Cape Town - Volkswagen celebrates the 40th anniversary of the iconic GTI in 2016 and as a gift to fans of the moniker it's created its most powerful version yet - the Golf GTI Clubsport.
The new GTI Clubsport has arrived in South Africa and it was in the heavy rains that lashed Cape Town in July 2016 that Wheels24's Janine Van Der Post experienced VW's hottest hatch.
Volkswagen has been producing special edition GTI-badged Golf units since 1996, with the first one being called the Edition 20 - a spruced-up Mk3 2.0-litre/110kW version. The Clubsport, or 'Edition 40' as it's known in Europe, is the fifth special edition though in Mk7 guise.
Best GTI by far?
Volkswagen claims the new Clubsport GTI is its most powerful and fastest GTI yet. I was skeptical of this knowing the racing culture of South Africans and their love to modify cars to the extreme. Let's face it, somewhere in SA there are blisteringly fast, albeit modified, Golfs.
In terms of standard kit and power, it's definitely the best GTI on the market - and if you want one, you have until the end of 2016 to place your order as production will cease by 2017.
Under the bonnet
There's 195kW/350Nm on tap, but that's not all... If you want more power there's a boost function which grants 213kW/380Nm over a 10-second stint. The feature requires another 10 seconds to cool down before you can give it another go. This overboost function is activated via a kick-down function when sport mode is selected. It's great to use and the fact that it's standard means you won't have to pay your local tuner to prep your car for a drag race on track.
READ: VW Golf GTI Clubsport in SA: We have prices!
The Clubsport's heart is the same TSI 1984cc engine found in the Golf R, with a few tweaks of course. VW says this turbocharged unit belongs to the third generation of the EA888 series and also features a water-cooled intercooler.
It also comes with variable valve timing with dual camshaft adjustment.
Love of a legend
I've been car-crazy for as long as I know. My first car was a Golf Mk2 'Jumbo' GTS. Her name was 'Lucy'. VW kept evolving the Golf, but not even the latest version of the Mk7 had my heart pulsating the same way driving Lucy's GTI sibling did. Those Mk2 GTI's were the stuff legends are made of, so the new Clubsport has an enormous task ahead of itself.
The Clubsport GTI has rekindled an old flame. It has brought back the memories of wanting to go racing and tell hubby 'let's go to the next robot-races at the Killarney racetrack'. It feels like it was born for the racetrack and the Western Cape's beautiful, twisting roads are its playing grounds.
It most certainly looks the part too.
Quite a lot actually. There are low and high-beam headlights with Bi-xenon technology and LED daytime running lights which have become a trademark of the VW brand.
The car features a new front bumper, new diffuser and tweaked side sills. It also has a fancy, two-toned spoiler which happens to be functional. Volkswagen says the wind tunnel perfected two-piece spoiler reduces air turbulence and increases downforce.
In fact, VW claims the styling tweaks are not just aesthetic, but that all the new design elements "improve the downforce figures to a new level and the car's dynamic handling as well".
Enlarged chrome-plated dual tailpipes are fitted neatly into the gloss-black diffuser, while the 'Clubsport' badging on the rear doors is inspired by the original 1976 GTI. A black stripe runs along the bottom of the doors, another hat tip to classic VWs.
How does it drive?
Whether on track, on a smooth road or even a bit of gravel, I didn't want to stop driving. It's been a long time since a car has been this enjoyable behind the wheel.
Gear changes are as smooth as custard and it sits on the asphalt like Taylor Swift smooching her new bae Tom Hiddleston. It's just meant to be.
The star of the show, and what makes the Clubsport so pleasant, is the front electronic differential lock - better known as XDS. This, says VW, allows for better acceleration on apex points and increases the outer wheel traction force.
It results in precise steering behaviour and allows the car to respond directly to your input. It definitely makes the average driver a lot more comfortable in higher cornering speeds around the Franschhoek Pass and allows for stabilisation of possible eager oversteer situations while reducing electric stability control interventions.
In short, the XDS makes for a whole lot of fun to push its handling capabilities in tight S-bends. Insert huge grin here.
The chassis has also been refined, and you can feel it when comparing it to the current Mk7 GTI or even the Golf R, albeit the latter all-whee drive and two different cars in general. The new spring tuning and enhanced damper tuning helps the suspension to absorb the brunt of uneven road surfaces.
There's just so much better performance, with improved traction and buckets of fun.
We got to test VW's GTI siblings on Killarney while racing quarter mile runs against our peers. The Clubsport is a significant tad faster than the GTI and GTI Performance Pack, but can't match the R in terms of acceleration.
Naturally there's minor wheelspin when using the Launch control function with the DSG version, but its still super nimble and quick off the line.
Volkswagen has taken extra care to make the Clubsport shine as a 'race car'. According to the automaker, Europeans adore Velour material and the steering wheel, as well as the car's optional seats, are wrapped in it.
The steering wheel has red stitching and a GTI emblem, along with a red 12 o'clock marking. These bucket seats have a honeycomb pattern in the backrest and cushion areas. But if that's not your thing, Vienna Leather sport seats are standard.
When using the launch control function, the infotainment screen can be set to show G-forces, power outage, and engine temperatures when 'Sport' mode is selected.
Is it worth paying more than half a bar? Maybe, if I had he money and I wanted a hot hatch to compete against the likes of Ford's Focus ST and Renault's Megane RS. I won't argue that this is probably my pick of the bunch in the current GTI stable.
Ford Focus ST
Renault Megane RS
More from VW SA
The automaker says the its new Tiguan is set to arrive here later in September 2016 while the facelifted Amarok is due during the first half of 2017.
READ: Need a hotter GTI? VW's new Clubsport S is headed for SA!
Even more exciting is the company's announcement that the beastly Clubsport S is "very likely" to arrive locally by November 2016. The super hot hatch is good for 228kW/380Nm. There are only 400 units planned for global production with 47 of those marked for SA.