New Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR 2019 review

Is the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR the best GTI yet? We get behind the wheel of the 286bhp hot hatch to find out...

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Harder, faster and sharper than the standard Volkswagen Golf GTI, the TCR is still not as feisty as a Honda Civic Type R or Renaultsport Megane. But that doesn’t stop it being a genuinely engaging hot hatch that you can use every day. As such, the new TCR is a fitting swansong for the Mk7.5 Golf GTI.

There is a brand new Volkswagen Golf just around the corner. The eighth-generation family hatchback will sport an evolutionary design and introduce mild-hybrid technology across the range.

But before that car is revealed towards of 2019, the marketing guys at VW have been looking at ways to breathe new life into what is now ostensibly a seven-year-old car. Enter this: the Golf GTI TCR.

• Best hot hatchbacks on sale

Inspired by the race car with the same name, the GTI TCR matches the now defunct (limted-run) GTI Clubsport S for power – boasting a total of 286bhp with 380Nm of torque. It helps realign the Golf GTI range, which has been comprised of just a single model since the entry-level car was ditched last year.

The TCR therefore sits above the 242bhp GTI Performance, adding a small price premium (£2,320 in the case of our five-door test car) and a long list of extra features. It gets the same locking differential as its less powerful sibling, but lifts the radiators from the flagship Golf R. The TCR also adds a high power braking system with perforated discs and special pads.

In addition to the performance tweaks, all models get 18-inch wheels and a bespoke bodykit with a new front splitter, side sills, rear diffuser and roof spoiler. The result is, without doubt, the most aggressive-looking Golf GTI to date. 

VW’s fully-digital Active Info Display is also included, alongside an eight-speaker stereo and the brand’s slick Composition Media infotainment system. The seat fabric is unique to the TCR but thankfully the stickers on the side are a £555 option. Our car also boasted a panoramic roof (£1,000) and tinted rear glass (£100).

The final upgrade to the car you see in these pictures was the desirable TCR Performance Pack. This removes the electronic speed limiter, adds 19-inch alloy wheels, and lowers the suspension by around 20mm. It also adds adaptive dampers, with three different settings. 

The last of these is particularly useful, as the ride is noticeably harsher on the larger rims. The bigger wheels switch the sometimes scrabbly Bridgestone tyres for stickier Pirelli rubber, but this is still a GTI and as such, strikes a neat balance between on-the-limit performance and everyday usability.

Which is perhaps the most overwhelming impression you get from driving the TCR on UK roads. Consider this a kind of GTI ‘Plus’ rather than a hardcore track-focussed hot hatch and you’ll be pleasantly content. Despite turning things up a notch, the GTI TCR still isn’t as sharp as a Honda Civic Type R or Renaultsport Megane Trophy.

The TCR’s locking differential isn’t as aggressive as the one you’ll find in a Hyundai i30 N, either, and – as this GTI is auto only – it can’t provide the kind of pure, unadulterated feedback so many enthusiasts vehemently desire. But again, this is not what the Golf is about; as ever, it’s a fast family car you can genuinely use every day.

But if that’s what you’re after, at more than £35,000 should you not just buy an all-wheel drive (£36,150) Volkswagen Golf R 5-door DSG? To many, the answer will be yes – the R is still a fantastically rounded hot hatchback with the added benefit of year-round usability. But the GTI TCR feels just that little bit more playful. It’s more agile, more direct – and felt more alive through the twisting hairpins of our Welsh test route.

The steering isn’t brimming with feel, but you can dial-in a little extra weight by flicking through the drive modes. The engine is stronger than ever and sounds purposeful, accelerating from 0-62mph six-tenths of a second faster than the GTI Performance. Being front-drive only, that’s still almost a second shy of the Golf R, though. 

All things considered, the TCR could well be the ultimate GTI. Every bit as practical as the standard car and loaded with kit, the race car-inspired TCR hatchback will offer a seemingly ideal balance for many hot hatch buyers.

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