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.
The ignorant would call it a sticker pack and nice paint job, but in reality the GTI TCR is actually fairly different to the regular GTI and more in keeping with the performance of the Golf R.
With more power, a lower ride, and a host of new features, it’s obvious this hot-hatch is meant to be tracked every once in a while – and for those wondering, we let CarExpert’s own racing driver, former Subaru WRC and current RallyCross man Chris Atkinson, loose behind the wheel.
That Performance Review with a full video and lap time will come out soon. For now though, we’re going to look at the GTI TCR from a road-going perspective.
As the fastest Golf GTI to come from Volkswagen, the TCR attracts a higher premium than the regular GTI.
You can expect to pay $51,490 before on-road costs for one of just 300 TCRs coming to Australia. That sits around $4800 above the regular GTI (from $46,690 before on-roads), around $4000 below the Golf R, and $6500 below the Golf R Final Edition.
For that extra roughly $5000 over the regular GTI there’s a host of new features. We’re big fans of the super cool TCR paint job (Pure Grey, pictured here) but are still undecided about the TCR decals, which feel a little underwhelming given they feel like aftermarket stickers.
The jury is out as to how they’ll age on the car, but you can always remove them later. If that doesn’t suit your taste, you can also pick Pure White or Tornado Red.
Features over the regular GTI Performance include:
- 19-inch ‘Reifnitz’ alloy wheels with 235/35 tyres – which we absolutely love as they look great in person
- Black mirror covers
- Honeycomb TCR decals
- Gloss black roof
- LED headlights with dynamic cornering light
- Dynamic light assist
- Premium LED tail lights with dynamic turn signal
- Sports cloth/microfibre seats
- Sports steering wheel in perforated leather and red 12 o’clock marker
- Seatbelts and floor mats with red accents
- Alcantara gearshift lever and door trim inserts
- Privacy glass
The only cost option is a panoramic glass sunroof, for which Volkswagen will sting you $1900.
The current-generation Volkswagen Golf on which the TCR is based was last tested by ANCAP in July 2017, where it received the maximum five-star safety rating.
It scored well with a frontal offset test score of 15.92 out of 16, side impact test score of 16.00 out of 16, and a pole test score of 2.00 out of 2. That brought the total safety score to 35.92 out of 36.
The Mk7 Golf hasn’t been retested since then, and the score may therefore not necessarily apply under the latest set of ever-evolving crash-test rules (which is normal as cars only get tested when they are first released or have a major update).
Given it comes standard with a host of active safety features including autonomous emergency braking, we feel confident recommending the Golf range from a safety perspective.
Although this GTI TCR is technically based on Golf 7.5 updated platform, the interior shares most of its aesthetics with the Golf 7 that came out all the way back in 2013.
As such, the interior feels a little out of date – especially when you compare it to something like the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, given the A250 starts at a very similar price of $51,500.
That’s not to say you will be disappointed, but if you’re expecting the absolute latest in technology, super high-resolution screens, and a car that will listen out for your commands, you may need to look elsewhere.
The Golf GTI TCR is all about what it delivers for the driver as a driving experience, rather than its technical gadgetry.
In saying all that, we loved the updated pattern on the seats and the interior still has that immediate wow factor for those unfamiliar with a GTI.
The steering wheel is still a delight to hold too, and the standard digital dash still makes a visual impact. Apple CarPlay and the infotainment system worked well enough for us to not be left wanting more.
There is plenty of storage options in the car, and the 380L (1270L if you flatten the rear seats) boot is definitely more than enough for most people. If you have kids, you can still fit a decent-sized pram but larger ones might be a squeeze.
You can comfortably fit four large adults in this car with plenty of leg- and headroom. The driver’s seating position took a little adjusting to get right and it still didn’t feel 100 per cent natural, but we got used to it eventually.
Overall, the GTI TCR’s interior is the best of the seventh-generation GTIs, but expect it will be well and truly surpassed by the upcoming Golf 8.
The Golf GTI are popular with aftermarket tuners, but in the case of the TCR Volkswagen has already done a bit of the tuning for you.
The updated 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine outputs 213kW of power between 5900 and 6400rpm, and 350Nm of torque from 1700 to 5800rpm. It’s down 20Nm of torque compared to the GTI Performance, which we believe is related to the fact it has a six-speed DSG gearbox rather than the seven-speed fitted to the regular GTI.
In an even stranger turn of events, the GTI TCR for Europe has 380Nm of torque and uses the seven-speed DSG and a petrol particulate filter, while ours has a six-speed transmission and comes without a filter, which isn’t a requirement to meet Australian emissions relations.
Volkswagen Australia told CarExpert the six-speed transmission has longer ratios that better suit its purpose of being a regular track car. Both systems use a wet-clutch setup.
All of that means the TCR matches the all-wheel drive Golf R in terms of power output, even though it weighs about 60kg less due to being front-wheel drive only.
Volkswagen claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds (0.1 seconds slower than European spec, and 0.6 seconds quicker than the GTI Performance).
We timed the GTI TCR using a VBox on track at 6.09 seconds for the 100km/h dash with a 60-120km/h time of 4.34 seconds, with launch control enabled and disabled. Over five runs, launch control returned the best time.
The upgraded performance front brakes with drilled rotors saw it do plenty of track laps without much fade and we recorded a 100-0km/h brake test of 2.9 seconds and 37.68m. As a comparison, the significantly more expensive Toyota Supra did 100-0km/h in 2.78 seconds and 34.89m.
Save the best until last
The fastest and greatest GTI ever made is still a GTI at heart.
Overall, the powertrain under the skin of the TCR can be further tuned substantially, although it’s worth noting Volkswagen tuners might tell you the six-speed gearbox may not handle additional torque as safely as the seven-speed.
To be perfectly fair, I’m not a fan of front-wheel drive hot hatches and for the extra few thousand, would probably pick a Golf R over the GTI TCR to get all-wheel drive.
Nonetheless, 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.
If you’re coming from another front-wheel drive vehicle then the GTI TCR may seem natural to you but for those coming from a rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, there’ll need to be some adjustment to your driving style.
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 TCR pumps out the now-common Volkswagen Group dual-clutch transmission gear shift noises, though it definitely sounds more pronounced than the regular GTI.
It does sound pretty good at full throttle but if you really want to extract the most noise and performance, a few thousand on tuning will change its character in its entirety.
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.
Nonetheless, we found it more at home track than on the super twisty mountain stuff – and perhaps that’s an indication of what the car is designed to do.
In terms of a daily driver, the TCR is still soft and compliant enough to be comfortable even on poorly surfaced roads. It can very much be used as a daily commuter.
This is a testament to the still unrivalled suspension engineering that has gone into this generation of Golf, whereby no other small car on the market rides as smoothly as the Volkswagen, without compromising its handling characteristics.
Like the regular GTI, the TCR requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km.
The first year will cost you $389, which increases to $525 for year two, $642 for the third year and $912 for the fourth year before the cycle repeats itself.
Like all Volkswagen vehicles sold in Australia, the Golf GTI TCR comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR is an amazing end to what has been the best generation of Volkswagen Golfs. If you have always wanted a seventh-generation GTI, this is undoubtedly the one to buy.
Given its limited, 300-strong run for our market, it will be a unique car in the Volkswagen world – even more so as it’s unique in its mechanical setup compared to the European cars. It’s a superb car that’ll put a smile on your face no matter the circumstance.
Even so, if you’re not attached to the GTI moniker or front-wheel drive and want outright performance, we’d perhaps suggest spending a bit more on the Golf R Final Edition.