Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR is, a Volkswagen Golf GTI. That’s not an entirely fair representation of the car as a whole, but it gets to the nub of the car’s heritage pretty quickly. We all know the story of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and if you really don’t you can check out our video on it here.
What we might not expect you to know is the history of those three letters just behind GTI. So what does TCR stand for? Well pretty simply, Touring Car Racing. It’s sometimes completely impossible to work out the maze of touring car regulations down the years – are we running to Group A? Group 2? Super Touring? NGTC? Tin-top racing has changed its regs more times than I’ve had hot dinners. But TCR is the current regulations used by what used to be the World Touring Car Championship, and in essence is a very near-spec form of racing. It’s been wildly popular since it was introduced in 2014, and now can be found racing everywhere from the IMSA support series in the US to the Nürburgring 24.
So why a Golf GTI TCR? Well there are now at least 24 manufacturers represented in TCR racing, some with cars they make themselves, some with cars developed by independent teams. Volkswagen are one of the manufactures which has developed its car itself, and when they had to pick a model to race, they chose the Golf. So, now the MK7.5 Golf is ready to make its way out, it’s time for a runout edition of the GTI – that car is the road-going GTI TCR.
The GTI TCR has everything the Golf GTI comes with, plus some extra things splashed here and there. To differentiate it from the standard GTI it has some natty graphics on the side (these can be removed) and has been beefed up a little in the looks department. As standard it comes with 18-inch alloys, TCR motifs splashed liberal around the interior and a special Alcantara gear gater and door insert. There’s even a little ‘TCR’ puddle light on the wing mirrors…
The interior is more sober than the exterior, not coming with the normal GTI’s vibrant tartan seats, instead adding a slightly differing take on the iconic fabric. That exterior though will get you noticed. The GTI has sprouted a small splitter, side skirts, a little rear spoiler and even a rear diffuser. Those decals by the way are a £550 addition.
As you would expect from a Golf the interior is incredibly well thought out, featuring VAG’s latest iteration of the entirely digital dash, and an incredibly intuitive infotainment system, featuring Sat-Nav, climate control and a reversing camera, all the things you’d expect from a high-spec Golf.
The TCR isn’t a Golf R, but it isn’t a standard GTI either. The GTI has gradually got meatier as it has gone through life, and now you would expect to find nearly 250bhp if you bought the Performance version. The TCR elevates itself from its GTI siblings with 290PS (286bhp) and 380Nm (280lb ft), meaning you can now sprint to 62mph in 5.6 seconds and on to 164mph.
Some of you may be remembering the last runout edition Clubsport 40 and thinking that those figures sound similar. Well the difference is simple: the Clubsport had to go into its short reserve of overboost to get that power, the TCR has it on tap at all times.
That’s routed through Volkswagen’s natty electronically-closing, mechanic front differential. That means that while the TCR will never be able to demand the same grip as the Golf R, it does a damn good job at trying. The TCR feels secure as you corner, but rather than leaving you a passenger, demands a little respect as you go. The front-wheel-drive nature never always showing through the incredible performance.
That means that you can attack a corner in the TCR. But where the R would haul itself round, shooting power off to whichever wheel needed it, the TCR will break traction at the front at times. It’ll also do so when you floor it, but thankfully torque steer is kept to minimum, unlike some of its competitors, which try and drag you all over the shop like a desperate wrestler.
The thing about the TCR is that its performance comes with care. This is not a lairy chuck-it-around hooligan, speed comes with precision, which can be as rewarding as a proper chuck-fest when you get it right. The TCR won’t whisk you to where you’re going like the R does, instead it’ll do everything with ease – shifts from the seven-speed DSG ‘box are barely noticed and the torque comes from just 1,800rpm – while adding a little bit more engagement.
The current Golf GTI is nearly at the end of its life, and every GTI needs a proper send off. The TCR is a fitting goodbye to another fantastic chapter in the Golf story. It looks aggressive, it feels almost effortlessly fun, without taking you too far from the experience. If the next generation GTI will be a step up from this then it should be pretty special, we’ll just do without those decals…