The most powerful Golf GTI ever breaks the lap record for front-wheel-drive cars on the Nordschleife, with a time of 07:49:21
The Golf GTI Clubsport S is the most powerful ever version of the Golf GTI and was built to celebrate 40 years of the iconic hot hatchback. With German racing driver Benny Leuchter (28) at the wheel, the car has just smashed the existing lap record for front-wheel-drive production cars on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, with a time of 7 minutes, 49.21 seconds.
This exclusive new vehicle, based on the Golf GTI Clubsport, makes its world premiere at the GTI event at Lake Wörthersee (4-7 May). The hard performance numbers of this new GTI are truly impressive: a power output of 228 kW/310 PS; 280 pound-feet of torque between 1,700 and 5.300 rpm; 0 to 62 mph acceleration in 5.8 seconds; a top speed of 162 mph; and an unladen weight (including the driver and luggage) that has been reduced to 2,998 pounds. But the raw figures don’t tell the whole story, as the record lap time around the Nordschleife demonstrates how fast this car actually is.
The Golf GTI Clubsport S has an exclusive setting for the most demanding racetrack 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 Comfort, Normal and Race settings are also available. The driver can still adjust the settings in the Individual profile, as usual, and can revert to the Nürburgring setting by resetting the Individual profile on the touchscreen menu. This unique configuration switches the Sound, Engine and Steering 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.
The production run will be limited to 400 cars worldwide, 100 of which will be delivered to customers in Germany. Colors will be limited to those of the original GTI: “Tornado Red”, “Pure White” and “Deep Black Pearl Effect”, with the roof painted black. The Clubsport S is based on the two-door model with a manual transmission, in order to keep the weight as low as possible.
The Clubsport S is a pure 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 insulation, the variable-height trunk floor, the rear parcel shelf, and the floor mats pushed the weight down yet further. An aluminum subframe for the front suspension and aluminum brake covers also shed weight. On the other hand, 235/35 ZR Michelin tyres mounted on 19-inch “Pretoria” aluminium-alloy wheels, DCC, a strut brace, a partition net behind the seats and a carpet in the rear add some of that saving back, for a total weight reduction of approximately 66 pounds in comparison to a similarly equipped Golf GTI Clubsport. The unladen weight is 2833 pounds, resulting in a dynamic power-to-weight ratio of 9.14 pounds per horsepower. Less weight also means greater fuel efficiency, with an NEDC rating of 31.8 mpg (equivalent to 172 g/km CO2).
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 Golf GTI TCR—the new racing car for the TCR International Series. This also gave them the opportunity to boost the engine to 310 PS and 280 lb-ft. The engineers achieved this boost in performance with a modified engine control unit and a new exhaust system: an increased diameter of 2.56 inches instead of 2.16 in reduces the exhaust backpressure and increases the performance. A side effect of the modifications is that the exhaust system produces a wonderful and deliberate ‘backfire’ under braking! 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.
Other changes for the most exclusive Golf GTI include the following: semi-slick Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires mounted on 19-inch “Pretoria” alloy wheels, tinted rear windows that absorb 65 percent of the light, “Clubsport S” type plates, Bi-Xenon headlights with cornering lights and LED daytime running lights. The brake system was also modified to withstand the high temperatures inflicted at a racetrack. The disc bells are made of aluminium and are connected to the steel discs by cast location pins, allowing them to expand radially when they heat up. An important factor for the car’s handling is that the unsprung mass of each wheel is 2.2 pounds lower thanks to the aluminum brake covers. To further improve the braking performance, the Golf GTI Clubsport S has special brake pads.
Each of the 400 Golf GTI Clubsport S cars made will have its production number (001/400 to 400/400) on the center console in the front. The driver and the front seat passenger sit in racing bucket seats that provide the necessary lateral support while flying around the Nordschleife. The car also features GTI insignia that’s featured in the “normal” Golf GTI Clubsport, including the iconic golf ball shifter knob with Alcantara trim, a red line in the safety belts, “Honeycomb 40” design decals on the dashboard and doors, and elegant Piano Black accents. The extremely grippy Alcantara-trimmed sport steering wheel, which has a chrome GTI emblem, red stitching and the 12-o’clock position marked out, was designed to be ergonomically perfect for the track.
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 Pack 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, two other factors are of fundamental importance when it comes to designing a really fast car: optimal aerodynamics and an outstanding chassis.
When it comes to aerodynamics, Volkswagen was able to draw on the modifications already implemented in the Golf GTI Clubsport. Both the “Clubsport” and the “Clubsport S” have completely new front bumpers that improve engine induction, front end aero, and downforce. At the rear, the roof-edge spoiler that was perfected in the wind tunnel and is significantly larger on the Clubsport versions results in significant amounts of additional rear downforce. In conjunction with a black rear diffuser, this two-part rear wing generates more downforce on the rear axle than on the front axle. In the case of the Golf GTI Clubsport S, this means that the understeer that is typical of front-wheel-drive cars is practically eliminated.
The new Golf GTI Clubsport S also has a special sport chassis. Karsten Schebsdat explains: “To neutralize 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 optimizing 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: combined with the aerodynamic measures, this allows the driver to brake into bends in a controlled way.
Even at full acceleration the car has even better traction due to the modified chassis tuning and the tires. 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, “wheel hop” from the front wheels, typical of powerful front-wheel drive cars at maximum acceleration, is practically eliminated. The extra acceleration is also handled by stiffer engine mounts, a new coupling rod between the transmission and front axle, and a reinforced transmission. Other important elements include the XDS+ system and the electronically controlled, torque-sensing limited slip differential.
As is the case for the other GTI models, Volkswagen also offers the ‘ESC Sport’ function for very experienced drivers. The system is activated by a two-stage switch on the center 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 gives even more agile handling. If the driver pushes the switch for more than three seconds, the ESC system is completely deactivated. As an alternative to 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 are smooth and relatively flat. That’s not the case on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where there are plenty of bumps and elevation changes, as well as a daunting number of corners on top of that. 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 dips and crests. If a car is fine-tuned for driving on a normal racetrack, where the suspension is very stiff, this isn’t helpful on the Nordschleife. Rather, the car needs to be fairly soft vertically, but at the same time stiff when it comes to lateral damping. This is exactly what the Volkswagen engineers managed to take into account when fine tuning the spring/damper package for the DCC system.
40 years of the Golf GTI – a retrospective
Golf GTI / 1976. In 1974, six men forged the secret plan to develop a ‘Sports Golf’. They carry the project through to the end, although there is no recorded date for when the first full-production GTI was built in 1976. With its 110 PS and 112 mph top speed, it stirred up the world of compact cars and redefined what a sports car represents. In 1983, the first special edition makes its debut—the 112 PS ‘Pirelli GTI’.
Mk2 Golf GTI / 1984. A strategic stroke of genius follows one year later with the Mk2 Golf GTI. Still with 112 PS, it continues the conceptual course of the first generation. As a result of the introduction of the catalytic converter, the power output briefly goes down to 107 PS in 1984. Two years later, Volkswagen compensates for the reduced power with a new 16-valve engine, which delivers 129 PS even with a catalytic converter and matches the agility of the original GTI (139 PS, no catalytic converter). In 1990, a ‘G-Lader’ supercharger in the Golf GTI G60 increases power output to 160 PS.
Mk3 Golf GTI / 1991. In 1991, Volkswagen transfers the GTI insignia to the third generation. This begins with 115 PS. A year later, the power output goes up with a new 16-valve engine to 150 PS. In 1996, a turbodiesel version (TDI) delivering 110 PS enriches the GTI concept. In 1996 the ’20 Years of GTI’ anniversary model is launched.
Mk4 Golf GTI / 1998. The fourth GTI generation, introduced in 1998, is very conservative in appearance. Technically, however, the 150-PS Mk4 Golf GTI is a car that keeps the competition at bay with its agility and quality. The four- and (in one case) five-cylinder petrol engines deliver up to 170 PS, while the diesels manage 150 PS. In 2001, the 180-PS ’25 Years of GTI’ turbo model heralds a renaissance of the sporty icon.
Mk5 Golf GTI / 2004. With the debut of the fifth generation, the Golf GTI 2004 celebrates a grand comeback. With a much sharper look, a 200-PS turbo engine and superb driving characteristics, it catapults the GTI concept into the future. In 2006, to mark the cult car’s 30th birthday, Volkswagen gives its fans the 230-PS ’30 Years of GTI’ model. Identically powered, the reincarnation of the ‘Pirelli GTI’ is then launched in 2007.
Mk6 Golf GTI / 2009. With the sixth-generation in 2009, the Golf GTI redefines the subject of traction with an electronic transverse differential lock (XDS). Now with 210-PS, the GTI is even more fun and features a redesigned exhaust system that creates a dynamic sound as well. For the first time it is also available as a Convertible. This generation’s crowning glory comes onto the market in 2011 for the 35th birthday: the ‘Golf GTI Edition 35’ with 235 PS.
Mk7 Golf GTI / 2012. The seventh generation of the GTI launches in 2012 with two levels of power output: 162 kW / 220 PS from the base version and 169 kW / 230 PS from the Golf GTI Performance, the latter being equipped with a new electronically controlled, torque sensing limited slip differential. In early 2016 the Golf GTI Clubsport, delivering up to 213 kW / 290 PS, goes on sale.