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New Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR 2019 review

New Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR 2019 review
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Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR - front

18 Jan, 2019 10:15am

Is the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR the best GTI yet? We get behind the wheel of the 286bhp hot hatch to find out...

Motorsport tie-ins are commonplace in the performance car world. Some have worked better than others: the brilliant Mitsubishi Evo VI Makinen Edition is revered by enthusiasts in a way that a Fiat Seicento with Michael Schumacher’s name scrawled along its sides, to be blunt, is not.

Volkswagen is the latest brand to get in on the act with the GTI TCR. Those three letters, new to a VW road car, stand for Touring Car Racing - a motorsport series in which the Golf GTI has scooped numerous driver and team’s titles across a range of national and international championships.

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They’re also attached to a car that can be considered a final flourish for the Mk7.5 Golf GTI before the new eighth-gen version appears later this year. So where does the TCR rank among the road racing specials, Golf GTIs and - perhaps most importantly - its current rivals?

As a category from which to draw a connection from race to road, TCR makes plenty of sense. To keep costs at a sensible level, roughly 60-65 per cent of the racer’s parts are lifted directly from the road cars, and the engine is arguably the most significant of all. Of course, the race car engineers are allowed software, cooling and intake/exhaust tweaks to eke more power from the Golf’s 2.0-litre turbocharged EA888 unit, but the main block and internals are close to identical. Even the standard 7-speed DSG gearbox is used by some teams, as the rules allow a small weight break over the alternative race-spec sequential.

For the road-going TCR, the overall output stands at 286bhp and 380Nm of torque. That’s 44bhp and 10Nm more than the existing Golf GTI Performance, if not quite a match for the racer’s 345bhp and 420Nm. In the road car, the result is a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph, or 162mph with the optional vMax derestriction.

The suspension and brakes are more focussed than in the existing GTI Performance, too. The TCR sits 5mm closer to the ground than the Performance, and the steering calibration has been refined to produce sharper turn-in and a more progressive feel. The brakes match the spec of those used by the limited-run Clubsport S: the drilled steel discs feature alloy centres to reduce rotating masses, and they’re gripped by heavier-duty pads.

A couple of option packs add further focus. The first adds 19-inch wheels in place of the standard 18-inch items and adaptive dampers, which at the back gain a more aggressive tune regardless of driving mode. The second package adds lighter 19-inch wheels wrapped in super-sticky Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres. All TCRs feature the same locking differential as the existing GTI.

These changes all join forces to make the TCR a devastatingly quick on track. The cars we sampled around Portimao Circuit were equipped with the grippier Cup 2 tyres, and they deliver a huge amount of grip. It’s most noticeable on corner exit: where many rivals would be scrabbling for grip, the mix of tyres and that differential sling you out of each second gear turn with no drama. It’s not as playful as the Honda Civic Type R, but it’s incredibly effective.

Out on the road - and on more road-biased tyres - the TCR is just as impressive. While much of the Portuguese test route covered smooth tarmac, what few bumps cropped up revealed a ride that, though firm, could never be described as uncomfortable. Switch the driving mode to Sport and the adaptive dampers tense up yet remain compliant, producing comfort that’s more than adequate - enthusiastic cornering still causes the dampers to stiffen up, delivering excellent body control.

The only gripe, and it’ll be a big one for some, is the lack of a manual gearbox. Yes, the DSG shifts quickly when you’re pressing on, but it lacks the satisfaction of a well-timed heel-and-toe downshift that makes most hot hatches so engaging.

Still, it’s one of the things that makes the TCR easy to live with, a quality that’s also helped by the huge range of adjustment for the seat and the steering wheel plus a generous kit list. Front assist, VW’s digital instruments and LED headlights are all standard.

To hint at its extra ability, the GTI TCR gets a few cosmetic tweaks that separate it from the Performance. On the outside, this means a deeper front splitter, lower side sills, and an aggressive rear diffuser and wing. Special TCR badging can be found along the car’s flanks, while unique honeycomb graphics, first seen on the TCR concept at the Worthersee festival in 2018, are optional. The same goes for carbon door mirror covers (black items are standard) and a contrasting black roof. There’s four colours to choose from: Black, red, white, and - unique to the TCR - the gloss ‘Pure Grey’.

The TCR’s interior gets a new microfibre/cloth upholstery on the seats complete with a red/grey colour scheme, while the steering wheel features extra red touches like the 12 o’clock marker and leather stitching.

Prices are yet to be confirmed, but expect to pay around £34,000 when the car makes it to UK dealers in March. Unlike the Clubsport S, this won’t be a limited-run special, and both three- and five-door models will be offered.

So where does the GTI TCR stand in the current hot hatch hierarchy? Today’s benchmark is the Civic Type R which, thanks to a delightful manual gearbox, will, for many, add a level of interaction which the Golf can’t beat. However, the Golf is almost as sharp yet more comfortable, has a better infotainment system and styling that’s less divisive.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR manages to take all of the things we love about the regular GTI Performance and lift them to the next level. While it might not quite feel as playful as the Honda Civic Type R - nor quite as fast - it’s a hugely capable machine that can thrill on road or track. Some might miss the lack of a manual gearbox, but it does make it easier to live with every day. Either way, this is absolutely the best Golf GTI - and by extension, the best Golf - you can buy right now.

  • Model: Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
  • Price: £34,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power/torque: 286bhp/380Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
  • Top speed: 162mph
  • Economy/CO2: TBC
  • On sale: March

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