- Good engine performance
- Aggressive styling
- Excellent safety system
- Very expensive
- Interior doesn’t justify the price tag
- No real benefit over the standard Clubsport or Golf R
1976 marked the year that the Golf GTi first rolled off the production line.
The Clubsport 45 is the latest anniversary edition of the hot-hatch, and it's clear to see from the performance figures that Volkswagen is keen to celebrate in style.
Every few years, we get one of these anniversary cars – usually with bigger wheels, some badges and a bit of extra grunt from the engine, and this time is no different.
It certainly looks the part, and the basic shape of the Golf suits the aggressive styling well. We just hope it has the performance to do it justice.
In true racing style, VW has been keen to point out that the Clubsport 45 has been tested at the Nürburgring, lapping 13 seconds quicker than the standard GTi, so it appears it packs a punch.
On The Road
Although the Clubsport 45 is the same engine that you get across the rest of the GTi range, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo is boosted from 245PS in the basic GTi to 300PS in the 45. That reduces the 0-62mph time from 6.3-seconds to 5.6-seconds, although that’s still nearly a second slower than the Golf R.
What’s more, the 45 edition removes the top-speed limiter, too, meaning the seven-speed DSG paddle-shifting automatic tops out at a whopping 166mph.
The gearbox is excellent, enabling the 45 to maximise its performance. However, given this anniversary edition is undoubtedly aimed at the purists who appreciate the Golf GTi, we’d rather they’d stuck a manual in it.
In truth, we’re hard pushed to tell the difference with the Akrapovič exhaust – certainly, from inside the car, it doesn't seem to add much in terms of noise. We expected it would sound significantly different, given it’s a £3,100 option on the Golf R.
Nevertheless, it goes along superbly – noticeably more so than the standard GTi – with more effective power delivery and, despite being front-wheel drive, there’s barely any torque steer.
It does struggle to get all its power down in damper conditions, though. So, expect a bit of wheelspin followed by the electronic systems trying to reign in the power if the weather’s anything but perfect, which is any day with a 'y' in it in Britain.
You can turn some of the assists off in the menus, but be prepared to do a lot of digging to find them in the infotainment system, which we’ll come on to.
The upgraded suspension is stiffened, improving handling, while the optional adaptive dampers mean choosing from 15 different settings. As a result, it feels very well planted on the road and has excellent levels of grip, with the limited-slip differential noticeable when you're heading around a fast corner.
As a result, it’s fun to drive, and you can feel the car’s various traction systems coming into play through the front wheels when accelerating out of the corners.
Body roll is minimised when going around the bends, while the rear stability feels solid thanks to upgraded springs.
The resulting firmness will undoubtedly put off those who prefer comfort but, if settling down into the seats and relaxing is your thing, you're hardly going to be looking in the direction of a hot-hatch to begin with.
Volkswagen is keen to remind you that this is a 45, as there's plenty of badges that say this around the car. You also get little touches of red on the exterior and interior, including around the wheels' circumference and the brake callipers.
Other than that, it's pretty much the same as the standard Clubsport, though the aggressive front spoiler, as well as a much meatier rear spoiler overhanging the back windows, give the Clubsport range a far racier look than the standard GTi.
It certainly looks imposing and continues the GTi’s evolution to keep modern and refreshed. It seems more aggressive than ever, with noticeable creases in the bodywork, sweeping lines from the blackened grille and mean-looking headlights.
The Clubsport range gets a more pointed lower grille at the front than the basic GTi as if it's sticking its bottom teeth out. Add that to an upgraded suspension, brakes and steering, and the car makes the standard GTi start to look tame.
19-inch alloys (you get 18-inches on the rest of the GTi range), the Akrapovič exhaust and some ‘45’ branding in various places, most notably along the side of the car at the bottom of the doors, completes the Clubsport 45 look.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
The sports steering wheel is very nice – and it’s heated on the 45, which should set the tone nicely for the driving experience that’s about to follow when you get inside.
But, while there are certainly flashes of additional styling (most of them red), the interior is, ultimately, much the same as any other Golf.
The infotainment system is a touchscreen with haptic touch-sensitive buttons and, while it looks nice, it isn’t particularly intuitive to use. Setting the car up is a frustrating journey of menus, sub-menus and confirmation screens.
It’ll suit people who love customising their smartphones by digging deeper into menus, but it'll infuriate those who wish there was just a simple knob or button to turn on the air conditioning.
It's a similar story with the buttons on the steering wheel, which are all one piece of plastic, so you're never quite sure what you've pressed. Unfortunately, it's also touch-sensitive, so it's all too easy to press the wrong switch.
The front includes sports seats, which hug your body well in fast corners and add a good level of comfort, given the sportiness of the suspension.
Overall, the interior is pleasant enough, but there's a sense that VW made just about enough of an effort, rather than going the extra mile. As a result, there's no real premium factor over lesser Golfs in the range. While there's plenty of soft-touch materials, overly plasticky bits are never far away, creating a sense of average build quality.
The fact the door bins are carpeted, though, is a nice touch – until your drink leaks out all over it.
Space & Practicality
While a hot-hatch is unlikely to be used as a family car, it’s still a five-door motor and has the practicality to match, although the Honda Civic Type R leads the way in terms of space in the back.
The boot space is plentiful, too, with 374-litres, expanding to 1230-litres with the rear seats folded away.
It's a practical car for its size and will likely suit a couple of adults and two or three kids in the back, even if the ride comfort does not.
The Clubsport 45 claims a combined 38.1mpg, although, if you're driving it as VW intended, you can probably expect to get nowhere near this.
This compares with the 38.5mpg for the standard Clubsport and the standard GTi.
All beat the Golf R, which manages 36.4mpg.
Emissions for the 45 are 168g/km of CO2, which makes it unattractive for company car users.
Quality & Reliability
Volkswagens, being German, tend to be known for quality and reliability, but there are differing views on whether that reputation is still justified.
Some recent surveys suggest it’s no longer the case, with VW getting below-average ratings, while others still score it highly in terms of customer satisfaction.
Nevertheless, there are still many worse cars, and the dealerships continue to have good reputations. At the same time, the 60,000-mile three-year warranty should offer some peace of mind, but don't forget some rivals offer five or seven-year warranties.
The Bavarian badge means it is more expensive to maintain than an equivalent car from sister-brand Seat, although servicing plans are also available, which can be paid monthly to spread the cost.
Safety & Security
The Golf was last tested by Euro NCAP back in 2019, earning a five-star safety rating and scoring an impressive 95% for adult occupants, 89% for child occupants and 78% for safety assists.
The assists include automatic emergency braking, which will bring you to a stop if the car detects an imminent collision, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, a driver fatigue monitoring system and Car2X. The latter communicates with other vehicles fitted with the same system to warn of hazards within a half-mile radius.
Park assist, a rear-view camera, and a head-up display are all available as optional extras.
Overall, the Clubsport 45 is another anniversary edition from VW, which feels like it’s there for the sake of it, offering little over other models. Considering a standard Clubsport is priced a lot cheaper, you’re effectively paying more money for some ‘45’ stickers, a bit of red trim and an exhaust system you won’t really notice.
Nevertheless, the fact it’s virtually the same as the standard Clubsport doesn't make it a bad car. On the contrary, it's still terrific to drive.
But the Golf R, which has more power and has four-wheel drive, is also a touch cheaper. So, if your heart is set on a Golf hot-hatch, it’s hard to make a case specifically for the 45.