend on the VW scene to put another engine in the back of your performance Volkswagen to create a storming powerhouse. But guess what? Volkswagen had officially got there itself a decade earlier. The Scirocco Bimotor was based on the second-generation of VW’s curvy coupé and had a pair of non-production 1.8-litre engines plumbed into either end. Each motor produced 180bhp, and all 360bhp was put down to the road by a limited-slip differential at either end. The twin-engined ’Rocco would sprint to 60mph from rest in 4.1 seconds and beat a Porsche 911 Turbo to 110mph. Also faster than a Audi Sport Quattro, the eight-cylinder, four-wheel-drive Scirocco experiment was repeated with a better-finished 282bhp car. Preceding both, however, was a VW Motorsport-created 220bhp Twin-Jet Jetta.
1983 Volkswagen Polo Sprint
The Polo was the last of Volkswagen’s new-fangled water-cooled front-wheel-drive models to arrive in the 1970s, but here’s a rear-wheel-drive version of VW’s baby hatchback. Built in 1983 to evaluate vehicle handling, the one-off wild-looking Polo featured a 1.9-litre Caravelle flat-four engine under the rear boot floor, with an early development of Volkswagen’s ‘G-Läder’ supercharger. Power was up from 90 to 155bhp, while top speed was 125mph, a whole 20mph faster than the 75bhp Polo Coupé of the time. The Polo Sprint knocked 3.5 seconds off the coupé’s 0-60mph time, and equally as wild was the orange metalflake paint job – similar to the second Scirocco Bimotor – blistered wheel arches, and purple velvetex dashboard.
1992 Volkswagen Vento VR6
For the third generation of its booted-Golf, Volkswagen dropped the Jetta name in Europe (it remained in the US) and rechristened its family-sized notchback ‘Vento’. Broadly similar to the Mk3 Golf in terms of its engines and trim, the most powerful Vento also adopted VW’s new 2.8-litre, narrow-angle six-pot unit to create a luxurious range-topper. Rated at 174bhp, power was the same as the six-cylinder Golf, but the Vento’s extra weight meant that performance was slightly down, with 0 to 62mph coming up 0.6 seconds slower than its hatchback brother. The Vento VR6 can trace its roots back to the 1979 Jetta VR6, built to evaluate Volkswagen’s range of new in-line compact cylinder-bank engines.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S
Posting a seven minute, 47 second lap around the fearsome Nürburgring circuit in December 2016, and smashing the record time for a front-wheel-drive car in the process, the Golf GTI Clubsport S, like its Porsche 968 namesake, ditched its rear seats in an ultimate diet regime. Launched to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Golf GTI in 2016, the track-focused Clubsport S was produced in a strict 400-unit run, with 150 of those bound for the UK. The hottest Golf at the time, the 306bhp Clubsport S scampered to 62mph from rest in 5.8 seconds, while the more extreme front and rear spoilers produced a small amount of downforce to aid handling.
2013 Volkswagen Polo R WRC
No, sadly not all the all-conquering, four-time world champion rally car, but the road-going car it inspired. Unveiled in Monaco ahead of the rally machine’s first competitive outing on the 2013 Monte-Carlo Rally, the blue and grey Polo R WRC used a unique 2.0-litre TSI engine based on that from the Mk 6 Golf GTI. Good for 217bhp and 258lb ft of torque – a whole 39bhp and 74lb ft more than the high-performance Polo GTI of the time – the hottest Polo scorched from 0 to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and romped on to 151mph. Only available in white, notable Polo R WRC features included 18-inch ‘Cagliari’ alloy wheels, bespoke bumpers and blue brake calipers. Only 2,500 examples of the €33,900 Polo R WRC were ever made, and all were left-hand drive.
2002 Volkswagen Golf R32
With a lowly 125bhp, the Mk4 Golf GTI was all but a European-spec 2.0 Highline in spirit, and by the time more powerful 150bhp and 180bhp versions were available, the fourth-generation GTI’s reputation had been tarnished. Step up the R32. Featuring the New Beetle RSi’s VR6 engine, the most powerful production Golf yet produced 240bhp at 6250rpm. A six-speed manual gearbox transferred power to the road – VW’s dual-clutch DSG gearbox also made its debut on the R32, a world production first – and 0-60mph was delivered in just 6.3 seconds. VW’s ubiquitous 4Motion four-wheel-drive system ensured traction and grip was limpet-like and an imposing gaping-grille bodykit and 18-inch OZ Aristo alloy wheels with blue brake calipers made sure the R32 couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.
1986 Volkswagen Scirocco GTX 16v
Launched in March 1981, the second-generation Scirocco eschewed Giorgetto Giugiaro’s folded paper style for a curvier in-house design. The GTI had the original Golf GTI’s 110bhp engine under its bonnet, but in 1986, the GTX 16V arrived, fitted with Volkswagen’s new 139bhp 1.8-litre 16v engine. Uprated suspension, rear disc brakes and a lower strut brace ensured the chassis could deal with the increased performance, while twin exhausts and discreet ‘16V’ badging – even on the glovebox – marked out the multi-valve coupé. Only 10 examples of the left-hand-drive GTX 16V were officially imported to the UK.
2018 Volkswagen Up GTI
OK, we’ve cheated a little here, as the Up GTI isn’t actually available yet. Due for launch early next year, the diminutive hot hatch has been a long time coming. Announced at this year’s infamous Woerthersee GTI meet in Austria, the Up GTI has all the hallmarks of that very first Golf GTI. At 997kg, it’s relatively light for a modern car, and its 113bhp from a diddy 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine is near-identical to the later 1.8-litre incarnation of VW’s performance icon. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is over in 8.8 seconds, while the Up GTI maxes out at 122mph. The standard version of VW’s tiny tot handles well, so the omens are good for the hotter city car. Prices are expected to start at £14,000.
1977 Volkswagen Passat GTI
Yep, you read that right. A Passat GTI. An experimental car built in 1977 to evaluate possible future versions of Volkswagen’s big family saloon, the Passat GTI featured the original Golf GTI’s 110bhp, 1.6-litre fuel-injected engine, front and rear spoilers, red trim stripes, plastic wheel arch spats, ‘Bahama Blue’ paintwork, a ‘spittoon’ steering wheel, and GTI seat covers. Based on the three-door ‘coupe’ facelifted version of Volkswagen’s first-generation Audi 80-inspired saloon, the Passat GTI perhaps wisely remained a concept, and can now be seen in the AutoMuseum Volkswagen in Wolfsburg.
2008 Volkswagen Touareg R50
Ahead of the current luxury performance off-roader game, Volkswagen produced its most outrageous – and some would say pointless – sports utility vehicle in 2008. Based on its first luxury SUV, the Touareg, the R50 married a 347bhp 5.0-litre V10 TDI diesel engine to a four-wheel-drive system and six-speed automatic gearbox that could handle a monumental 627lb ft (850Nm) of torque. The Touareg R50 really did dash to 62mph from a standing start, its 6.7-second time breathtaking for something weighing more than 2.5 tonnes. Volkswagen famously staged a publicity stunt with a standard 750Nm Touareg V10 TDI pulling a Boeing 747, but with even more torque, we’d like to see the Touareg R50 repeat the exercise, perhaps with an Airbus A380…
1989 Volkswagen Golf Rallye
Developed predominantly for competition, the box-arched Golf Rallye of 1989 is almost unrecognisable. Produced in a limited run of 5,000 units for homologation into the 1990 World Rally Championship, the usual Golf GTI’s 1,781cc four-cylinder engine was downsized to 1,763cc to satisfy the FIA regulations. But, when fitted with the G60 version of VW’s G-Läder supercharger, power was upped to 160bhp, which punted the Rallye to 62mph in 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. A Syncro four-wheel-drive system ensured traction was up to handling gravel tracks as well as winding tarmac, and even though the Rallye was exclusively left-hand drive, the car was sold in the UK.
1992 Volkswagen Corrado VR6
Volkswagen was nothing if not resourceful with the use of its new compact six-cylinder engine during the early 1990s. As well as the Golf, Vento, and Passat, the VR6 unit was also dropped into the largely Mk2 Golf-based Corrado coupé to create a sporting flagship. Here, though, displacement was 2.9 litres and power was upped to 190bhp. Top speed was 145mph, while 0 to 62mph was dealt with in 6.4 seconds. On sale in August 1992, the £19,895 Corrado VR6 was a rare thing at the time: a properly-sorted hot Volkswagen. Now seen as a modern classic due to its smooth engine and vice-free handling, prices are on the up.
1986 Volkswagen Jetta GT Special
Not an official model from the factory, the Jetta GT Special was unique to the UK. Based on the 112bhp 1.8-litre Jetta GT, which shared its engine with the contemporary Mk2 Golf GTI, the GT Special was a ‘designer car’ sold by tuning company GTI Engineering. Special equipment on the Special included a steel sliding sunroof, tinted glass, and a very striking GTI Engineering body kit consisting of front and rear under-bumper valances, side skirts and a two-tone white/grey finish. A set of 15-inch white alloy wheels finished off the Jetta GT Special, along with a GTI Engineering steering wheel.
2007 Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650
Thirty years after Volkswagen launched the GTI in the UK, it produced the most wild version it has ever made. The Golf GTI W12-650 referred to the car’s power output: yes, that’s right, 642bhp (the ‘650’ refers to the metric output of 650ps) in a Golf! The monstrous bi-turbo W12 engine sent power to the rear wheels through a six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. Around 70mm lower than the standard Mk5 GTI on which it was based, the W12-650 was a massive 160mm broader, and featured stunning wider-than-wide bodywork with cartoon-like enlarged sills, faired-in rear windows, as well as front grilles that made the W12-650 look like it could eat Lamborghinis for breakfast. The trademark 0-62mph dash was dispensed with in the blink of an eye – OK, 3.7 seconds – and the car’s top speed was a stratospheric 201mph. Sadly, the hottest Golf of them all remained a concept.
2006 Volkswagen Passat R36
The second Volkswagen to wear the ‘R’ badge, the Passat R36 of 2006 was the fastest version of the large saloon and estate the company had yet produced. A 3.6-litre, 296bhp V6 engine sat under the hot Passat’s bonnet, while a six-speed DSG gearbox channeled the power through all four wheels. Uprated suspension and brakes completed the mechanical makeover, while externally, 18-inch wheels and a Golf R32-like front end with a chrome ‘V’ grille and gaping ducts added menace to the normally humdrum big VW. Top speed was electronically limited to 155mph, while the 0-62mph dash took just 5.6 seconds.
1991 Volkswagen Gol GTI
In Brazil, the Gol is one of Volkswagen’s most popular cars. Sitting between the Polo and Golf in size, the hatchback is named after the Portuguese word for goal and was launched in 1981. Originally powered by a flat-four air-cooled engine – but resolutely not a Beetle engine – the small Brazilian VW married modern European water-cooled Volkswagen safety features with an older engine suited to the tropical climate it was to serve. It even ran on alcohol! But in 1988, the first Gol GTI arrived with its 112bhp 2.0-litre engine and top speed of 119mph. The car seen here is a facelifted model, produced in 1991.
2013 Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet
After the success of the Golf GTI Cabriolet in 2012, a year later Volkswagen introduced an even hotter open-top: the Golf R Cabriolet. Like the soft-roof GTI, the R version was based on the Mk6 version of its best-seller, and instantly became the fastest production open-top Golf. A 261bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine was connected to the latest six-speed DSG gearbox, driving the front wheels. The £38,770 range-topping R Cabriolet was capable of ruffling bouffants up to 155mph, and would blow them out of shape with its 6.4-second 0 to 62mph time. Outside, bespoke bumpers, a gloss black front grille and brake calipers, smoked tail lights and 18 or 19-inch ‘Talladega’ alloy wheels made the R one of the coolest cabriolets on the block.
The 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.
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Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI
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 cabriolet
What were we saying about ‘subtle’? This modified third-generation Golf cabriolet is anything but. There really is something for everyone.
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.
Brown with gold alloys doesn’t sound like a great look, but it works for us on this Audi 100.
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 Coupe
Remember when Passats were cool? This B1 generation Passat Coupe is closely related to the Audi 80 of the same era.
Mk1 Volkswagen Golf
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.
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?
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 G40
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.
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 Harlequin
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.
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 Golf
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!
If this hybrid Golf is anything to go by, performance fans needn’t be worried about the future of the GTI brand in an era of post-Dieselgate cost cutting. Making its debut at the GTI fest that is Worthersee 2017, the Golf GTI First Decade combines a 410hp petrol engine with a 12kW electric motor.
It’s the work of 18 to 23-year-old apprentices at Volkswagen and is the latest of 10 show cars revealed at the Austrian lake-side extravaganza since 2008.
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The First Decade’s clever hybrid system can be operated in three different ways. Drivers can opt for rear-drive electric-only mode, or switch to front-wheel-drive petrol running. For ultimate traction (and performance), the two powertrains can work together as a four-wheel-drive hybrid. Interestingly, the different modes can be selected remotely using an app or via the car’s infotainment display.
Even by the vee-dub-crazy standards of Worthersee, the First Decade is sure to stand out – with Atlantic Blue paintwork and large patches of dark blue foil. A Clubsport rear spoiler completes the bold look, along with 20-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, there are just two seats. Both of these can be moved using a phone app, along with clever massage functions. Replacing the rear seats is, why, a high-end 1,690-watt 11-speaker sound system.
If one quirky concept wasn’t enough for this modified car show, Volkswagen is taking a second concept to Worthersee. The GTE estate Impulse is the work of 14 apprentices from the Zwickau vehicle plant, and uses a prototype battery with an impressive 16.8 kWh capacity.
Competing for attention with the GTI First Decade on VW’s stand, the Impulse features a five-tone matt paint scheme made up of a variety of colours. Inside, animated lighting can be controlled using a mobile phone app.
We’ll be seeing both Volkswagen concepts at Worthersee 2017 over the coming days, where Motoring Research will be reporting live with all the GTI news and latest pictures.
When I was 17, there were two things I yearned for: a girlfriend and a Renault 5 GT Turbo. I eventually acquired the former (credit: Dutch courage and Clearasil), but the latter slipped through my fingers.
Fast-forward two decades and the fast Five is no longer the darling of sex-starved teenagers, Maxers and TWOCers: it’s now a bona fide classic car. And with prices for 80s hot hatches spiralling skywards, now is the time to buy.
This 1989 Phase Two GT Turbo belongs to Renault UK and must be one of the few completely standard examples left. As it emerged from the delivery truck, squat and perfectly proportioned, the excitement in the MR office was palpable. How would it measure up on the road? Can a 122hp hatchback still excite in 2017? Or is the Supercinq, like an inexpedient ex, better left in the past?
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What are its rivals?
Think ‘1980s hot hatches’ and one car above all comes to mind: the Peugeot 205 GTI. However, for all the 205’s fleet-footed brilliance, the standard (1.6-litre) version is outgunned by the GT Turbo for power and acceleration. And the Renault is cheaper to buy. More on that later.
Other competitors for what Car magazine frequently called the ‘hot hatch crown’ included the Ford Fiesta XR2, Fiat Uno Turbo and Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2. The Golf is the sensible choice (no change there, then) while the Fiesta offers rough-and ready fun. As for the Fiat, finding one will be your greatest challenge; there are just two for sale in the UK at the time of writing.
What engine does it use?
Unlike the original, mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo, the GT Turbo’s powerplant isn’t shoehorned behind the seats. Instead, it resides beneath the front-hinged bonnet, driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. So far, so conventional.
But Renault had secret weapon. Clamping a turbocharger to the humble 1.4-litre lump unleashed 117hp from launch in 1985, upped to 122hp in Phase Two models from 1987. In a car weighing just 830kg (a new Renaultsport Clio weighs 1,204kg), 0-62mph took 7.5 seconds and a top speed was 128mph. As the TV ad of the time gleefully revealed, the 5 left the 205 and Uno trailing in its wake.
What’s it like to drive?
A reminder of what good, old-fashioned turbo lag feels like. Up to around 4,000rpm, the 5 feels decidedly ordinary, certainly not quick. Then the Garrett blower takes a breath, the steering wheel squirms and you blast forwards, grabbing the next gear in a fabulous, frenetic rush.
Car manufacturers have spent years ironing out the on/off effect of turbo lag. However, for me at least, this belated blast of boost is a big part of the retro Renault’s appeal. It’s a nitrous hit for the head, one that provokes me into driving this 27-year-old classic harder than I probably should.
The car’s’s dynamic repertoire is a bit of a mixed bag, too. The steering is direct, but lacks the telepathic connection of the 205, while ride comfort is poor – despite tiny 13-inch alloys and 55-profile tyres. As with the powertrain, you need to up the pace to make the Five come alive.
Grab it by the scruff and the GT Turbo is still a quick cross-country machine. The front end bites hard into corners, pulling the rear around neatly with barely a hint of body-roll. Commit yourself and it will cock an inside wheel in classic 80s hot hatch style, but don’t worry – there are no snap-oversteer demons here. The brakes are better than many cars of this era, too.
Reliability and running costs
Funky and flaky in equal measure, the Renault 5’s interior conforms to every cliché about old French cars. Speed humps and potholes are greeted with a chorus of plastic squeaks, while one of the minor gauges nonchalantly went on strike mid-drive.
Of greater concern is the temperamental Turbo’s dislike of hot starts. Tweaks to the Phase Two cars, including revised ignition mapping and a water-cooled turbo are said to have improved matters. Nonetheless, be prepared for less-than-perfect reliability.
On the plus side, classic insurance means the GT Turbo is no longer an underwriter’s bête noire. And fuel economy of 39.8mpg (measured at a constant 56mph) still looks respectable today.
Could I drive it every day?
You could… but I’d advise against it. Rain and road salt will ravage any 30-year-old supermini. And while mechanical repairs to the simple, overhead-valve engine should be straightforward, fixing bodywork is a pricier problem.
I’d keep my GT Turbo garaged over winter and save it for the summer months. Indeed, secure storage is advisable year-round; these cars hail from the ‘coathanger and screwdriver’ era of car theft. Fit a tracker to protect your investment, too.
Lastly, the 5 also comes from a time long before Renault aced Euro NCAP crash tests. There’s no safety equipment to speak of, its doors are barely thicker than a biscuit tin and the interior trim has all the structural integrity of a croissant. This is a car for clear June mornings, not murky January evenings.
How much should I pay?
‘A lot more than a few years ago’ is the short answer. Like all hot hatches of the 1980s, the Renault has rocketed in value as folks who grew up lusting after them finally have the wherewithal to buy them.
There’s another factor here, of course: attrition rate. Many GT Turbos were crashed and many more modified, leaving few good examples left. I found less than 20 GT Turbos for sale, and only a handful of those were standard-spec.
Starting price for a project is around £3,000, with decent, usable cars costing from £6,000. You’ll pay between £10,000 and £13,000 for a rust-free, original car like the one here: on par with a Mk2 Golf GTI, but still cheaper than many fast Fords. It’s also around half the price of an equivalent 205 GTI.
What should I look out for?
Here are our top five Renault 5 GT Turbo buying tips:
- Originality is key – particularly when it comes to future values. Many of these cars were modified, but turning up the boost won’t do wonders for reliability. Likewise, the last thing that fragile interior needs is stiffer, lower suspension.
- Check for rust, particularly on doors, inner wings and behind the bodykit.
- Look for evidence of crash damage, such as uneven panel gaps or paint overspray. Remember, many of these cars were stolen in their prime.
- Test all the electrics and check for missing or broken interior trim. Some parts are becoming very difficult to find.
- Join the Renault Turbo Owners Club – a great resource for parts, advice and discounts.
Should I buy one?
Like yours truly, the GT Turbo feels its age. From its modest power output to its frankly woeful build quality, it shows just how far cars – in particular hot hatches – have progressed in 30 years.
No matter. Driving this pocket rocket made me feel 17 again. And, before you ask, that’s a vibrant, devil-may-care 17, rather than a greasy, socially-awkward one. The Renault goads you into driving fast, then rewards with flashes of boisterous brilliance when you do. It’s flawed, but beguiling.
Yes, a 205 GTI is ultimately more fun. And a Golf GTI will be easier to live with. But if you grew up lusting after a GT Turbo, neither of those facts may matter. Buy carefully and Régie’s little ruffian could prove a sound investment, too. Time to hit the classifieds…
The original 1980 Renault 5 Turbo was a homologation special: bred for rallying, then sanitised (a little) for the street. It had a 160hp 1.4-litre engine atop the rear wheels, making it the most powerful French car at the time.
Renault’s second bout of mid-engined madness came 18 years later, with the Clio V6 of 1998. Read our Clio V6 Retro Road Test to see how this hyper hatch stacks up today.
Was 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…
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Torque: 280lb ft
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 165mph
Fuel economy: 38.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 174g/km
It’s always a worry when you buy a ‘new’ secondhand car: will it pass the first MOT you put it through? Read more
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