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Volkswagen Golf 2021 review: GTI TCR

The Golf GTI TCR might be the ultimate dual-purpose hot hatch
EXPERT RATING
7.8
The Golf GTI TCR is a little bit harder and a little bit faster. But does that make it a little less easy to live with? We put the fastest FWD Golf to the test to find out.

The big appeal of any hot hatch - and the major selling point of the VW GTI in particular - is that you get a vehicle that’s every bit as comfortable in the city as it is capable on a racetrack. 

That’s the sales pitch, right? The segment’s long-long-standing marketing slogan, if you will. But how do those claims stack up in real life?

We wanted to know. And so when we got our hands on the new Golf GTI TCR — the fastest example of this-generation GTI to date, as well as a loving farewell to the Golf 7.5 ahead of the launch of the all-new model — we thought we’d put those claims to the real-world test, driving through the city, onto the freeway, and then, without so much as checking the air pressure in the tyres, straight onto the Luddenham Raceway circuit in Western Sydney.

So, is this latest GTI, limited to 300 vehicles, also the greatest? And does hardening it up also soften its appeal in the city? 

There's only one way to find out. 

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

The VW Golf GTI TCR (it’s an ode to Touring Car Racing, by the way) is designed to sit between the regular GTI ( $46,690) and the AWD Golf R ($55,490) on the performance front, so it will come as little surprise that the hard-punching hot hatch is priced between those two vehicles, too. 

The TCR will set you back a healthy $51,490, but you are getting plenty of front-wheel-drive bang for those bucks.

There’s more grunt from the engine, of course, and some serious performance upgrades, too. But we’ll come back to those under the Engine/Gearbox sub-heading.

The TCR will set you back a healthy $51,490. The TCR will set you back a healthy $51,490.

The TCR builds on the regular GTI in other ways, too,  adding things like a dynamic cornering function to the LED headlights, a revised (louder) exhaust, black mirror covers, 19-inch alloys, TCR decals on the vehicle’s flanks, a gloss-black roof and very cool TCR puddle lights that illuminate the footpaths when you open the front doors. 

Inside, you’ll find a sportier material on the seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with a red marker at the top, more red trim on the seat belts and floor mats, and Alcantara on the gearshift and and door trims.

All of which joins the regular GTI’s equipment list - think an 8.0-inch touchscreen with in-built nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital driver display, keyless entry and push-button start, and all the safety equipment you can shake a traffic cone at - and you’re left with a vehicle in which you want for little. 

An 8.0-inch touchscreen with in-built nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard. An 8.0-inch touchscreen with in-built nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

You’ll be hard-pressed mistaking the TCR for any lesser GTI model. The huge multi-dot decals that stretch across the front and rear doors make certain of that. But there are other, less obvious changes, too. 

You might need a protractor to figure it out, but the TCR rides 5.0mm lower than the GTI. The rear diffuser, front splitter and side skirts are a little more noticeable, as are the red callipers locked behind the 19-inch alloys.

You’ll be hard-pressed mistaking the TCR for any lesser GTI model. You’ll be hard-pressed mistaking the TCR for any lesser GTI model.

But only a little. And that’s kind of the point here. Decals aside, the TCR is every bit as understated as you might expect from a GTI special edition. A sports car for adults, then, and one that won’t inspire mid-life crisis jokes should you park it in the office carpark.

Inside, it’s largely GTI-familiar, save the new materials and splashes of red we’ve mentioned above. In fact, when tootling along a freeway, you can easily forget you’re driving anything sporty at all.

You might need a protractor to figure it out, but the TCR rides 5.0mm lower than the GTI. You might need a protractor to figure it out, but the TCR rides 5.0mm lower than the GTI.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The GTI TCR stretches 4268mm in length, 1799mm in width and 1467mm in height, and it rides on a 2631mm. In other words, it’s Golf-sized, which means there’s little in the way of practicality sacrifices for the upgraded performance. 

Up front, the driver and passengers seats are hip-hugging snug, but the cabin feels light and airy, and I’m a particular fan of the centre screen, which is big, crisp and simple to use, and never over complicates its functions. It’s the kind of vehicle you can slip into and feel like you’ve owned it for a month.

There’s little in the way of practicality sacrifices for the upgraded performance. There’s little in the way of practicality sacrifices for the upgraded performance.

A pair of cupholders split the front seats, and there’s a storage cubby that lives in front of the gearshift, as well as bottle holders in each of the front doors.

The rear seats feel a little thin and firm, and air vents are the only luxury, with no USB connections or power outlets to be found. There are, however, two cupholders in the pull-down divider, bottle storage in each of the doors, map pockets on the rear of the front seats and ISOFIX attachment points in each of the window seats.

The TCR will serve up 380 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place, with that number swelling to 1270 litres with them folded flat.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Ah, here’s the really interesting part of the TCR story, because this fire-breathing GTI is fitted with the familiar turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, only this time dialled up to a raucous 213kW and 350Nm.

The Golf GTI makes less power, at 180kW, but more torque, at 370Nm, while the Golf R produces an identical 213kW and a whopping 380Nm.

VW tells us the power and torque split was designed as a characteristic of this engine, rather than trying to build in some breathing space between the TCR and Golf R.

The TCR’s engine is a peach: smooth and easy in the city, but engaging and exciting on a racetrack, with this thick power delivery that feels boundless when you need it. 

That engine pairs with six-speed dual-clutch automatic (rather than the seven-speed you might be used to in the GTI or Golf R), and the power is sent exclusively to the front tyres. 

But there’s more performance wizardry at work here, too. The TCR features a bespoke version of the brand’s Adaptive Chassis Control, and rides 5mm lower than the Golf. The exhaust has be tuned to be both louder and more free-flowing, and there are cross-drilled performance brakes up front.

All up, VW reckons you’ll squeeze a 5.7-sec sprint to 100km/h from the TCR, which isn’t too far off the 4.8sec run of the all-paw Golf R.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

VW says you’ll use 7.5L/100km on the combined cycle, while emitting 172g/km of CO2. One downside? The TCR's 50-litre fuel tank accepts only the more expensive 98RON fuel.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

First things first: the TCR might be harder and faster then the standard GTI, but it doesn’t come at a significant cost to the everyday comfort VW’s hot hatch is built around.

Sure, the ride feels a little more jarring over bumps and imperfections in its normal drive settings - and even more so in Sport - which is likely a combination of the stiffer setup and the bigger 19-inch alloys, but it’s by no means a dealbreaker, and you could still happily live with the TCR as a daily driver.

There’s also satisfying solidity to the drive experience that’s hard to quantify. The steering feels meaty and engaged, especially in its heavier sport setting, the ride feels connected to the road below and there’s squeak-and-rattle-free ambience in the cabin.

The TCR might be harder and faster then the standard GTI, but it doesn’t come at a significant cost to the everyday comfort. The TCR might be harder and faster then the standard GTI, but it doesn’t come at a significant cost to the everyday comfort.

You can also move the steering wheel forwards and backwards as well as up and down, so you’re able to set up the driving position perfectly, and it’s easy to sink into the sporty front seats and get comfy.

That’s the Jekyll side of the TCR sorted, then. And so we move onto the Hyde factor, which we uncovered at the Luddenham Raceway in Western Sydney.

As we mentioned above, the appeal of these vehicles is that you can drive them to, and then onto, a racetrack. And so we did just that, with the only change we made being the switch from Normal to Sport drive mode and calling the paddle shifters into action for the automatic gearbox. 

And the TCR turned it on. That throaty exhaust comes to life under hard acceleration, gargling delightfully on the overrun, as this most potent of front-wheel-drive GTIs collects its considerable speed on anything that looks like a long straight.

The steering feels meaty and engaged, especially in its heavier sport setting. The steering feels meaty and engaged, especially in its heavier sport setting.

There is a compromise paid for FWD on a racetrack, of course, with the front tyres asked to perform more duties than in the AWD Golf R, but the TCR does transform into and angry and exciting hot hatch on the circuit, feeling stable and planted through corners, and serving up more than enough punch to propel you out the other side again.

Is it the most out-and-out track focused hatch on the market? Probably not. But when the red mist subsides and you pull back out onto the freeway, it is among the most comfortable, with the TCR handling its dual duties with aplomb.

Short answer? The TCR doesn’t feel like an about-to-be-replaced vehicle, and it’s a car I could happily live every day, whether on a twisting country road or commuting to the city.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

Short answer? Everything the GTI gets, including driver and front passenger airbags, a driver knee airbag, side airbags up front and curtain airbags for rear-seat riders, along with the usual suite of braking and traction aids. 

Then the tech steps up, with functions like city AEB with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise, lane assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and a reversing camera with park assist. 

The Golf range carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

VW offers a commendable five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which includes 12 months of VW roadside assist. 

The brand also has its 60 Days deal, which means, should you suffer a catastrophic fault within the first two months of ownership, you can choose whether your car is repaired, replaced or refunded, though conditions apply, of course.

VW offers a commendable five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. VW offers a commendable five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

There’s also Assured Service Pricing for the first five years of ownership, and though the TCR is yet be added to the website calculator, the GTI will cost you:

12mths/15,000km - $389

24mths/30,000km - $525

36mths/45,000km - $642

48mths/60,000km - $912

60mths/75,000km - $389

Verdict

A little harder, a little faster, but really no less liveable, the GTI TCR is a fitting farewell for this-generation Golf. 

EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features8
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety7
Ownership8
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$51,490

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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