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VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 8 R & GOLF 7.5 GTI TCR

Although the Golf name is now secured for the immediate future, the new generation of vehicles carrying the GTI moniker will likely be very different from the current range, set to continue until 2028. As possibly the last of their kind (excepting a facelift and some special models), we gaged the imposing new R against what we still view as the best of the GTIs.

For Volkswagen, the letter ‘R’ is associated with the pinnacle in performance –underlined with the launch of the latest R – the most powerful production Golf to date. Endowed with 235 kW and 400 Nm of torque, the dynamic flagship of the eighth Golf generation has nearly 60 kW more power and 80 Nm more twisting force than its Mk 4 R32 predecessor, released 20 years ago.

Also, the new Golf R is, for the first time, more powerful than the originator of the Audi RS brand, the RS2 Avant (232 kW and 410 Nm of torque), first introduced nearly 25 years ago. And with the R-Performance option (as used in the recently introduced “20 Years” model), it packs a heady 245 kW and 420 Nm of torque.

Interestingly, the latest estate version of the Golf R also delivers 420 Nm of torque – making the variant (perhaps unwittingly so) the spiritual successor to its sister brand’s iconic first RS model. Unfortunately, we will not see the R Variant in South Africa (although I am convinced a limited number of the estate model will sell out in a heartbeat).

So much more the pity, as the more powerful, more dynamic, more efficient, and more digital new R is a revelation compared to the Golf 8 GTI and the previous 228 kW Mk 7.5 R model. With the Golf nameplate set to continue after the current eighth generation, probably with electrified internal combustion powertrains, the dynamics of the latest R is a revelation.

With its new all-wheel-drive system and high-tech running gear (plus revised and upgraded infotainment touchscreen controls), the new R manages to salvage some of the Mk 8 GTI’s lost prestige, following the software troubles and user-unfriendliness experienced with its onscreen control system.

BLUE DYNAMITE

Utilising VWs tried and true 2.0-litre four-cylinder EA 888 engine in its highest state of tune, the new R (even without the optional, unnecessarily noisy Akrapovič exhaust system) is uncannily fast. Using R mode and launch control, the hottest hatch from Wolfsburg scoots unfussed and orderly to 100 km/h in a supercar-challenging 4.7 seconds.

Besides a more stringent bellow from the quad exhausts and a slight squabble as the trick drivetrain distributed the power output to the four wheels, acceleration runs were devoid of drama. The R pulled strongly up to its (limited) top speed of 250 km/h (our test unit came without the optional Black Performance Package with drift mode, an increased top speed of 270 km/h, and black 19” Estoril alloys).

Options on our already comprehensively specced Lapiz Blue Metallic Golf R included IQ Light LED Matrix headlights, Travel Assist, a rear-view camera, blind spot monitor with Rear Traffic Alert and Lane Assist, Parallel Park Assist and a bespoke Harmon Kardon sound system – adding another about R43,000 to its (not yet confirmed) list price.

The biggest difference between the latest R and its 228 kW Mk 7.5 predecessor (besides the few extra horses under the hood) is the new 4Motion system with R-Performance Torque Vectoring now controlling the power distribution to the wheels. In a world first, this is now networked via a Vehicle Dynamics Manager (VDM) with other systems such the electronic differential locks (XDS) and adaptive chassis control (DCC). 

Thanks to the close integration of the different systems and a new rear final drive for the DSG, distributing power not only between the front and rear axles, but also variably between the two rear wheels, the new R offers optimum traction control and exemplary handling traits.

At speed through tight corners and sweeping bends, the neutral stance of the uber-Golf, with virtually no detectable body roll, and its pinpoint precision following the desired line gives it the type of agility few other cars can emulate. However, with the go-faster modes and setting dialled back, the hugely capable pocket rocket is equally content pottering around town at pedestrian speeds. 

Perhaps our only gripe is the R’s somewhat harsh ride quality in sportier modes due to its low ride height and wide tyres not coping with our deteriorating road surfaces. Even so, its breadth of ability is astounding, making it a driver’s car par excellence and the best derivative in the extensive chronicles of Golf.

FROM R TO TCR

Which brings us to the GTI TCR, released locally in 2019. Essentially a final limited edition of the seventh generation Golf series (with only 300 earmarked for South Africa), its name, inspired by the racing Golf of the same name (twice the overall winner of the international Touring Car Racing series), is a slight misnomer, as it evokes the wrong expectations.

Perhaps GTI Final Edition would have been a better description, as some die-hard Golf fans were disappointed with its performance when compared to the edgy, race-ready 221 kW GTI Clubsport S. Yet, unlike the special three-door two-seat model, the TCR was not designed to be a race car for the road but rather as a sharper version of the GTI Performance.

With 213 kW of power – a full-time peak unlike the ‘boost’ peak of the former GTI Clubsport – and 380 Nm of torque compared to the 180 kW for the Golf 7 GTI Performance (and the latest eighth-generation GTI), the TCR is still the quickest GTI – blasting from zero to 100km/h in a spirited 5.6 seconds and on to a top speed of as much as 260 km/h.

To help wring every ounce out of the lively front-wheel drive TCR, the front axle, with increased negative camber, has a mechanical differential lock, perforated brake discs are standard, as well as a titanium Akrapovič exhaust system and driving profile selection. 

Standing next to the new R, the Tornado Red GTI TCR (even without the optional performance package) looked the part with its special front splitter, rear diffuser and TCR roof edge spoiler mark, 18” forged alloy wheels, black mirror caps, and unique honeycomb décor foil. Its interior, however, with racy sports seats, looked somewhat cluttered compared with the simple, clean layout of the R.

On the road, the TCR kept up well with the R, and felt solid and composed in the corners, but started to understeer when pushed too hard, and it lacked the grip and power of its four-wheel drive sibling when accelerating out of corners. Even so, trying to balance it on the edge of its dynamic envelope made it enormously fun to drive.

LAST WORD

This again confirmed our view that the TCR is the better GTI version than the latest Golf 8 GTI, and can still hold its own against the latest R. If you can get your hands on one (there are some second-hand units available at astronomical prices), do so. 

That said, we are also convinced Volkswagen will soon rectify the drawbacks of the current GTI with some even faster, and better, special GTI derivatives…in much the same way it has again raised the R bar with the special “20 Year” variant, making the anniversary model the fastest R of the last two decades.

A special thanks to avid Golf owner Charmaine Graven for making her GTI TCR available for this test.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © JIM FREEMAN/VOLKSWAGEN SOUTH AFRICA

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