Later on this year Volkswagen will unveil the eighth-generation Golf, the latest version of the world’s most enduring hatchback. Soon after that a new Golf GTI will emerge, making the current model very much yesterday’s news. But until that happens, the Golf GTI that you’ll still find in showrooms today remains such an accomplished and broadly-capable machine that for most drivers and most situations, it leaves only inconsequential boxes unticked.
It’s that good. Over the years there have been so many versions of the Mk7 Golf GTI that to recall them all and understand exactly how they dovetail with one another, you really to need to be a Volkswagen swot. Briefly, there is (or at least was, because you can’t order it anymore) the standard Golf GTI, then the GTI Performance with a little more power and extra kit. Then there was the rather special 2016 GTI Clubsport Edition 40, which celebrated 40 years of the GTI badge, and soon after that VW gave us the GTI Clubsport S, which was so special it did without rear seats entirely and sat on extremely expensive Ohlins suspension. With more than 300bhp, it remains the most powerful Golf GTI ever.
WHAT IS THE VW GOLF GTI TCR?
And finally, as one last hurrah for the seventh-generation Golf, Wolfsburg is manufacturing this, the Golf GTI TCR. It has the same 286bhp as the Edition 40 – not exactly an earth-shattering power figure for a hot hatch these days but by any measure more than enough – and it’ll crack 62mph in just 5.6 seconds. For a car that drives only its front axle, that’s remarkably quick. Curiously, the GTI TCR is only available with a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, so if you want a manual shifter in your quick Golf, you’ll be stuck with the GTI Performance.
This latest model takes its name from the relatively new Touring Car Racing motorsport category, which incorporates national championships right across the globe as well as an international series. VW has had no small amount of success in TCR, nationally and internationally, and this car hopes to cash in on that success.
It gets VW’s clever electronically-controlled LSD, which does a superb job of deploying the 2.0-litre turbo engine’s muscle even in slippery conditions, but over and above the Edition 40 it also gets uprated brakes, retuned springs and dampers and a slightly lower ride height. The objective was to make the TCR just a little bit keener and more agile than other GTIs. If that’s what matters most, you can in fact take your TCR one or two steps further by specifying sportier adaptive dampers and an even lower ride height, or sportier adaptive dampers and an even lower ride height plus sticky track day tyres.
THE KIT LIST
Apart from the hexagonal decals splashed across the car’s doors (you can choose to go without these if preffered) the TCR is distinguished from lesser GTIs by a subtle aerodynamic bodykit. In all honesty it’ll do very little to influence the car’s performance, but it does tie the road car into VW’s Golf competition machine. Inside you’ll spot red flashes over the seats, plus Alcantara trim here and there. It’s a fairly sombre cabin, but the quality is beyond reproach and the standard infotainment system is very good.
Dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, a rear parking camera and keyless go are all included in the £34,135 asking price. As are various safety systems such as radar cruise control with emergency braking assist, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition. There is a complete range of driving modes as well, meaning the TCR is not only very safe, but also quite happy in whatever driving situation the car might find itself in – urban crawl, motorway slog, back road blast. You name it. Having said that, if you do a lot of motorway miles or drive more often than you’d like on badly maintained roads, you’ll think the optional switchable dampers £875 well spent.
DRIVING THE VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI TCR
Once the wheels are rolling, the TCR is very good indeed. On those uprated dampers at least the ride is comfortable and relaxed, the car as a whole no more taxing to drive day-to-day than any other Golf, GTI or otherwise. Though it might lack a little character or a really stirring soundtrack, the turbocharged engine is brilliantly effective with lots of power and torque and immediate throttle response. The DSG gearbox is excellent too.
What that revised chassis confers, with its bespoke spring and damper rates and slightly lower ride height, is a sharper, more connected driving experience once the road opens up. It certainly isn’t night and day compared with the GTI Performance, but the TCR does marry body control, agility and steering precision to everyday usability quite brilliantly. The TCR is like a Golf GTI, only more so.
What it isn’t is a nailed on future classic. The GTI Clubsport S very much is, thanks to its utterly uncompromising approach to speed and performance, which perhaps means the TCR will always be remembered as the bridesmaid of the Mk7 Golf GTI range. But it is a masterful hot hatch nonetheless and a very fine way to wave farewell to the seventh-generation Golf.
VW Golf GTI TCR
Price: from £34,135. As tested £38,204
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 36.2mpg (combined)
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