VW Golf GTI Clubsport vs SEAT Leon Cupra 290 vs Honda Civic Type R

VW is marking 40 years of the Golf GTI with a new Clubsport model, but can it see off the SEAT Leon Cupra 290 and the Honda Civic Type R?

The Volkswagen Golf GTI kick-started the hot hatch revolution when it first hit the road back in 1976. With its potent blend of performance, practicality, agile handling and ease of use, the original ripped up the sports car rulebook.

Four decades on, VW is celebrating the success of its pioneering performance car with a very special model. The Clubsport Edition 40 is the most powerful and driver-focused GTI yet. It looks the most aggressive, too, with a host of upgrades inside and out.

Best hot hatches on the market

Like the standard car it’s available as a three or five-door and with six-speed manual or twin-clutch DSG auto transmissions. Yet it’s not the only performance hatch to get a makeover, as SEAT has just pulled the wraps off its fettled Leon Cupra 290. With a power boost and some trim revisions, our class favourite looks more formidable than ever.

Completing our welcoming committee for the new Golf is arguably the most hardcore front-driven hot hatch of all: Honda’s Civic Type R. With its track pedigree, wild looks, huge power output and planted handling, it represents a stern test for any new arrival.

So buckle up as we hit road and track in three of the fastest family hatchbacks ever.

Head-to-head

Aerodynamics

Extensive bodywork changes set the Golf and Civic apart from the regular cars. The Clubsport’s wings, skirts and vanes aren’t as bold as the Honda’s, but VW claims they deliver meaningful downforce. The Type R’s set-up is designed to reduce aerodynamic lift for greater stability, but also keeps drag low, which results in an astonishing 167mph top speed. 

Driving modes

The VW and SEAT get similar driving profile modes that allow you to tune the steering, throttle and dampers using pre-set Normal, Comfort and Dynamic modes, or tailor your own set-up with Individual. The Civic is simpler, with a choice of Normal or Nurburgring settings.

Bodystyles

Honda only offers the Civic in five-door guise, while the Golf can be had with either three or five doors. The SEAT is the most diverse model, with Cupra 290 versions of the SC three-door and even the practical ST estate alongside this five-door hatch.

Verdict 

First place: SEAT Leon Cupra 290

In the final reckoning, the revised Leon Cupra has a decisive edge over the competition here due to its long list of strengths. Not only is it the cheapest car to buy, it’s just as fast and agile as the Honda in the real world, yet its adaptive dampers and subtle looks make it a relaxing choice for the daily grind. It’s also packed with standard kit and is every bit as practical as a standard Leon.

Second place: Honda Civic Type R

The Civic Type R’s narrow focus on ultimate performance means you have to make compromises, but find the right road, and few cars are faster than this. And while its wild looks won’t be to all tastes, there’s no denying that the Type R screams power. It’s pricey to buy, but every part of it has been upgraded and overhauled with performance in mind. It’s practical, too.

Third place: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport

With just 1,000 Clubsports due to hit UK showrooms, this 40th anniversary Golf GTI has exclusivity on its side. Yet this is a car that feels less than the sum of its parts. Despite its track focus, the Golf can’t hold a candle to the Honda on a circuit, plus it’s slower, not as involving and less usable day to day than the cheaper SEAT. A Golf R makes far more sense.

Other options in this category...

Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS group - front three quarter

Price: £31,000Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, 345bhp

Our reigning hot hatch champ has more power than the Honda and four-wheel drive, yet undercuts it on price. The ride is firm, but the trade-off is fantastically agile and engaging handling. There’s even a Drift Mode to enjoy.

Volkswagen Golf R

Price: £31,685Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 296bhp

For £750 more than the Clubsport, you can grab the keys to the brilliant Golf R. Packing 296bhp and four-wheel drive, it’s much faster in real-world conditions, plus low-key looks and greater comfort make it easier to live with day to day. 

Figures

 SEAT Leon Cupra 290 DSGHonda Civic Type R GTVW Golf GTI Clubsport DSG
On-the-road price/total as tested£30,035/£30,550£32,300/£32,300£32,350/£33,560
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£12,615/42.0%£13,566/42.0%£15,205/47.0%
Depreciation£17,420£18,734£17,146
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,609/£3,218£1,981/£3,961£1,798/£3,596
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,872/£3,120£2,154/£3,590£1,849/£3,082
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost35/£562/G/£18533/£558/H/£21033/N/A/G/£185
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£498 (3yrs/30,000)£695 (5yrs/62,500)£288 (2yrs/20,000)
    
Length/wheelbase4,271/2,631mm4,390/2,594mm4,268/2,631mm
Height/width1,434/1,816mm1,466/1,878mm1,442/1,799mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,984cc4cyl in-line/1,996cc4cyl in-line/1,984cc
Peak power 286/5,900 bhp/rpm306/6,500 bhp/rpm261/5,350 bhp/rpm
Peak torque 350/1,700 Nm/rpm400/2,500 Nm/rpm350/1,700 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd twin-clutch/fwd6-spd man/fwd6-spd twin-clutch/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel50 litres/space saver50 litres/foam50 litres/foam
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 380/1,210 litres498/1,427 litres380/1,270 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,421/489kg/N/A1,397/303kg/N/A1,395/550/1,600kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.5 metres/N/A12.6 metres/N/A10.9 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/2yrs3yrs (90,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable (1yr)/12812,500 (1yr)/196Variable (1yr)/223
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.18th/27th*20th/4th*24th/30th*
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/points94/92/70/71/5 (2012)94/83/69/86/5 (2012)94/89/65/71/5 (2012)
    
0-60/30-70mph5.6/3.9 secs5.3/4.6 secs5.8/4.0 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 2.2/3.1 secs2.2/3.7 secs2.2/2.9 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 4.1/5.7 secs3.6/5.8 secs3.8/5.3 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 155mph/2,600rpm167mph/2,600rpm155mph/2,600rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 41.9/31.7/8.9m42.1/29.4/8.9m45.9/36.8/9.7m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph63/46/60/67dB62/49/65/70dB61/44/61/67dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range32.1/7.1/353 miles27.9/6.1/307 miles32.5/7.1/357 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 33.2/51.4/42.8mpg30.1/46.3/38.7mpg33.2/47.9/40.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 7.3/11.3/9.4mpl6.6/10.2/8.5mpl7.3/10.5/9.0mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket203/154g/km/27%234/170g/km/31%201/158g/km/28%
    
Airbags/Isofix/parking sensors/camSeven/yes/yes/£215Six/yes/yes/yesSeven/yes/yes/£265
Auto box/stab/adap cruise ctrl/AEB^Yes/yes/£515/£515**No/yes/no/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/£1,055/£360Yes/no/noYes/£1,750/£380
Metallic paint/xenons/adap dampers£575/LED/yes£525/LED/yes£560/yes/£830
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes

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