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In light of the way that it was launched, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Clubsport S conducts itself with the high-speed stability and damping sophistication that a racing driver would need in order to set a lap record at the old Nürburgring.

Compared with the most recent rival with which you might compare it, namely Renault’s awesome Mégane RS Trophy-R, the Golf is no less grippy but slightly less rabidly incisive in its handling responses – more softly suspended but no less purposeful in its own way.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Front axle clings on well the corners but isn’t grippy enough to allow much adjustment with a lift of the throttle

While the Renault felt pent up and unflinchingly aggressive on the road and wonderfully unhinged and liberated on track, the Volkswagen is much more at home on a typical uneven British B-road – and yet it can still hold its own on a circuit.

So whether you might prefer one to the other will depend in large part on the kind of use you have in mind for it.

Put the Golf’s adaptive dampers in Comfort mode and they’ll soak up as much punishment as UK cross-country motoring can throw at them.

They’ll never make the car pitch or bounce, keeping it faithfully on course at all times and making it an easy thing in which to cover ground at speed.

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Fairly moderate spring rates are also to thank for this, making the car’s handling responses progressive but equally moderate while allowing some body roll on a circuit.

Even in Race mode, the car’s steering is a little light for our tastes and could offer clearer feedback from front contact patches as adhesive as these.

We’d also prefer a slightly more neutral balance of grip, the Clubsport S’s chassis preferring stability so much that it can understeer a bit when driven hard at low speeds.

All things considered, perhaps this isn’t the most compelling hot hatchback there has ever been – but like so many GTIs over the years, it has the kind of suspension compliance and dynamic pragmatism that you’d need in order to use the car every day and balances it against the desire for excitement and thrills very skilfully indeed.

Despite being marginally less balanced and direct than the most compelling front-drivers we’ve ever tested, the Clubsport S wants for very little pace on a circuit.

The lap time it set around MIRA’s Dunlop handling track beat every benchmark we could compare it with save one: Audi’s RS3. And while certain rivals (Ford Focus RS, Renault Mégane Trophy-R) were tested in less clement conditions than the Golf, there are few cars from which it would be easier to conjure such huge pace.

It’s a disappointment that you can’t fully disengage the car’s stability control system (making it impossible to launch the car from standing with optimal wheel slip), but it’s a small blight on an otherwise impressive showing.

You have to be mindful of the car’s tendency to push on in slower, technical corners, but through faster ones the balance is better and you can carry huge speed without worrying at all about rear-end breakaway.

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