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2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Performance Review

Volkswagen's last Mk7.5 Golf GTI also happens to be its most performance focused. How does it hold up on the track?

1 month ago
Comments
Chris Atkinson
Performance Editor
PROS
  • Challenging and fun to drive at the same time
  • Well matched engine and gearbox for the track
  • Reactive chassis feeling
CONS
  • Brake pedal feeling changes on track
  • Could use improved damper control
  • Performance is limited by traction

The Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR is a fitting end to the seventh-generation Golf platform and presents a package unique enough to warrant interest from existing GTI owners, and people who want something different and more track-focused.

How does it stack up in the hands of our very own Chris Atkinson?

Overall Track Performance

It’s great to see Volkswagen take aim at the motorsport world with the Golf GTI TCR. This is a big step up in a lot of areas compared to a standard GTI, which offers its own challenges in terms of putting that performance to the ground.

The TCR is engaging and challenging at the same time. All the driver’s focus has to be used to get the most out of the car on the track. If you’re after something a bit different and don’t mind a challenge, this could be the car for you!

Overall Road Performance

There’s no denying the GTI TCR is not only fast, but a very capable car both on road and track. It did a very reasonable lap time around our track, and on the road you can extract a great deal of performance… so long as you’re willing to drive it according to the laws of physics.

You see, having some 213kW of power and 350Nm of torque going through the front axle leads to a fair bit of torque steer.

Even using launch control it’s evident the Golf GTI TCR could go faster if it wasn’t spinning its wheels in first and second gear. You can try and feed the throttle in more gently but the best 0-100km/h time we got was by using the launch system, holding the accelerator flat, and letting the car work it out.

This is the sort of car where you need start unwinding the steering before applying the throttle, and even then it needs to be very progressive. Sudden stabs of the right pedal will result in understeer and torque steer, which is not the case in the Golf R.

The other aspect of this car is its ability to turn in easier than the regular GTI, so long as you get your braking and entry point right.

During our run through Mount Glorious we found the GTI TCR settles more nicely than the regular car, no doubt thanks to its 5mm lower suspension, and the rear came around with more grace so long as we timed the corner right, meaning a quicker exit out of the corner and the ability to carry higher speeds.

It’s not an easy car to drive fast but once you get the hang of its handling characteristics, it can be quite fun and an interesting challenge.

MORE: 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR review

Engine

We have already experienced this 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine in the Audi S3, with the same 213kW of power and 30Nm less torque, with a claimed peak of 350Nm. Unlike in the S3, I wouldn’t ask for much more power or torque as driving the TCR is more a game of how to manage the delivery of that power through the front wheels. 

The fact the torque peak starts at 1700rpm and goes all the way up to 5800rpm in one way is nice because you always have it available. But it also means you really have to manage your throttle application as you can create wheel spin whenever you want.  

The torque and power bands have overlap well and offer a feeling of smooth effortless power, which worked really well on the track.

For day-to-day driving it’s a great power plant. It’s user-friendly and flexible, but for the track I would have liked something a bit more reactive and involving. I wanted to feel like I was really taking it to the limit not always having to think about managing grip.

Braking

The consistency of the braking system was really good, which is what you want for a track-focused car. I didn’t love the feeling of the pedal and would like something that offered more feedback from road so I could manage the pedal pressure a bit better. 

My suspicion is that the Brake Assist system (which works with ABS and increases brake pressure during heavy braking, to make sure the pedal is used fully in an emergency) is actually causing some of these on-track feelings. It doesn’t give you the ability to completely control what is happening. 

Despite all this, the overall the braking was solid and I could push hard on every lap, which is a great thing. 

Chassis

I enjoyed the TCR on the track and it had some of the trademarks of the racers that inspired its name. It was nice and reactive, and I could attack changes of direction with good response and control.

It was also a challenge to set a good time, where I had to manage the balance of the brakes, steering, and throttle all the way through the corner like I was on a tightrope. It was a little bit nervous in the rear and initially turned in well, but if I overcommitted on entry I would get some understeer and ruin the exit   

When the car was loaded laterally it had really good grip and support, but it was important not to ask too much of the front on entry as it still had a tendency to go towards understeer.

You really had to focus on keeping the weight on the nose and release the brake pedal smoothly to get the car to rotate. I personally would have liked the chassis to be a bit more oversteer-biased, and have a rake and balance shift more towards the front to help carry corner speed.

Transmission and Differentials

The transmission was good, and I actually felt like the six-speed variant was a better match for track driving than the seven-speed in the Golf R and GTI.

When you have a wide torque curve you can get away with wider gearing and always fall into a good area of the engine for performance, while also saving on upshifts. 

For track use I would have liked a bit more control over the electronically-controlled mechanical differential, but it’s tough to manage that much power and torque without making the car impossible to drive daily.

You really need to control the slip across the axle very early and you would need some constant pre-loading on the differential to achieve this, but this pre-load would have other consequences that would not be suitable for life on the road.

Suspension

Damper-wise I feel like Volkswagen could have pushed the limit a bit further for this car, I still think it’s focused on comfort rather than outright performance.

The way the front would lose grip occasionally points to being a little under-damped and allowing for a bit too much movement. I think this could have been easily dialled out of the car. 

When leaning on the exit kerbs there was a tendency for a bit of oversteer, which again seems to indicate the dampers were lacking support. 

I am really picking at the finer details here and Volkswagen has not gone too hard on the upgrades. Instead it has pointed it slightly more in a track direction compared to a normal GTI.

Steering

The steering feedback is quite nice, and I had a decent feeling for front grip which is so important in a car like this. It also had a nice precise feeling on the track which aligns well with the TCR branding of the car.  

Wheels and Tyres

The Continental Conti Sport Contact 5P tyres are not bad, but I felt like this car would have suited a more progressive tyre. The good thing about them was that the drop off wasn’t bad at all, and I could still do fast laps at the end of the run. 

Driver Aids (Electronics)

I drove the hot laps with traction control off and in restricted stability control mode, and I had all the other settings in sport mode. I think it’s great to have the option of keeping some stability control while removing the traction control.

Too often you have to remove both at the same time and I think many people would be hesitant to do this on a track with their own car. If you’re going to take your Golf GTI TCR to a track, I would have no problem recommending this setting. 

Learning to drive a front-wheel drive car without traction control is one of the best things you can do to understand grip and learn the importance of throttle control. 

Cockpit (Ergonomics)

I felt the seating position was good, but again for the track they front seats could have offered more lateral support and been a little bit lower.

With that said, in a front-wheel drive car I don’t mind being a more on top of the car – you’re driving more from the nose rather than looking for squat and using the rear more. 

I really liked the steering wheel; the size and shape were spot on and it had a real race car feel to it. This really fits nicely with the overall feel of the car

A bit of an ongoing issue for me – it’s happened in both the Audis we’ve tested, and now the Volkswagen – is that I keep catching my shoe on the brake pedal as I swap off the accelerator.

This time I missed a corner because of it. I need the brake pedal to sit a bit more in-line with the accelerator and have to make a conscious effort to lift my foot and get on top of the brake.

I’m not sure if this is just me, so I’m really interested to know if anyone else has had a similar issue.

This is definitely not a problem for everyday use, but if I was to track one of these cars regularly I would want to do something about it!

Lap Time

I really think there’s so much potential in the Golf GTI TCR and it definitely wasn’t out of its depth on the test track.

The lap time of 61.29 isn’t at the top of the overall leaderboard, but it’s the first of the front-wheel drive hot hatches to tackle the track and I have a feeling it will take something pretty special in that class to knock it from its spot.

Atko’s 3: 

  1. Really start to open the wheel and flatten the car before getting on the throttle
  2. Don’t over commit on corner entry, you will ruin the exit
  3. Turn the traction control off to get a big lesson in throttle control

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MRLP A$51,490
7.5L
213kW
172g
5 ★