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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Price: £31,000Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, 345bhp
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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.
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|Honda Civic Type R GT
|VW Golf GTI Clubsport DSG
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