The GTI just got better: Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR first drive

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I’ll be honest, the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR was a car that pretty much slipped under my radar when it was announced. Don’t get me wrong, I was aware of it, but I never actually got around to giving it a proper look. A few weeks back however, I finally did, plus I got to drive it as well.

What is the TCR?

Well, the name comes from the motorsport discipline Touring Car Racing, which at first strikes up an image that this new car is going to be a stripped out track version for those looking to compete in a race series. No, in fact, it’s every bit as practical and refined as the standard GTI, but with a bit more power, and unlike the famous Clubsport Edition 40, it retains its rear seats. It won’t be sold in limited numbers, either, so it won’t be as rare or as exclusive as the Clubsport Edition 40.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

What the TCR is then, is a swansong for the Mk7.5 GTI, a greatest hits, if you like. It uses the same 2.0 litre found in the GTI Performance, only it offers more power, plus it’s also a little lighter. Oh, you can also have it in a not-at-all-audi-nardo-grey ‘Pure Grey’ paint finish. Let’s leave the colour swatches alone for the time being, though, and talk about the important stuff – how fast is it?

A halfway house

As stated, the TCR offers more power than the GTI Performance, but not quite as much as the Golf R, so the TCR is a bit of a halfway house, not that that’s anything to complain about of course. It may well be the same engine used in the GTI Performance, but thanks to a bit of fettling here and there, it now churns out 290hp instead of 245hp, with a torque figure of 380Nm – 10 more than the GTI Performance.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
No manuals to be had here, I’m afraid.

This power is mated to the front wheels via a 7-speed DSG (no option for a manual, I’m afraid) and all these elements combined mean a 0-62 time of 5.6 seconds – 0.6 seconds faster than the GTI Performance – and on to a top speed of 155mph. However, if you hand VW a bit more money – a cool £2,000 – you can get the top speed increased to a sportscars-baiting 164mph.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

The same optional pack – called the GTI TCR Performance Pack – also gives you 19-inch Reifnitz alloy wheels, suspension lowered by 20 mm and Dynamic Chassis Control. Like the standard GTI, the TCR can be had a sporty three door, or you can have a more practical five door body shape if you prefer.

Assured and confident, but a bit down on thrills

It doesn’t take you too long to work out just how sorted the TCR is, but I suppose this should come as little surprise. The power delivery is muscular, linear and there’s very little in turbo lag. As much as I would much rather have the 6-speed manual, there’s no denying that the DSG works well, offering slick and quick changes. This is bound to appeal to many, but keen drivers may miss that extra bit of involvement.

The seats not only look good, but they’re supportive and comfortable as well.

Another thing keen drivers may miss, is a bit of rawness. The GTI TCR is a very capable thing, and it’s got more polish than an Olympian’s medal, so it all feels very composed. Mind you, what else would you expect from a sporty Golf? Volkswagen has done a good job with this car as it sits lower in order to offer sharp handling, but the ride is compliant enough to use every day. Yes, it’s firm, but it’s not as busy as let’s say, a Renault Megane RS.

The flat-bottomed wheel features a red centre stripe inspired by the world of motorsport – I like that.

Threading the car through corners is an impressive exercise as there is plenty of grip to be had and the front end feels nimble, reacting quickly to inputs from the steering wheel. The steering feels positive, but I would personally want a bit more weight, but it’s worth noting I prefer my steering on the heavy side. Body roll is well contained and overall, the handling is assured and confident, but a bit down on thrills.

The GTI TCR gets stronger brakes for stronger stopping power.

The stopping power is better than the GTI Performance thanks to beefier brakes that use perforated discs and special brake pads, plus the engine has been given better cooling as it has two extra water radiators at the front – the same as the Golf R.

The black on grey is a strong look, but the decals are optional.

How much does it cost?

It would be natural to assume that this will cost you more than a GTI Performance, and you’d be right. The Golf GTI TCR has a starting price of £35,305, which makes it more than the Honda Civic Type R and the Renault Megane RS. It’s also frighteningly close to the Golf R, which starts from £36,150. The model tested here, thanks to some options, is over £41,000, which is a fair amount to shell out for a GTI, TCR or not. It’s worth bearing in mind that the TCR is not a limited model, so it’s not as if only a certain number will be made.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

Should you buy one?

If you’re looking for a GTI but yearn for more power but you don’t fancy the four wheel drivetrain of the R, then the TCR should be right up your street. For others, this is likely to feel like the Mk7.5 GTI that should had have been made in the first place – although that would have put the power too close to the R – however, I feel many will still be happy with the GTI Performance, especially as you’ll be saving a bit of money in the process.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR

The GTI TCR, though, is an accomplished car that is likely to quickly earn your respect, although if you want a hot hatch with more involvement I’d say you’re better off looking elsewhere. However, the grown up, refined nature of the TCR is bound to appeal, plus it also takes what is good about the GTI Performance and builds on it further.

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