The Clubsport S makes for a fitting 40th birthday present to GTI aficionados.

It does this by not only being plainly faster and fitter than the basic Clubsport but also by exalting the badge’s traditional virtues even as it gently revises them.

A convincing combination of purpose and pragmatism

Yes, the back seats have gone, inevitably taking some of the practicality with them, but the Golf’s celebrated usability remains dynamically intact.

This is a track-orientated special-edition hatch that’s well capable of rewarding in everyday use, without being restricted to the frenzy of snatched Sunday drives on perfect roads and occasional forays up a pit lane.

Equally, and despite its record-breaking endeavours at the Nürburgring, the Clubsport S isn’t quite the match of certain rivals in terms of outright handling excitement.

The outgoing Mégane Trophy-R is more adjustable and free-spirited and a Focus RS simply more awe-inspiring all over.

But, crucially, the Clubsport S feels leaner, sharper and more assertive than the hospitable, all-weather Golf R – and that makes it, by a nose, the very best fast Golf you can buy. Second-hand, that is.

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That is why we rank it second overall in our top five, just behind the incredible Focus RS, but ahead of the Honda Civic Type R GT, Audi RS3 and its sibling the Golf R.

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