Today is not the day for sub-eight-minute laps of the 13-mile track. Still, an opportunity to experience a 306bhp Golf GTI, even from the passenger seat on a dank day, isn’t one to pass up.
At the wheel is Benny Leuchter, Volkswagen’s driver for the record attempt and something of a ’Ring veteran, with various VLN and Nürburgring 24-hour successes to his name. He apologises for what will be a comparatively tame lap, tightens his harnesses and fires us out of the pit lane.
Key to a quick lap here, says Leuchter, is to use as much kerb as possible, to straighten the corners and minimise how much speed is lost. His driving style reflects that, the Golf pounding into the kerbs in the Hatzenbach section as it winds left and right before Flugplatz. It’s no exaggeration to say the Golf is remarkable here, taking the punishment with staggering composure. The damping is incredibly supple in compression to absorb the impact but then exceptionally well controlled in rebound to ensure that the car isn’t unsettled or upset. It’s quite the party trick and means the wheels feel like they’re always in contact with the road and driving forward. The method seems pretty brutal, but the effectiveness is in no doubt.
On the fast sections of the track — notably from Flugplatz to Aremberg and the flat-out section before the Karussell — the Clubsport S flies. Even at fairly modest (for a racing driver) commitment levels, this GTI feels demonstrably quicker than an R and another step on from even the lightened, ’Ring-ready Seat Leon Cupra Ultimate Sub8. The noise is excellent, too; with a louder exhaust and less sound deadening, the Clubsport S has a waspish, angry roar to it that’s frequently overlaid with turbo whoosh. Fingers crossed it’s not too loud for UK track days…
Dynamic judgements from the passenger seat are always tricky, but beyond the fantastic suspension damping, it’s interesting to note the Golf’s neutrality, too. It slithers into oversteer on some of the really greasy sections under trees, but for the most part it stays true to Leuchter’s commands, any lifts progressively tightening the line rather than snapping the car around.
The behaviour of the VAQ diff is familiar through many corners, pulling the car away from the apex ferociously after a momentary delay, but its responses seem that much sharper and the whole car more agile than any of the other fast Golfs, or rivals such as the hot Seat Leon.
Despite a lap at far less than flat-out pace, it’s evident that the Clubsport S has incredible track potential. It’s the suspension tuning that shines through most clearly, and that bodes well for an entertaining car on lumpy British roads. Let’s hope that this initial promise delivers when we get to drive it.