The car that beat the Civic Type R around the Nürburgring

LISTEN 12:05

The GTI event at Lake Worthersee has officially kicked off, and with that kickoff, Volkswagen has debuted the new king of the Golf GTI lineup: The Golf GTI Clubsport S. The car is based on the Golf GTI Clubsport, but has gone through numerous upgrades and refinements to make it the fastest and lightest Golf GTI yet. In short, Volkswagen engineers were able to reduce the car’s overall weight to 2,998 pounds while upping permanent engine output to an impressive 306 horsepower – that’s a 30 horsepower increase over the standard Golf Clubsport. The Clubsport S will be produced in just 400 examples.

The whole idea of the Clubsport S came about during the testing of the final version of the Golf GTI Performance. Karsten Schebsdat, the Head of Chassis Tuning, said, “It was obvious to all of us that this GTI had immense potential, so we decided to get the most performance possible out of this car. A small team went through the entire process, from bottom to top, pretty much like it was back when the first Golf GTI came into being.” Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy task and VW engineers had to put in a lot of work, but that work paid off.

The payoff came when the Golf GTI Clubsport S smashed the lap record at the Nürburgring for front-wheel-drive production cars. With Benny Leuchter behind the wheel, the car hit the lap in 07:49:21 – that’s 1.4 seconds faster than the previous record that was set by a Honda Civic Type R. To make this possible, the Clubsport S received a special sport chassis, refined interior, and an extensively adapted engine control unit that all helped to raise the crowned Clubsport S above the standard Golf GTI Clubsport it was based on. So, with that said, let’s take an in-detail look at what makes the Clubsport S so much better than the regular Clubsport.

Continue reading to learn more about the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S.


2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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If you’re looking at the Clubsport and the Clubsport S side by side, you won’t notice any real difference on the outside. Up front, the Clubsport S has the same aerodynamically enhanced front fascia with the aggressive fins on each corner. Furthermore, the front end has the same honeycomb grille and air dam, with the air dam sporting a small air vent on each side. Outside of this, the Clubsport S shares the same hood, and headlight units as the Clubsport.

The Clubsport S rides on 19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels that are wrapped in Michelin Sport Cup 3 semi-slick tires

Moving over to the sides, the Clubsport S rides on 19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels that are wrapped in Michelin Sport Cup 3 semi-slick tires. The rear windows are also tinted with a film that absorbs 65 percent of light. Down below that black stripe that runs along the side skirts now sports the “Clubsport S” name in front of the rear wheels. According to the press release, the Clubsport S also has a black painted roof, however, in the images we have here both the red and white variants still have a body-colored roof.

Moving to the rear, we can file almost everything under the been here, done that category. The rear hatch sports the same upward sweeping black spoiler with the fins that extend down the sides of the hatch glass. The taillights are the same, as is the red “GTI emblem on the left side of the hatch. Down below, there is a new plate added to the diffuser between the two exhaust pipes, but it isn’t aggressive by any means.

As far as available colors go, the color pallet is limited to the same colors that were available for the original GTI: Tornado Red, Pure White, and Deep Black Pearl Effect. Red and white Clubsport S models are said to come with a black roof. All told, the exterior isn’t that big of a deal, but it gets better as we go, so let’s keep moving.


2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Interior
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On the inside, things get a little more interesting. To help reduce weight, VW engineers have removed the rear seats and the central armrest. Furthermore, the car has a smaller battery and has been stripped of some of the usual amenities. Things like the rear parcel shelf, the floor mats, the variable luggage compartment floor, and acoustic insulating material, have all been left out of the Clubsport S.

Up front, the standard seats have been replaced with racing bucket seats and the shifter has the iconic gold ball shift knob with Alcantara trim

Now that you know what has been removed or left out, let’s talk about what is there. Up front, the standard seats have been replaced with racing bucket seats and the shifter has the iconic gold ball shift knob with Alcantara trim. Furthermore, there is a red line in the center of the seatbelts, “Honeycomb 40” decals on the dash and doors, and accents throughout in piano black. The sport steering wheel has been wrapped in Alcantara with red stitching, plus it sports a chrome GTI emblem and the 12-o’clock mark. Volkswagen is also gracing the center console with a plaque that displays the production number of each Clubsport S.


2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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As you might recall, the standard Clubsport comes with 261 horsepower at its disposal with a temporary boost that is available at certain times. The Clubsport S, however, is set up a little differently. The engineers drew inspiration from the Golf GTI TCR racecar to up the permanent output from the 2.0-liter engine to 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This output increase was made possible by extensive recalibration of the engine control unit, as well as a new exhaust system that is 10 mm (0.39 inches) larger than on the standard Clubsport. The larger exhaust reduces back pressure and increases performance throughout the rev range. The car was also equipped with a high-flow fuel pump. Being a third-generation EA888 engine, other refinements include water cooling to the turbocharger and variable valve timing with dual camshaft adjustment.

The Clubsport S has a power to weight ratio of 9.8 pounds per horsepower. This enables the car to hit the 62 mph sprint in 5.8 seconds on the way to a top speed of 164.5 mph

With all the enhancements in mind, engineers also gave the car various driving profiles, including “Comfort,” “Normal,” and “Race.” More importantly, however, is the “Individual” driving profile which has been fine-tuned to suit the unique conditions of the Nürburgring. The individual settings can be altered as the owner sees fit, but can always be restored to the standard Nürburgring settings through the touchscreen menu. Throughout the different driving modes, the engine, steering, and sound parameters are all changed to provide the ultimate driving experience for the profile selected.

All told, the Clubsport S has a power to weight ratio of 9.8 pounds per horsepower. This enables the car to hit the 62 mph sprint in 5.8 seconds on the way to a top speed of 164.5 mph. This, of course, contributed to the record-breaking lap of 07:49:21 around the Nürburgring.

Suspension and Brakes

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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In addition to the increased performance, and Dynamic Chassis Control system, the Clubsport S is equipped with a special sport chassis, a strut support brace to help cut down body roll, and specially designed hub carriers to create higher camber angles and neutralize understeer. Furthermore, both axles were also reconfigured.

Thanks to the aluminum calipers, the unsprung mass of each wheel is down by 2.2 pounds

Like the normal Clubsport, the Clubsport S has a front differential lock with a variable degree of locking. This integrates with the ESC, EDS, and XDS+ systems. Because of this design, the negative effects associated with mechanical locking differentials have been avoided altogether. The system is controlled by a switch on the steering wheel. Pressing the button once switches the stability system into sport mode, which allows the system to respond later to create more agile handling characteristics. Pressing the switch for more than three seconds disables the ESC system altogether, allowing the car to be driving without computer intervention if things get a little wonky on the track.

To help keep the Clubsport S under control, it has been equipped with a 17-inch brake rotors that are modified to withstand the high temperatures associated with running race circuits. The calipers are made from aluminum, which added additional weight savings, and the rotors are made from cast steel and are connected via locking pins. This means they are able to expand “radically” when they heat up. Thanks to the aluminum calipers, the unsprung mass of each wheel is down by 2.2 pounds. Furthermore, the Clubsport S leaves the factory with special brake pads at each corner.


At this point, pricing of the Clubsport S is a complete mystery. That said, the Clubsport S is a limited-production model and is more powerful than even the Golf R, so I would expect the pricing to sit north of the $39,000 VW asks for the fully loaded Golf R. Official pricing may be released at a later date, so stay tuned.


Ford Focus ST280

2017 Ford Focus ST280 Exterior Spyshots
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We already know all about the Focus ST, but just recently, we got some spy shots of a modified Focus ST doing some track testing. The car had a revised aerodynamic body and is expected to bring the gap between the Focus ST and the bonkers Focus RS. Little is known about this new hatch, as Ford has kept relatively silent about it, but we expect it to come with nearly 300 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque, which would put it right in Clubsport S territory.

We also expect this new hatch to be offered with a six-speed manual, stiffer suspension, and bigger brakes. As of the time of this writing, we’re expecting to see the new model go for somewhere around $27,000. For that price, the car should get the 402A equipment group that is offered with the standard Focus ST, Recaro seats in Charcoal Black leather, and the SYNC 3 infotainment system. The prototype we recently caught on the track was also sporting the stripe option that is also available for the Focus, so it is highly likely that the ST280 will also come with that as a standard option.

Read our full review of the Ford Focus ST280 here.


2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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After seeing a modified Focus testing in April, it’s not surprising to see that Volkswagen is now bringing a similar model to the table. The Golf GTI Clubsport was good enough, but it was too underpowered to compete against the Focus RS and too powerful to compete with the standard ST. The Clubsport S, however, would be right in the same niche as far as power is concerned.

The Clubsport S, however, is a limited model and will undoubtedly be swooped up by Golf fanboys as quickly as they can roll onto the showroom floor. That’s the problem with limited-run models – everybody wants one, but only a few select individuals can get their hands on one.

At this point, I just hope Volkswagen doesn’t toot its own horn too hard and try to charge too much for the car. Sure it will probably top $40,000, as it is more powerful than the Golf R, but too much more and VW is just getting greedy. Either way, I can’t wait to see the Clubsport S in action.

  • Leave it
    • Limited production run
    • Probably more expensive than Golf R
    • Won’t make it to the U.S.
Robert Moore
Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert -
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read full bio
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Press Release

The Golf GTI Clubsport S flies over the start/finish line of the "Green Hell" like an arrow. With German racing driver Benny Leuchter (28) at the wheel, the most powerful Golf GTI ever has just smashed the existing lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Future contenders will have to beat Leuchter’s time in the GTI: 07:49:21. This exclusive new sports car is based on the Golf GTI Clubsport that was developed to celebrate the GTI’s 40th anniversary. Even that model blurs the boundaries between production and racing cars, with its 195 kW/265 PS (which can temporarily peak at 213 kW/290 PS using the boost function) as well as aerodynamics that have been completely redesigned in many areas resulting in improved downforces. With the Golf GTI Clubsport S celebrating its world premiere at the GTI event at Lake Wörthersee (4-7 May), Volkswagen is topping off the legendary model line with a new crown. The hard performance data of the new Golf GTI flagship are permanently available power of 228 kW/310 PS; acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds; a top speed of 265 km/h (not limited) and an EU unladen weight (incl. the driver and luggage) that has been reduced to 1,360 kg. However, it is the record lap time around the Nordschleife that really demonstrates how exceptionally fast this car actually is.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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Nürburgring setting. As a world exclusive, the Golf GTI Clubsport S comes with a setting for the most demanding race track in the world, which can be accessed using the driving profile selector. This is possible because the car is fitted as standard with the individually configurable Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and a driving profile selector. In the ‘Individual’ driving profile, the engineers have developed a setting that is fine-tuned to suit the unique conditions of the Nürburgring. Over and above that, the driving profiles Comfort, Normal and Race are also available. Of course the driver can still adjust the settings in the Individual profile, as usual and can revert to the Nürburgring setting at any time before driving onto on the Nordschleife by resetting the Individual profile on the touchscreen menu. This unique configuration switches the Sound, Engine and Steering (fitted with progressive steering as standard) parameters in the Race profile as well as DCC to Comfort. However, in this instance an entirely different group of settings is hidden behind this option, instead of the normal Race and Comfort settings.

Limited to a run of 400. The production run of 400 cars is the total worldwide figure, 100 of which will be delivered to customers in Germany. The colours of the limited edition stick to those of the original GTI: "Tornado Red", "Pure White" and "Deep Black Pearl Effect", and the roof of the red or white GTI Clubsport S is also painted black. No matter where in the world this car makes an appearance, it will always be a two-door manual transmission to keep its weight down. In comparison to the two-door Golf GTI Clubsport with a manual gearbox, the net weight of the "S" was reduced significantly as follows:

Weight-to-power ratio of 4.15 kg/PS. The Golf GTI Clubsport S, which produces 380 Nm at between 1,700 and 5,300 rpm is a two-seater. Doing away with the rear seats, including the central armrest, for example, accounts for the most noticeable weight saving. A smaller battery, as well as doing without details such as the acoustic insulating material, the variable luggage compartment floor, the rear parcel shelf, the floor mats and the bonnet damping pushed the weight down yet further. An aluminium subframe on the front axle and aluminium brake bells resulted in further weight savings. The 235/35 ZR Michelin tyres mounted on 19-inch "Pretoria" alloy wheels, which are so important for performance, the equally essential DCC, as well as a strut brace, a partition net behind the seats and a carpet in the rear, on the other hand, added weight, leaving a total weight reduction of approx. 30 kg, in comparison to a similarly equipped Golf GTI Clubsport, and thus a low DIN unladen weight of just 1,285 kg (EU unladen weight, incl. driver and luggage: 1,360 kg). At 310 PS this thus results in a dynamic weight-to-power ratio of 4.15 kg/PS. Less weight also means greater efficiency: 7.4 l/100 km (equating to 172 g/km CO2).

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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Engine specifications. The development team exploited synergies between motorsport and production vehicles in enhancing the engine performance, as they could draw on their experience with the 243 kW/330 PS/410 Nm Golf GTI TCR – the new racing car for the TCR International Series. This also gave them the opportunity to boost the engine to a permanent 310 PS and 380 Nm and at the same time include the race set-up of the Golf GTI TCR from the Touring Car Championship. In detail, the engineers achieved this boost in performance by adaptation of the engine control unit and the use of a new exhaust system, with a diameter ahead of the exhaust tailpipes of 65 instead of 55 mm, thus reducing the exhaust backpressure and increasing the performance. A side effect of the modifications was that the exhaust system produces a wonderful and deliberate ‘backfire’ when decelerating! This is particularly true for the Race driving profile (along with extra features such as higher engine speed etc.), in which the Golf GTI Clubsport S is tuned to have maximum performance and extremely agile responsiveness, just like the Nürburgring setting. In the course of the modifications the engineers also integrated a new fuel pump with increased throughput. The engine of the front-wheel drive Golf GTI Clubsport S is technically based on the 1,984 cc TSI engine that also powers the other versions of the Golf GTI and the Golf R. This is a third generation EA888 engine, and it boasts technical refinements such as a water-cooled exhaust channel to the turbocharger that is integrated in the cylinder head and variable valve timing with dual camshaft adjustment.

Exterior specifications. The other specifications of the most exclusive Golf GTI include the following exterior details: semi-slicks (Michelin Sport Cup 2) mounted on 19-inch "Pretoria" alloy wheels, tinted rear windows (65 per cent light-absorbing), "Clubsport S" type plates, the black painted roof (also for the red and white model) as well as Xenon headlights with cornering lights and LED daytime running lights. The 17-inch brake system was also modified and is particularly stable on racing circuits, to withstand the high temperatures of the brake components. The brake bells are made of aluminium; the friction ring made of cast steel is connected to these aluminium brake bells by cast locating pins and are thus able to expand radially when they heat up. Further advantages of the new brake discs include well controlled dosage of braking force as well as stability. An important factor for the car’s dynamic handling is that the unsprung mass of each wheel is a whole kilogram lower thanks to the aluminium brake bells. To further improve the hot braking performance, the Golf GTI Clubsport S also leaves the factory with special brake pads on the front and rear axles.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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Interior specifications. Each of the 400 Golf GTI Clubsport S cars made will have its production number (001/400 to 400/400) on the centre console in the front. The driver and the front seat passenger sit in racing bucket seats that provide the necessary lateral support while flying over the Nordschleife. Also on board are the GTI insignia featured in the "normal" Golf GTI Clubsport, including the iconic golf ball gear knob with Alcantara trim, a red line in the safety belts, "Honeycomb 40" design decals (dashboard and doors) as well as elegant accents in Piano Black. Ergonomically designed for optimal performance on the racetrack, the extremely grippy Alcantara-trimmed sport steering wheel (with a chrome GTI emblem, red stitching and 12-o’clock mark) as well as stainless steel door sill plates with red GTI lettering.

From GTI Performance to the GTI Clubsport S. The idea for the Golf GTI Clubsport S originated when the team responsible for the "normal" GTI at Volkswagen tested the final version of the current Golf GTI Performance on the racetrack. "It was obvious to all of us that this GTI had immense potential", recalls Karsten Schebsdat, Head of Chassis Tuning, "so we decided to get the most performance possible out of this car. A small team went through the entire process, from bottom to top, pretty much like it was back when the first Golf GTI came into being." In addition to the weight reduction and the improvement in performance already described above, two factors are of fundamental importance when it comes to designing a really fast car: optimal aerodynamics and an outstanding chassis, both of which are characteristics of the new Golf GTI Clubsport S.

Aerodynamics. When it comes to aerodynamics and the associated downforce values, Volkswagen was able to draw on the modifications already implemented in the Golf GTI Clubsport. Both versions – the "Clubsport" and the "Clubsport S" – are characterised by completely new front bumpers. The new design offers improvements in air supply to the engine, aerodynamics and downforce at the front. At the rear, the roof-edge spoiler that was aerodynamically perfected in the wind tunnel, and is significantly larger on the Clubsport versions than its counterpart on the Golf GTI and Golf GTI Performance, results in significantly optimised aerodynamics. There is a narrow air gap between the roof area, that is completely black, and the wing-like spoiler placed above it. The two-part roof edge spoiler extends upward above the roof line. At the sides, the spoiler merges into the black flaps on the boot lid. Multi-part spoilers of this type are complex components that perfectly fulfil the aerodynamic tasks assigned to them: to significantly increase downforce on the rear axle. A black rear diffuser is also included in this design and aerodynamics concept. To fine-tune the Clubsport versions to give them extra stability, the aerodynamics measures generate more downforce on the rear axle than on the front axle. This boost in driving stability, especially on the rear axle, is used to fine-tune the chassis to make for a smoother ride. In the case of the Golf GTI Clubsport S this means that the understeer so typical of front-wheel-drive cars is practically eliminated.

Chassis. The new Golf GTI Clubsport S has a special sport chassis. The chassis experts also reconfigured both of the axles of the Golf GTI Clubsport S. Take, for example, the rear axle: the modular performance axle has been given extra potential for directional control in order to achieve higher lateral accelerations. But without altering the McPherson front axle this would result in greater understeer. As Karsten Schebsdat, the chassis expert, explains: "To neutralise the understeer and at the same time boost grip levels, we counteracted understeer on the front axle and specially designed the hub carriers", resulting in higher camber angles. The negative camber increases the potential for directional control, thus optimising the grip on the front axle. The Clubsport S is characterised by similarly good balance to the "normal" Clubsport, even at higher levels of lateral acceleration, allowing even higher cornering speeds. Braking performance was also perfected, in particular to prevent the rear-end from breaking away, especially when braking into very fast corners. Combined with the aerodynamics measures, this results in the driver being able to brake into bends with the Golf GTI Clubsport S in a controlled way, without losing driving stability, resulting in extremely good driveability up to the limits and a lap time around the Nordschleife of just 07:49:21.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S High Resolution Exterior
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Traction control: Even at full acceleration the car has yet better traction due to the modified chassis tuning and the semi-slicks. Volkswagen was also able to fine-tune the ESC software on this basis: even though the traction control intervenes later in the Golf GTI Clubsport S and the torque is reduced less, when it does intervene, the "wheel hop" of the front wheels, typical of powerful front-wheel drive cars at maximum acceleration, is practically eliminated. This noticeable effect is similar to that of Launch Control in automatic cars. The acceleration boost is perfected by harder engine mounts, a new pendulum support (a coupling rod between the transmission and front axle) as well as a reinforced transmission. Other important elements include the XDS+ vehicle dynamics function and the front differential lock, which also comes as standard.

Front differential lock. Compared to purely mechanical locks, the front differential lock integrated in the Golf GTI Clubsport and the Golf GTI Clubsport S has a variable degree of locking and comprehensively integrates with the functions of ESC, EDS and XDS+. This makes it possible to completely avoid negative effects on steering precision that would otherwise occur with mechanical locks.
ESC Sport. As is the case for the other GTI versions, Volkswagen also offers the ’ESC Sport’ function for very experienced drivers. In the Golf GTI Clubsport S. The system is activated by a two-stage switch on the centre console. When the driver presses this switch briefly, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) switches to the ’ESC Sport’ mode. In very fast driving with lots of bends – such as on the Nordschleife – ESC responds later and thereby enables even more agile handling characteristics. If the driver pushes the switch for more than three seconds, the ESC system is completely deactivated. Now the GTI can be driven to the limit at the driver’s own discretion, without any regulating interventions. As an alternative to operation via the push-button switch on the centre console, the ESC can also be activated or deactivated in the settings on the car menu.

Nürburgring Nordschleife setting. Most racetracks in the world have hardly any major bumps or height differences. Not so on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring, where there are plenty of both, and innumerable curves on top of that. The result of this is a unique combination of sections with lateral dynamics and vertical dynamics. So a car tuned to drive on the Nürburgring needs, on the one hand, to be able to take bends at high speed, while at the same time being able to cope with extreme bumps and height differences. In other words: if a car is fine-tuned for driving on normal racetracks, then the chassis is normally made pretty hard, but this isn’t helpful on the Nordschleife. Rather, the suspension needs to absorb the bumps so that the wheels are guided perfectly ahead on the track, meaning that the car needs to be fairly soft vertically, but at the same time stiff when it comes to lateral dynamics. This is exactly what the Volkswagen engineers managed to take into account when fine tuning the spring/damper tuning – in particular when it came to the damper tuning of the dynamic chassis control DCC. The system makes it possible to regulate the damping optimally in response to driving conditions, and it is this regulation that has been specifically fine-tuned for the Nordschleife in the Golf GTI Clubsport S Individual driving profile.

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