The Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR is the swansong for the Mark 7.5 (and, really, the Mark 7). With Golf R power and a few tweaks. Blimey.
For reasons that will become obvious to that third of responses, the other two thirds say, “Volkswagen Golf GTI.” It should already be obvious because the Golf GTI’s reign has been long and, for the last three generations, under determined assault. If you knock over the GTI, you knock over the king.
Mention some of those other cars in the same the breath as the GTI and it kicks off in the comments. People get mad.
Volkswagen, however, doesn’t get mad. Instead of chasing the big power numbers of the other cars, the GTI has steadily, but carefully wound up the engine while keeping what makes the Golf GTI the standard – terrific chassis, great interior and excellent engineering and quality.
Some of those other cars hit one or two of the GTI’s key qualities, but never all three.
To see out the long-lived Mark 7/7.5 however, VW has responded quietly with the last-of-line GTI TCR, named for the growing hatchback racing formula. And as the company calmly points out, it’s the fastest GTI they’ve ever made.
How much is a VW Golf GTI TCR and what do I get?
Golf GTI: $46,690
Golf GTI TCR: $51,490
As you can see, at $51,490, you’re adding almost $4800 to the price of a standard GTI. At first glance not much is different, but the mechanical package does have some notable changes (see below).
You get 19-inch alloy wheels, an eight-speaker stereo, adaptive cruise with lane guidance, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, dual zone climate control, sat nav, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, part-digital dash, front and rear parking sensors, cooled glovebox, auto parking, leather wheel and shifter, powered everything apart from the seats and a space-saver spare.
VW’s media system does duty on an 8.0-inch screen and is as slick as ever it has been. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is always welcome and the system features some suitably racy bits and pieces for the stats nerds.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, 2013/2017)
The TCR comes with eight airbags (which includes knee bags for both front occupants), blind-spot monitoring, forward AEB (low-speed with pedestrian detection), reversing AEB, forward and rear collision warning, driver attention detection, active lane keep assist, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Pretty solid package, I think you’ll agree, and you can add two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
The ANCAP rating dates back to 2013 because the car is mostly unchanged from the Golf 7 launched back then (the current model is known as 7.5) but updated in July 2017. I would place a hefty bet on the 7.5 scoring five stars under the current, stricter regime.
Warranty and Servicing
VW offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a year of roadside servicing.
You need to service a GTI every 12 months or 15,000km. You can choose pay as you go as part of VW’s assured pricing regime or you can prepay three or five years of servicing.
Three years costs $1350, saving between $88 and $282 off normal service pricing. It averages out at $450 per service.
Five years costs $2300 (with the first service free), saving between $497 and $879 off the pay-as-go, which averages out at $460 per service, which is consistent.
Look and Feel
One thing you know you’re getting with a Golf is a very understated look. This Golf has aged rather well and looks as fresh as the Golf 7 GTI I drove in 2014. Without, you know, shouting about it. There have been tweaks and the TCR sports a pretty big honeycomb/chequered flag graphic splashed down the side. I’m not sure if it’s my cup of whatever, but I’ve seen much worse (Renaultsport).
The interior has also aged impeccably, with a facelift for the 7.5 bringing tech and materials up to speed. I’ve never liked or understood the obsession with the Golf tartan, but I quite like the Alcantara material used on the seats (always favour that over leather) and the red marker on the steering wheel is a nice, racy touch.
Australian cars come fully-loaded with a ride height 25mm lower than a standard Golf and 5mm lower than a “standard” European market TCR with the fitment of the DCC adaptive dampers. It’s at this point you realise that this is, actually a lot of car for the money.
Added to that are the Golf R brakes and tweaked steering to make things a bit more direct.
Some very sharp-looking – as in actually sharp rather than metaphorically – aero devices adorn the front bumper and side skirts while there’s a massive diffuser out the back as well as a larger tailgate spoiler.
Also part of the value-for-money proposition, the 19-inch alloys (optional overseas) are wrapped in 235/35 Continental Contisportcontact tyres.
There’s a 2.0-litre turbo under the bonnet but things quickly get slightly complicated. It packs the same 213kW found in the all-wheel drive Golf R but sheds 30Nm to 350Nm compared to the engine found in overseas-delivered TCRs (you won’t miss it. Promise). Our engine doesn’t have a petrol particulate filter so we get the six-speed wet clutch DSG. I think that’s how it all worked out, I will confess to being thoroughly confused by all this.
The torque arrives at a commendably low 1750rpm, which fits between the revs you get it on a standard GTI (1600rpm) and an R (1800rpm).
The car also gets a stainless steel exhaust as part of the power upgrade package. Extra cooling borrowed from the Golf R stops the thing from cooking itself.
The TCR also has an electronically-controlled locking diff between the front wheels, which will be helpful in taming all that power.
So a bit of context…
Now, I have said to you on a number of occasions that I don’t find the Golf R particularly inspiring, much like I wasn’t the greatest fan of the old AMG A45. The R was better than the Merc which was just a really fast hatchback without a sense of humour.
The R is good fun but, sadly, less than the GTI when it came to involvement and fun. There’s something about all-wheel drive in some cars (just some) that stops you from feeling like you’re driving it through the corners and instead you’re just hanging on. The standard Nissan GT-R is a paragon of that feeling – devastatingly fast but not as much fun as it might be (and not just because of the all-wheel drive).
The Golf GTI is absolutely still the standard when it comes to the complete package. The i30 N is sharper and moves around a lot more and bangs and pops and carries on. Up till now, there’s been no DSG where the Golf defined and sold the concept to the world and the quality of the materials isn’t quite there. I don’t think that’s important to all hot hatch owners, but it’s enough for some.
So here we have what is – potentially – the best GTI ever made. Because you’ve got R power but the lighter, more playful chassis of the GTI, and then some. I recently said on a Carsguide podcast that while the GTI is brilliant, it needed more fun.
I said in the podcast that the GTI needs more fun. That fun comes in the form of the TCR. My word this car is fun.
You might think I say that because it’s faster, but it’s only a small part of what makes the TCR brilliant. Hot damn is it fast, but it’s the DCC suspension setup, the upgraded brakes and the hotted-up steering and nearly a decade of stability that deliver a terrific drive.
You can pile into corners with a good deal of speed on board, roll your wrists and the front goes with you. While you won’t be able to tell your passenger which coin you just ran over, you know enough about the surface to press on with confidence.
The TCR also has a rear end that’s keen to go with you when you want it to, helping you get the car pointing in the right direction with the right combination of braking and steering. It also does it all without any heavy-heaves when you hit big bumps or compressions, something a couple of its competition can learn from.
And it does all that until you call time, switching it back down to more normal roads, returning the TCR to a more normal Golf experience, with a supple ride, hushed cabin (even with the noisy tyres) and a cabin that looks like it will outlast the Kim dynasty by quite some margin.
The Honda Civic Type R has been around for a while now and it does not do subtle. While you can probably delete the TCR’s hexagons (I wouldn’t), you can’t really do much with the Civic which is pretty ugly no matter which way you cut it. It does alright as a daily driver but you can only get it in manual and it’s way more expensive. Lots of fun, though.
The i30 N replaced the Renaultsport Megane in my heart as the hard-edged hot hatch of choice. While it doesn’t look as good (now or post facelift), it’s got a good warranty behind it and will soon add an eight-speed twin-clutch to the mix. It’ll have to because Golf 8 is on the way and arguments about its tartan aside, it’s hardly like it’s not going to be any good, is it?
The Renaultsport Megane (oh, alright, Megane R.S.) has a lot going for it. Strong chassis in normal, Cup or Trophy spec, all-wheel steering trickery and a choice of obstructive six-speed manual or six-speed EDC auto. It’s lost the edge of the old car which makes it far more friendly for everyone, but that means it’s just part of the pack now. Oddly, it’s a far better car than the old one, but also expensive compared to the GTI, costing almost as much as the TCR.
The Ford Focus ST is a recent entrant in Australia and it’s a cracker. It’s a lot cheaper than the Golf but has a ton of power, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and a choice of manual or seven-speed automatic. But
I can’t think if a good reason not to buy this car. Even at $51,490, I reckon that’s a good deal because you’re getting all the power of a Golf R but with a more agile, more fun chassis.
And that’s what these cars are about, having a great chassis underneath you. The extra power is just a bonus.
I’m pleased that this car has wiped the smug smile of my face when I tell people how good the hot hatch market is and that Volkswagen is a bit too relaxed about its pre-eminent position. It takes the fight to the Civic Type R and i30 N and gives them a good run for their money.
And as it turns out, the new GTI Clubsport has this kind of power and potential. The Golf is fighting back.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.