The most powerful Golf GTI ever recently smashed the record for fastest front-wheel drive car on the Nurburgring Nordschleife: 7 minutes 49 seconds. To put this in perspective, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 as well as the BMW M4 did 7 minutes 52 seconds. So you can guess I was very excited to find out what Volkswagen did to create this incredibly fast Golf at the Nordschleife!
The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is a limited edition version based on the GTI Clubsport which was launched to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Golf GTI. The Clubsport S is limited to 400 pieces and at this point all have been sold.
Turning a normal GTI into a Clubsport S edition included more than just increasing the power to 310hp and 380Nm of torque. Major efforts were put into reducing weight – most noticeably by the lack of rear seats – and improved handling – thanks to a new sport chassis, semi-slicks, modified ESP and a new front differential.
Unlike the ‘normal’ CLubsport, the ‘S’ always comes with a manual transmission to keep the weight down. All these weight saving measures resulted to unladen weight of 1,360 kilogram. With a 0-100 km/h sprint of 5.8 seconds it doesn’t seem like one of the fastest cars around the Nurburgring on paper, but even after the first few meters behind the wheel I can clearly feel where this car makes up a lot of time: in the corners!
Once you start the engine, it comes to life with a rumble we haven’t heard from a GTI before. Also on downshifts and under heavy acceleration the GTI Clubsport S sounds unlike any Volkswagen we have ever driven – so full-bodied we could easily mistake it for something more exotic.
Design wise the Clubsport S also stands out from a normal Golf GTI. It comes with a more aerodynamic front grille that sports a front splitter, red accents and larger air inlets on either side. The rear is characterized by two large exhaust tailpipes and a roof mounted rear wing. Inside the Golf GTI interior is further enhanced with sport seats that offer excellent side support as well as an alcantara steering wheel.
For my Nurburgring laps I will be chasing record holder Benjamin Leuchter in the actual record car. The record car has one slight modification over the other Golf GTI Clubsport S models and that is the addition of a roll cage. We leave the tourist drive parking and head towards the start / finish line, my helmet pressing on my head as we head towards the first corner.
Nailing the Nurburgring involves as much braking and cornering performance as that of acceleration and top speed. The Clubsport S might not be the fastest car in terms of engine performance but it hits the cornering part head on. It is impressive how much speed we can carry through the bends, pushing too hard results in slight understeer. One thing that does feel odd is the extremely light clutch pedal, a bit more resistance would be more suitable to this car.
On every downshift I’m treated by a lovely bang from the exhaust only muffled by my helmet. For the Clubsport S the Volkswagen engineers developed a special ‘Nurburgring’ setting which can be activated through the infotainment system. The Nurburgring is not your ordinary race track so an overly stiff suspension setup won’t do much good. The Nurburgring profile on the Clubsport S sets the dampers to allow for a bit of vertical travel to absorb the Ring’s bumbs and holes as well as possible but at the same time limit lateral movement to reduce body roll and increase cornering speeds.
Overall the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is a very impressive car. Setting the Nurburgring record for fastest front-wheel drive car could be considered the ultimate testament to its performance. But also on the road the Clubsport S is a lot of fun to drive. The drive is more engaging than most other front-wheel drive cars also thanks to it’s new exhaust system.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S Nurburgring record lap
Benjamin Leuchter (28), race car driver and Volkswagen Driving Experience instructor performs a final check of the air pressure of the standard 19-inch semi-slicks. 1.9 bar in front, 2.15 at the rear. The size 235/35 Michelin tyres have been ‘‘warmed up’’ to temperature, as has the engine. Leuchter puts on his helmet and gives Karsten Schebsdat a hand signal: ‘‘I’m ready.’’ Schebsdat is the Head of Volkswagen Chassis Tuning and is part of the team that developed the fast Golf GTI Clubsport S that can reach a speed of 265 km/h. Passionate Volkswagen people from Development, Marketing and Communications worked on it. GTI fans. They spent many months on this car. Refining the ‘‘normal’’ GTI Clubsport and the Golf GTI TCR of the touring car championship into a sporty jewel. Now they want to see what their baby can do — just how fast this GTI can go on the world’s most demanding race track. Schebsdat taps Leuchter’s helmet. He starts the car, selects the ‘‘Individual’’ driving profile mode and thereby activates the setting for the Nordschleife (North Loop) of the Nürburgring. Special characteristics for the engine, steering and adaptive chassis control system (DCC). The Nordschleife has a unique combination of bends and road bumps. ‘‘To break the record here, the GTI must be fast on the bends while simultaneously handling the bumps and leaps’’, explains Leuchter as he closes the driver’s door. The Clubsport S specialises in this. The time will be measured by breaking a light beam. Leuchter drives out of the pit lane. One lap. 20.832 kilometres. A flying start. The clock is running.
Smoothing out the kerbs. The Clubsport S thunders into the Hatzenbach Wiggler. 4th gear. ‘‘The car has to absorb the kerbs cleanly’’, Leuchter says via radio. ‘‘We have put a high priority on the GTI being stable on the kerbs too’’, explains Schebsdat in the pit lane, taking a glance at the clock. The Clubsport S flies through the Hocheichen section. 4th gear, at speeds up to just over 190 km/h. Full speed ahead, a longer stretch of straight-away down to Quiddelbach Höhe then the airfield. Double right bends, very fast. 5th gear is alright up to 216 km/h. On-board radio: ‘‘I’m making sure that I am back on the accelerator early, because I am heading towards Schwedenkreuz now’’, and Leuchter stays on the ideal line.
Crossing Schwedenkreuz at 240 km/h. ‘‘Change up to 6th gear.’’ The Clubsport S flies over the jump crest at Schwedenkreuz at nearly 240 km/h. ‘‘The car is super at absorbing everything; it rebounds and recovers immediately. Back into 5th gear. Backfire from the exhaust. Now left into Schwedenkreuz. Apply the brakes. 3rd gear. Aremberg and then into the Fuchsröhre. Leuchter: ‘‘It all works at full throttle. Going very fast. But the car has to be perfectly aligned when it enters the Fuchsröhre.’’ The GTI reaches Adenauer Forest. Towards Metzgesfeld now. Fast left bend. He stays on course to break the record, because the GTI has significant downforce. The Kallenhard section. ‘‘There it is possible to brake hard at the last instant, but it still remains fully steerable’’, Leuchter reports later. He continues: ‘‘I can trust the car, even on bumps in the road, which is important to be really fast on the Nordschleife.’’
Wehrseifen. Nearly half-time after 9 kilometres. 3rd gear. Breitscheid. Ex-Mühle. A fast uphill right. Leuchter gains the tenth that he needs to be faster than all of the others: ‘‘Normally, a front-wheel drive car shows understeer here. The GTI Clubsport S only exhibits it slightly at the entrance to the bend; it is compensated by a minor load alternation. Ex-Mühle is also bumpy. The Golf handles it superbly, just like in the mines.’’ Out of this bend and towards Kesselchen. Kilometre 12. The GTI flattens out the bumps and kerbs, and doesn’t jump a single millimetre. Kilometre 13. Steep stretch. 3rd gear. 27 per cent ascent. The Karussell. Leuchter: ‘‘Concrete slabs, very bumpy, but the GTI doesn’t jump here either.’’ Now the Eifel hills become more alpine, and the Nordschleife gets more and more challenging. Leuchter’s favourite passage: ‘‘Every metre of the Hohe Acht down to the Brünnchen section is demanding on both car and driver. Wippermann, for example: you enter very fast. Just touch the kerb on the left slightly, then full over to the right. And even here this GTI remains true to its line. That is the key to a really fast lap.’’
Final sprint. Pflanzgarten, the second crest jump. The GTI lifts off briefly, comes back down and can be driven through the double right that follows very fast. Leuchter: ‘‘Even when it rebounds to the strut limits, the GTI follows steering inputs.’’ Kilometre 17, the Stefan-Bellof S bend, which Bellof drove on the Nordschleife, setting a record for eternity in a Porsche 956.007. 650 PS. Leuchter is following Bellof with 340 PS less, but in the same spirit. Schwalbenschwanz, Galgenkopf: ‘‘The Galgenkopf is also crucial for a fast lap. If I can drive out of it at high speed, I can reach the Döttinger Höhe at a speed of more than 250 km/h.’’ Seconds later, the Golf GTI Clubsport S shoots through the light beam at the finish. A time of 7 minutes, 49.21 seconds. Never before has a front-wheel drive production vehicle completed a lap of the Nordschleife so fast.