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Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR (2012 - 2019) Review

The life-span of the VW Golf MK 7 is coming to a close with an all-new model being unveiled later this year, so what better send-off than to launch a race-inspired special edition car.

Starting price:
From £35,305

Pros:
  • Dynamic styling and performance to match
  • Packed with the latest technology
  • Available with three or five doors
Cons:
  • Lacks the all-wheel-drive offered by the Golf R
  • Pricey for a golf
  • Those honeycomb side decals are a love/ hate add-on
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Introduction

The Golf GTI TCR takes its inspiration from the race car of the same name - twice the overall winner of the international TCR (Touring Car Racing) series. It is the range-topper of the Golf family and is available in three or five-door body style.

The car looks the business with all its sporty styling cues and boasts a performance that matches the appearance. But, as is the Golf way, despite looking like a boy racer dream machine, the TCR actually remains quite practical with space for four occupants. Quite the all-rounder then.

On The Road

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Performance

We tested the five-door Golf GTI TCR which is powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine mated to a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The 290PS maximum power arrives at 5,400rpm while all 380Nm of torque is available from a mere 1,800rpm and remains on offer until 5,300rpm. Together with the rapid-fire, quick-shifting of the auto transmission, these power and torque statistics combine to make the GTI TCR feel as willing and responsive as the performance figures suggest. And on that matter, this car powers its way to 62mph from standing start in just 5.6 seconds, maxing out at a limited 155mph. A Performance Pack on our car derestricted the top speed limit, raising it to 164mph. So clearly the GTI TCR is not a car for the faint-hearted.

Despite being a seriously fast car, the Golf GTI TCR feels perfectly balanced and the grip as it powers through corners is unwavering. It may lack the all-wheel-drive of the Golf R model, but it still feels well planted.

There are different drive modes called Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual and these alter the manner in which the car behaves. In Eco, Comfort or Normal, it is perfectly composed. Switch across to Sport and it all becomes much livelier with rapid-fire gear changes and sharper responses. Steering wheel-mounted paddles offer extra driver control over the gear changing but, in all honesty, the gearbox is well timed for sharp shifting.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Ride Handling

Buy a hot hatch and it’s not going to be the ideal vehicle of choice when it comes to ride comfort and relaxation. After all, hot hatches are renowned for thrilling driving dynamics along with edge-of-the-seat excitement and the Golf GTI TCR is no exception to that rule.

Yes, when taken away from the high-speed track, the car shows its more mature character with gentler acceleration and less raucous behaviour. But unleash the car on the faster roads and it’s a completely different story. Our car was riding high on 19-inch alloys which formed part of the Performance Pack, but even with the larger wheels, the ride was completely controlled.

Corners and tight bends can be attacked with confidence and the astonishing levels of grip make this front-wheel-drive model irresistible to any true driving enthusiast.

The Performance Pack also introduced sports suspension that is lowered by 20mm and Dynamic Chassis Control with a choice of suspension settings called Sport, Normal or Comfort. On the road, the suspension takes the edge off uneven surfaces and although the ride can be quite firm, it’s still a fairly comfortable vehicle.

As one would expect from a performance car, the steering offers bundles of feedback and is very precise.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Styling

The Golf GTI TCR is a car that stands out from the crowd with bespoke styling cues. These include distinctive front and rear bumpers, matt black exterior mirrors and a TCR motif on the rear quarter panel. There is a rear roof spoiler, extended sill strips, a honeycomb radiator grille with red stripe, unique GTI TCR badging, LED daytime running lights with smoked lenses and a red stripe, plus red brake callipers. An optional honeycomb-designed side decal costs £555 extra.

The interior also features a sports theme throughout with honeycomb black decorative inserts in the dashboard and door panels, chrome plated air vents, TCR Red cloth upholstery, stainless steel pedals and smart piano black trim.

Despite all the grunt and power on hand, the car is well protected from the outside elements. You will definitely hear the engine firing, especially when the settings are switched to Sport, but it still feels well insulated.

In The Car

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Behind the Wheel

Ergonomics is something VW takes great pride in and the Golf GTI TCR is a car that offers full manual seat and steering wheel adjustment in order to find the perfect driving position. It’s worth mentioning too that the pedals line up perfectly. That may sound odd, but in some cars, they are offset slightly which is not that comfortable or practical.

The driver visibility is good forwards, sideways and through the rear screen, but the thick pillars rather restrict over-the-shoulder vision.

All the instrumentation is well positioned and there is a wealth of onboard technology at your disposal. Features include an eight-inch colour touchscreen navigation system with European mapping offering Fast, Short or Eco routes to a planned destination.

Full smartphone connectivity is via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and the car also boasts a DAB digital radio and Bluetooth. A Car-Net ‘Guide and Inform’ system offers online access to information such as fuel pricing, traffic updates, parking space availability, weather and news feeds. A three-year subscription is included.

There is a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel with a track-inspired red marker at the 12 o’clock position, red trimmings on the gear shift gater and the TCR logo is projected onto the floor when the door is opened.

A panoramic sunroof, which is a £1,000 option, was fitted to the test car and allowed light to flood into the cabin.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Space & Practicality

Despite all the extra power and enhanced driving dynamics, this is still a VW Golf so needs to be a practical car and it is. There is ample space for four adults to travel in comfort - add a third and it becomes too cosy - and there’s lots of storage space too.

The boot has a capacity of 380 litres which increases to 1,270 litres with the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. In addition, there are numerous convenient storage options scattered throughout the car, including a glovebox with SD slots, a pair of front cup holders, a covered tray in front of the gear lever, a sunglasses compartment, a central cubby, door bins and seatback pockets.

The Golf GTI TCR is available with three-doors, but we opted for the five-door styling, which is obviously a lot more practical if you transport more than one passenger on a regular basis.

Ownership

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Running Costs

The on-the-road cost of the Golf GTI TCR in five-door guise is £35,305 (£34,650 for the three-door version), but the test car was packed to bursting with optional extras that saw the final price creep up to £41,289. This is pretty expensive for a Golf even if it is a hot hatch performance model.

When it comes to running costs, the combined fuel economy figure is 36.2mpg (WLTP) with carbon emissions of 153g/km (NEDC). This CO2 readout would result in a first-year Vehicle Excise Charge of £530 dropping to £145 the following year. A word of warning though, as there is an extra £320 charge for cars with a list price over £40k for the first five years.

The Golf GTI TCR sits in insurance group 34.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Quality & Reliability

VW ran an advertising campaign based on cars that were ‘almost’ as good as the Golf, but weren’t quite the complete package. They were basically highlighting the point that many rivals try to copy VW’s best-selling model, but fall short. With that sort of confidence, the cars need to be good with excellent reliability, and they are just that.

The doors close with that reassuring thud and all the switchgear looks and feels like it will last a lifetime. The seats are supportive and the cabin oozes quality through and through.

Although the touchscreen and piano black trim may be prone to smudgy fingerprints, they should wipe clean without any trouble.

The Golf GTI TCR comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, plus one year VW Roadside Assistance covering the UK and Europe.

Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Review

Safety & Security

The Golf GTI TCR boasts the same maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating as its Golf siblings and is packed with features to protect occupants and pedestrians as well as helping to prevent accidents happening in the first instance.

On-board safety kit includes a driver alert system, electronic parking brake with auto hold function, adaptive cruise control, including Front Assist, radar sensor controlled distance monitoring, City emergency braking system and predictive pedestrian protection.

There is lane keep assist with dynamic light assist, including traffic sign recognition, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and numerous airbags.

Rear side airbags with rear seat belt tensioners, along with a warning if the belts are unfastened, is a £300 optional extra.

In addition, the car has anti-lock brakes with a hydraulic braking system, electronic stability control and traction control. There is an automatic post-collision braking system and Isofix fixtures.

Bringing this fire-cracker of a hot hatch to a safe stop are upgraded high-performance brakes with perforated discs and special brake pads. And to keep everything nicely cooled there are two extra water radiators in the front - similarly to the Golf R.

See the latest used Volkswagen Golf offers.

Buy and save on quality approved and used cars
By Maxine Ashford
Jul 11, 2019

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