VW’s new fire-breathing small car
Australians love a racetrack special. The Falcon GTHO or Torana SLR5000 are at the pointy end of a long list.
Now Volkswagen has a worthy contender. In a fitting send-off for its seventh-generation Golf GTI, it has released the limited edition TCR.
TCR stands for Touring Car Racing, a new global racing formula that's captured the interest of almost a dozen brands.
At $53,990 plus on-road costs it even gets race car stickers, albeit for styling rather than advertising.
Rather than recreating a successful recipe, the TCR builds on the GTI formula that's been honed over 44 years, dipping into the more potent Golf R parts bin for inspiration and added pace.
The 213kW of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo is identical to the R's power peak, but as with the GTI it sends the drive to only the front wheels.
Its 350Nm of torque falls 30Nm short of the R and 20Nm shy of the GTI.
And it's hooked up to a six-speed DSG transmission, one fewer ratio than in other hotshot Golfs.
Just 300 are coming to Australia in a choice of three colours - red, white and grey - and with a TCR-specific rear wing, rear diffuser, lower front bumper addition and side skirts. Tinted windows, black wheels and black stickers complete the look.
There are also enough enthusiast delights to help justify the $4000 step up in price over a regular GTI: a flat-bottomed steering wheel with a rally-like red stripe to denote its centre and "TCR" puddle lights when opening the front doors. Nicely bolstered bucket front seats are finished in microfleece with hints of classic GTI tartan trim but with red stripes to ram home the race theme.
The jewellery is matched with added bark from the twin outlet exhaust, which has a satisfying blend of bass and raspiness.
The engine steps up the GTI flavour with added fury at higher revs. Rather than the flexible mid-range that makes a garden variety GTI such a pleasant daily driver, the TCR places more emphasis on the top end. Above 4500rpm the additional fire of the turbo adds enthusiasm as it lunges towards its upper limit.
The dash to 100km/h is disposed of in 5.7 seconds, aided by a launch control system that ignites with a burst of wheel spin, one of the few occasions you feel the limits of the front-drive underpinnings.
Darting out of tight bends occasionally flickers the traction control light as the front wheels fight for grip. Progress is barely halted, though, the TCR agile and brisk and remarkably adept at diverting loads of punch forward with little fuss.
The electronic locking differential helps, applying the brakes almost instantly if a wheel starts spinning, effectively transferring drive to the one with more grip.
A brief blast around a tight track demonstrated its effectiveness and rammed home the flexibility of the GTI TCR. What is a comfortable and practical five-seat hatchback around town adds just enough heat for some smile-inducing blasts.
Grippier rubber helps. The TCR rides on 19-inch alloys (an inch larger than the GTI) with the same 235/35 tyre size of the Golf R. It's also 5mm lower with springs that have been subtly stiffened, adding some firmness to speed humps and blotted backroads.
Adjustable dampers - part of the customisable drive mode settings - tame things slightly, but there are still jolts at lower speeds.
In some ways the TCR is the ultimate balance of substance and clever marketing. It's a car that slots neatly between Volkswagen's two staple hot hatches without cannibalising sales.
Looks the part and backs it up with liveable hot-hatch cred; incremental but meaningful step over the regular GTI.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI TCR VITALS
PRICE From about $53,990 drive-away
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 yrs/u'ltd km, $2857 for 5 yrs/75,000km
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 213kW/350Nm
SAFETY 5 stars (2013), 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, fatigue detection, active cruise control
Originally published as VW's new fire-breathing small car