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Thursday 27 July 2017

GTi Club Sport keeps secret hidden - until you unleash the fast and furious beast beneath

Golf GTi Club Sport: a technically brilliant performace car
Golf GTi Club Sport: a technically brilliant performace car
The interior of the GTi Club Sport - including the lovely fabric on the steering wheel
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It might sound a bit silly to say this but the Volkswagen Golf GTi Club Sport edition didn't always feel like a car with 265bhp looking to erupt from within its 1,984cc high-performance petrol engine.

It didn't even sound like one some of the time even though I could raise the regular 265hp to 290bhp on a time-limited overboost function.

But don't be deceived. It's there alright. You just have to pick your time and place to get a sense, and it is only a sense, of its impressive prowess. The only way to get a full feel of that is to take it to Mondello (where you can check out your lap time on the dash display - one of the many hidden clues about this car's ability).

To do so on the road would, most likely, be highly illegal and land you with enough penalty points to last a lifetime.

That is the perennial problem for cars like this. The same goes for the likes of the Golf R and Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS rivals.

I admit it is a wearisome cliché but you can drive these cars like a family hatch most of the time while occasionally enjoying a judiciously chosen spurt.

Which is exactly what I did. We slid smoothly, silently and effortlessly to Birr and back on a bright day. Funnily enough it wasn't the ease of passage we noticed. It was the near-silent swish of travel and the excellent front seats (broad, strong and brilliantly supportive). I'd have them in any car I'd own. Magnificent for someone of my size and lumbar vulnerability. However, getting in and out of the back of this three-door was most unsatisfactory. It was bloody awkward and involved far too much pushing and shoving to create enough space to squeeze in.

Next day, different drive, different passengers and different experience. The chance to give it a bit of a lash (aha! the sound and the sense of propulsion) within legal limits. Oh! how everything changed. Here was where its heart lay, where it dispels criticism of me saying earlier in my drives that the GTi is nearly too refined for what it really is: a technically brilliant 3dr performance car.

Suddenly I could see why I'd have that lap timer; why I'd love to drive this where I could let it flex its muscles. I had fun, lots of fun over the tight, hilly corners and sharp bends but always within the narrow aperture of lower gears and speed limits. It never broke sweat. It merely teased its capabilities, sure-footed and instant in giving power and a precision of handling and steering that had me longing to go harder and faster. It was fun at what, for it, were low speeds and easy challenges.

I admire it for its accomplished behaviour but there were times I would have preferred, and yearned for, a bit of rawness. Something that blared a bit more; something that fed me the feel of earthiness of speed and steering dynamics (lovely fabric on the steering wheel by the way).

It's a dilemma isn't it? To have such engineering at my fingertips and not be able to give it freedom of expression was more frustrating than usual for me. Because I knew this had so much more to give. So much more. If you're lucky enough to be able to afford one I wish you well but suggest you to take it to the track every so often so you can re-visit the memories of its vigour when you are tiddling along in 50kmh traffic. That's the secret: what is seldom done is wonderful.

KEY FACTS:

2-litre 265bhp petrol, 3dr hatch; 265bhp; 0-100kmh 5.7 secs; 6.9l/100km (claimed), 162 g/km; €570 road tax. Price from €43,375; delivery charge €775; OTR - €44,150; with extras €45,157.

Equipment included: sports suspension, body 15mm lower, 18ins 'Belvedere' alloys; 'Alcantara' seats in ClubSport design; 'Alcantara' steering wheel (has red 12-hour mark at top); park distance control, front fogs, Adaptive Cruise Control, Climatronic air con, red GTi brake callipers, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, dual tailpipes; 5ins touch-screen radio, Bluetooth, side skirt cover, tinted rear windows, Stop/start, 2-piece spoiler.

Extras included: metallic paint (carbon steel grey), 171 pack (dynaudio and app connect).

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