It is rather hard to fathom that the current generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is 7 years old now. Yes, back in July 2013, the Mark 7 Golf entered the Mzansi market to take over the baton from the Mark 6, which only had a four year life-cycle, and was admittedly a heavily revised version of the Mark 5. That said the Mark 7 was an instant hit in the local market, and has continued to hold its own amongst a gaggle of newer entrants to the market, selling upwards of 40,000 units to date.
Considered by many to be the perennial hot-hatch, including ourselves here at TopGear Magazine SA, the Golf GTI manages to be all things to most people. Of course, with a 40 year track record, I reckon those Wolfsburg peeps know a thing or two about building a hot-hatch. We have driven all derivatives of the current GTI - save for the ultra rare Clubsport S - and the lot have most basis thoroughly licked, particularly a firm favourite of mine, the GTI Clubsport.
As the swansong to the current generation Golf range, Volkswagen has brought 300 units of the GTI TCR (Touring Car Racing) to Mzansi to commemorate the marque’s participation in the European based namesake race circuit championship. Started in 2015, the racing series has proved to be a great sounding board for the Golf GTI as it continues to prove its mettle.
The model can be distinguished by its honeycomb pattern livery along the flanks of each side of the car, TCR lettering at the bottom of each rear door, and black matte finished 19-inch Reifnitz alloy wheels. There’s also distinct aero optimised side sills, while both front and rear valances have been spruced up even further and include gloss black finishes for both front and rear splitters, which look purposeful. So too is the model specific boot spoiler and diffuser, while red GTI badges on the grille and boot lid round off the TCR model specific theme.
The cabin, meanwhile, is a heady mix of old and new school with the alcantara and cloth bound seats harking back to the original GTI’s tartan seats in theme. The rest of the cabin architecture is still of a modern disposition with that infotainment screen and digital cockpit display instrument cluster. That sporty tiller, meanwhile, with its red 12 o'clock marker, is wreathed in leather as opposed to the racier alcantara. Oddly, though, the gear lever boot and not the lever itself is alcantara wrapped. That aside, it remains a classy and functional cabin familiar to Golf GTI owners.
POWERING THE GTI TCR
Under the bonnet is the familiar EA888, 2-litre turbocharged engine that powers the entire Golf GTI range, but fettled here ever so slightly to make 213 kW and 380 Nm exclusively via a 6-speed DSG gearbox. The eagle eyed will have noticed that the 213 kW figure is quite similar to that offered up by the GTI Clubsport - even though under brief overboost bursts. Yes, and it is here that I will draw similarities.
HOW DOES IT GO?
Pretty well, actually. In typical Golf GTI fashion, the front tyres do struggle for traction under full bore acceleration off the line, but the electronic “differential” does try to quell this to a degree. And it is once on the move that the car becomes more enjoyable and exploitable. However, to be frank, I was expecting a touch bit more grunt seeing as the model pays homage to racing and a slightly less executive persona. Once again, it is here that I feel something like a GTI Clubsport managed to feel a bit more of a focused version of the already competent GTI. That said the GTI TCR gets on with the business of generating speed rather effortlessly and, thanks to the derestricted top end speed of 264 km/h, it seems to have more legs higher up the rev range than the standard car and I have little doubt that it can attain that top end in the right environment. Those 340 mm perforated disc brakes up front do a great job of reeling in the speedy Golf and the brake pedal in particular has a satisfyingly progressive feel to it.
At the price of R675 700, the GTI TCR is well specified and the fact that there will only be 300 units of the model in Mzansi, gives it an even more desirable quotient. And there’s more. In order to make the model quite the enticing proposition, Volkswagen has loaded the GTI TCR to the hilt with all manner of tech and gizmos including Adaptive Chassis Control, LED headlights, and Parking Assistance. There is the panoramic sunroof that is standard fare, too, so there is very little in the way of options per se. As to whether this particular model will hold its future residual values still remains to be seen, although the GTI has inherently in the past retained fairly good residuals.
As far as the GTI 7.5 lineage goes, the TCR is perhaps not the most exciting of the lot, owing its brief to the Clubsport, which made an indelible impression on my mind. Of course that does not make the GTI TCR a let down, not entirely, I was just expecting a bit more cheekiness, more drama - perhaps an Akrapovic exhaust - to make it truly standout and more inline with the TCR racing theme. Perhaps the next version will throw caution to the wind and be as unapologetic as can be.