VW had to drop their standard GTi leaving only their Golf GTi Performance Pack and in the current day culture of a niche-within-a-niche this seemed to be a problem.
So they’ve launched a newer, more powerful version above it. Which means the ‘Performance Pack’ is now technically the standard pack. And to add some confusion on top of that you can also get a Performance Pack for the new, more powerful, GTI TCR version.
What do you get with the GTI TCR? An increase of 20bhp to 290bhp which results in a 0.6s faster 0-100km/h and more aero bits like deeper side-skirts and a bigger diffuser.
To find out how it feels I was shipped off to Portugal to give it a go. It was my first time at the fantastic Portimao race track and was given the keys to a flat grey Golf GTI TCR with almost free will to thrash it around the track.
I got lucky with my allocated track day with cool dry conditions and on top of that I arrived before all the other journalists which allowed me the opportunity to hit the track immediately and on my own.
Since the VW Golf GTi is basically the 911 of the VW group it’s not easy to immediately tell how it differs to Golfs that have come before it. However upon whipping out my microscope I spotted the bigger diffuser and more aggressive front end containing bigger intakes and a splitter.
Once you get into the car you’ll have an easier time to tell it’s a bit special with uniquely sculpted seats, clothed in Alcantara and custom stitching and the steering wheel also has a neat red racing stripe to help you know which way you’re turning.
My favorite part though was the digital dial interface. It was really easy to use and the interface was intuitive enough that I learned my away around it in a few moments. The same cannot be said for the touch interface in the center console but more on that in a bit.
As familiar as the exterior is the same cannot be said for the driving experience. Having personally owned a few GTI’s in the past I do have a pretty good reference but I have to say that the TCR is quite a big step from previous generations.
Let’s start with the steering which is communicative and super sharp. If I just looked at the steering wheel the car wanted to turn and once you started turning the car responded beautifully.
As I approached the corner on the brakes I was struck by the ‘liveliness’ of the rear end, moving around just enough to give the feeling that the car is alive and by no means flat or overly-safe. You could even argue that it was too communicative for a Golf but personally I was enjoying myself so much that I hope all future fast-Golfs feel like this.
Heading towards the apex I anticipated a bunch of on-power understeer but was shocked to feel the car continuing to rotate around the corner and head to the exact place I wanted to be at the exit. Zero understeer. The new limited slip diff has been brilliantly calibrated but I think the electronics also do a good job of smoothly kicking-in in a natural way that does not detract from the experience.
Once completing my track time I headed out to some back roads which were even better than the track itself. Hard to believe. Once on some less refined tarmac it was immediately clear how stiff this car is compared to previous versions. Even at a medium speed the car was moving around a lot over the bumps which is very fun and involving for any driver but I can imagine this kind of character wearing you down over a long drive.
But I don’t think you buy this for the long drive. You buy this car because you love the way it feels. You buy it because you enjoy your driving and want your car to tell you exactly where it is at all times.
Criticisms? I do wish it was louder. After driving the race version of the GTI TCR it was even more apparent that this car could have gotten away with a bit more exhaust noise when in Sport mode. Given how the car feels on the road and the way it responds to your inputs the increased sound would have been justified.
I’m also not a fan of the latest touch screen trend as they’re distracting with overly complex interfaces. Just give me some buttons please.
But these are nitpicks. I like this car a lot and if it was my own money I’d have a hard time choosing something else.
The GTI is fast becoming the 911 of the hot-hatch world, evolutionary design with great build quality but more importantly incredibly fun to drive. It’s amazing how far this car has come since the Golf 5. Well done VW.