THE LAST OF ITS KIND |
The latest GTI and R models from Volkswagen’s eighth-generation Golf range are already available overseas, and, who knows, a Clubsport version or two may follow. But another TCR? Not likely.
Why? Well, the dedication Wolfburg’s racing department has shown towards the Touring Car Racing formula has tapered off somewhat, and the Limited Edition Golf GTI TCR was conceived solely to celebrate the brand’s success in the 2017 and 2018 TCR seasons.
The special TCR is also the swansong of the Golf 7 range (more than 40,000 units were sold in South Africa since launch in 2013, including 13,230 GTIs, making South Africa a top 10 market worldwide for Golf GTI), and has been made available here in five-door guise only.
Power & Speed
As the last hot GTI of its generation, one would expect it to be the most powerful, yet it isn’t. Its radical, pseudo-race car Clubsport S predecessor, with a Golf R-rivalling 228 kW under the hood, has more horses than the 213 kW delivered by the TCR-spec 2.0-litre TSI turbo-petrol engine.
Even so, the TCR is quicker off the line – reaching 100 km/h in only 5.6 seconds compared to the 5.9 seconds of the Clubsport S – in most part thanks to its kerb weight of less than 1,350 kg and its 6-speed DSG transmission. This makes it the fastest-accelerating Golf ever to wear the GTI badge – a distinction it may carry for the rest of what’s left of the ICE age.
Its top speed is limited to 250 km/h, but the TCR Performance Pack (as our model, in Pure Grey with a distinctive hexagonal pattern on the sides, was endowed with) ups the speedo to 264 km/h. So, besides its impressive straight-line performance figures, what else sets this final Golf 7 GTI derivative apart from its lesser siblings?
Looks Are Everything
Well, from the outside, it is immediately distinguishable by a new front splitter and rear diffuser, new side skirts and sill extenders, attractive black 19” Reifnitz alloy wheels, red perforated disk brakes, matte black exterior mirror caps and a TCR roof spoiler.
Inside, Alcantara sports seats with red and black fabric and TCR detailing replaces the tartan pattern found in normal GTIs. The seats have prominent side bolsters, and the floor mats have black and red stitching, while the pool lights – which project the TCR logo onto the ground when the front doors are opened – is a nice touch.
Alcantara is also used in the door inserts and on the gear lever. Additional interior features include climatronic air-conditioning, red ambient light strips, an exclusive sports steering wheel, a digital display, and a central touch screen infotainment system with a special Active Info Display function.
Unlike its Clubsport S precursor, the TCR is practical, as it does not come with a space limiting roll cage but has a full complement of rear seats. It also features Dynamic Chassis Control with driving profile selection, Parallel Park Assist and LED headlights as standard. Oh, and each one has a unique number, placed under the GTI logo at the rear.
On the Road
One would expect the GTI TCR to have an even more aggressive engine note than the Clubsport S. On the contrary. The lack of drama in terms of engine noise is somewhat disappointing. While idling, the engine burbles like that of a standard Golf, and it potters calmly and quietly around town in Eco mode.
However, its demeanour changes as soon as you really start pushing the right pedal. Then the meek little hatch suddenly becomes a demonic street-racer with an unwavering power surge from low down in the rev range right up to the red line. The DSG is well matched to the engine with superfast, almost imperceptible gear changes as the GTI rapidly gathers momentum.
Select Sport mode, and the exhaust starts popping and banging, the engine note takes on a menacing (all-natural) tone, and the car comes alive as the active suspension, and limited-slip diff work their magic on corners. With massive grip upfront, the turning-in behaviour of the TCR is razor-sharp, and even with the accelerator planted to the floor, there is virtually no trace of understeer.
Yes, with all that power, it does struggle a little for grip on low-friction surfaces, but this is to be expected, and it is easily resolved with some nifty right-foot modulation. The GTI TCR offers an unadulterated driving experience in all conditions – and in my view, is the ultimate expression of the hot hatch creed.
No, it is not the most powerful (the new Golf 8 R delivers a whopping 235 kW and 420 Nm and a Megane RS Trophy 220 kW) nor the fastest (the new Golf R’s claimed 0-100 km/h sprint time is 4.7 seconds) but it is the most usable and practical hot hatch on the road today. It is suitable for the everyday commute but just as prepared for a quick, exhilarating blast over twisty mountain passes.
The TCR encapsulates all things GTI in an attractive, exciting yet pragmatic package. It may be the last of its kind, but it is also the best of its generation. So, if you are one of the privileged 300 that get your hands on this hardcore, yet still pragmatic GTI, hold onto it for dear life; it is destined to become a classic and a very sought-after collectors’ car.
Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © VOLKSWAGEN SA