Volkswagen Golf R vs. Golf GTI TCR

Volkswagen Golf R vs. Golf GTI TCR

Wednesday 1st January

Volkswagen Golf R vs. Golf GTI TCR

The Mk7 GTI has been playing second fiddle to the mighty Golf R for years. Can the TCR finally reset the scales?



In three and a bit months of driving our Golf GTI TCR around, I think I'm yet to see another one on the road. Examples of the Golf R, on the other hand, are everywhere. In the nation's south-east, it has achieved the sort of omnipresence normally reserved for the current BMW 3 Series or something family-sized made by Land Rover. Very competitive finance deals must account for some of that volume, but all the affordability in the world wouldn't matter if the inherent rightness of the car's basic formula weren't nailed down. The Golf R is, of course, the reason why the latest BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 look and sound the way they do - 300hp, all-wheel drive and a smartly groomed appearance are now virtually obligatory.

Where its rivals are built to tread on its toes, then, the TCR has been deliberately kept a respectful distance from the R's established ingredients. This is chiefly the reason for it sporting 290hp - only the limited-edition Clubsport S has been permitted beyond 300hp with a single axle to shoulder the burden. The top-spec GTI is lighter though, by around 85kg, and, as sportauto recently proved, it's definitively no slouch when it comes to the business of being unceremoniously flung between bridge and gantry. It is also very nearly the same price - or in the case of our longtermer, pricier - which does beg the inevitable question.

Establishing which is best will not take long for some. The R has prospered on its underemphasised appearance; it is the Oxford shirt of the hot hatch segment. The TCR has all the same well-finished Mk7 bone structure, but its jutting chin and exaggerated rear diffuser (nominally explained away as motorsport influence) is the automotive equivalent of skinny jeans and hi-top trainers. Throw in the optional 19-inch gloss black 'Pretoria' alloys and TCR decals and you've got yourself a hatchback actively plugging its own hotness.



I quite like it. But I'd understand if you didn't. The R is handsome in a very easily gettable way - and it still has exclusive use of the quad exhausts, which are precisely twice as good as the GTI's twin pipes. VW's press car doubles down on that fact with the optional Akrapovic sports exhaust - a Β£3,000 titanium tick which simultaneously subtracts 7kg from the Golf's mass and threatens to scupper any objectivity in the test from minute one. You can have it on the TCR, too - but it's not on ours, and that's a problem because it supplies just the sort of off-beat warble that you're likely to want in a fast Golf.

Second on the unfair advantage list is the steering. It hadn't occurred to me that it would be significantly different, but it is. Right from the off the R's rack has a noticeably meatier level of resistance. At manoeuvring speeds, you'll be summoning up perhaps 10 per cent more effort to execute a three-point turn, which translates into it being about 10 per cent better when you're at speed. Not because it actually is better - it just feels it. The sensation of something consequential happening away from centre, the fractionally higher loading on the wrists; it adds up to 10 per cent more confidence when you really need it.

Granted, it's not a crucial difference at everyday pace because the Golf (almost any Mk7 Golf, really) is so adept at carrying speed. Unsurprisingly, both R and TCR are exceptionally good at it. The former benefits in this respect from further press office ticking, it having gained the Β£2,400 R Performance Pack, which adds those very fetching 19-inch 'Spielberg' wheels, as well as the familiar three-stage adaptive dampers that comprise the Β£875 Dynamic Chassis Control. That makes it essentially identical to the TCR in its running gear, and aside from perhaps slightly superior refinement (admittedly subjective) it rides in the same poised and impressively pliant fashion - assuming you have the good sense to keep the suspension in its 'Comfort' setting most of the time.



Thanks to the banishment of a six-speed manual option on either model (a sore point in the office) the seven-speed DSG juggles what is effectively the same amount of power in the same way, and - in-gear, on a dry-ish day - it's the weight difference which is more telling than the R's ability to divert some of its torque to the back axle. You'll need to press on with serious intent (or else find an empty roundabout) to locate the tangible advantages of the all-wheel drive system - and when it does hook up the rear axle, the R does it judiciously and as a way of enhancing neutrality, not playfulness.

For much of the time, the TCR does not want for assistance. There is grip and agility in spades and any difference in cornering speed (beyond hairpins) is based on the R's aforementioned superiority in steering feel, not traction. The real benefit, and it is as plain as the near second-long advantage quoted in 0-62mph times, is the R's ability to get away from a set of traffic lights or T junction without squandering its progress as juddering wheel spin. The problem is not unique to the TCR, of course - Clubsport S aside, it's a prevailing issue for the GTI - but additional output has clearly not helped the situation.

Not for the first time, you do wonder why the second most powerful front-drive Golf wasn't afforded the same suspension geometry as the most powerful (which seemed to do the trick), but that's academic. The TCR doesn't have it, and you'll be reminded of that fact every time you try to get spiritedly away from the line in less than optimum conditions. It is precisely this circumstance (among others) which had VW settling on all-wheel drive as necessary for its quickest Golf variants in the first place. And while the six-pot which necessitated it has been replaced, the decision holds up.



For the purposes of this test, it counts as the third virtue on the R's added-value list. But unless you're partial to seeing the amber light of a put-upon traction control system every time you lunge for a space in the traffic, it is the model's defining advantage over the GTI - especially in a country where you can count on the roads being wet for six months of each year.

Add in the burlier steering and sound, and the R retains its title it by a nose. Or should that be tail? It edges it, anyway. Ultimately Volkswagen engineered the top spec model to be more sophisticated - and more often than not, it feels it. That fact doesn't prevent the TCR being the best Mk7 GTI this side of the Clubsport S - but as its generation finally exits stage left in 2020, it must console itself with being only the third most desirable iteration.

Be that as it may, I for one am going to miss it. With the Mk8 GTI just round the corner, there's not much time left on our TCR's clock, and I've honestly never tired of driving it. Not just in a hair-on-fire, empty-B-road way, but in all the others, too - and that's always been the fast Golf calling card. I'd still recommend the R, mind, though not the one pictured. That honour goes to the manual version produced with 310hp, just before WLTP kicked the combination into touch. Assuming you want back seats, that's the Mk7 Golf to have. Thank goodness there are plenty to choose from.


SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF GTI TCR
Engine:
1,984cc 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 290@5,400-6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,950-5,300rpm
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited, optionally 162mph)
Weight: 1,410kg
CO2: 153g/km (WLTP)
MPG: 36.2 (WLTP)
Price: Β£35,305 (price as standard; as tested Β£41,289 comprised of GTI TCR Performance Pack - 8J x 19" Pretoria Black alloys with 235/35 R19 semi-slick tyres and anti-theft wheel bolts, derestricted top speed to 164 mph, lowered sports suspension by approx. 20mm and Dynamic chassis Control (DCC)(Β£2,900) Panoramic sunroof - electric, glass sliding/tilting including integrated blind (Β£1,000) rear tinted glass - from B-pillar backwards, approx. 90% tinted (Β£100) side decals - honeycomb design (Β£555) rear side airbags - includes rear seat belt tensioners (for 2 outer rear seats) and optical warning if rear seat. Pure Grey (Β£595) with TCR upholstery belts unfastened (Β£300) Retailer fitted optional equipment: Vodaphone S5-VTS - vehicle tracker including one year subscription (Β£534.19 incl. fitting)

Search for a Mk7 Golf GTI here

SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF R
Engine:
1,984cc 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000-5,200rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,525kg
CO2: 164g/km (WLTP)
MPG: 32.8 (WLTP)
Price: from Β£36,345 (price as standard; as tested Β£44,357 comprised of R Performance Pack - 8J x 19" Spielberg wheels with 235/35 R19 tyres, performance brakes, silver coloured brake callipers, derestricted top speed, rear spoiler (Β£2,400) Akrapovic titanium sport exhaust system and valve control system (Β£3,000) Carbon fibre door mirror housings (Β£475) Dynamic Chassic Control (Β£875) Rear tinted glass (Β£125) Retailer fitted optional equipment: Vodaphone S5-VTS - vehicle tracker including one year subscription (Β£462 incl. fitting) Lapiz Blue metallic signature (Β£675)

Search for a Mk7 Golf R here



















Author
Discussion

rollo

Original Poster:

37 posts

108 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Reading the report, it appears that the R wins in every single area. Not much of a comparison then, eh? Besides, stealth is a better attribute than shouty spoilers and a pointlessly large diffuser which is trying to marshal airflow from a totally messed-up underbody area. If only VW would offer a single tailpipe option on the R to complete the subtle look. That, and a de-badging exercise, would be the ultimate incarnation. Given that most four-cylinder engines in race cars feature a 4 into 1 or 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust systems, why the need for this particular (expensive) piece of bling on a road car? Is there a more capable all-rounder available to buy anywhere than a 5-door (or estate version) Golf R? I can't think of one. Anybody....?

Dr G

13,849 posts

191 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
I've a 'normal' GTI Performance and found traction improved greatly by switching to Goodyears.

Really needs provocation now to be an issue. Standard tyres probably lean more on emissions/economy.

sidesauce

1,124 posts

167 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
rollo said:
Given that most four-cylinder engines in race cars feature a 4 into 1 or 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust systems, why the need for this particular (expensive) piece of bling on a road car?
There is no need - it's an option!

Gitwhoismiserable

521 posts

72 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
I would take the R every day

Driver101

6,591 posts

70 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
£41k and £44k as tested? That's crazy for a Golf.

legless

970 posts

89 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Why do journalists persist with the myth that it was WLTP that caused the introduction of GPFs?

WLTP is just a measurement method. It was the EU6d emissions standard, introduced at the same time as WLTP measurement, that mandated the introduction of particulate filters on a vast number of direct injection petrol engines.


Jon_S_Rally

687 posts

37 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
R for me out of the two. The TCR has never really appealed to me. It seemed a bit of a come-down after the Clubsport S. That being said, I think if I was to have another Golf, I would go for a manual Clubsport Edition 40. The CSS additions to the body make it the best looking and I found my R a bit too capable for the road. You had to be pushing it really hard for it to feel exciting. With a manual box and 2WD, I think the CS Ed40 would be a bit more involving, while still having five seats.

rollo said:
Reading the report, it appears that the R wins in every single area. Not much of a comparison then, eh? Besides, stealth is a better attribute than shouty spoilers and a pointlessly large diffuser which is trying to marshal airflow from a totally messed-up underbody area. If only VW would offer a single tailpipe option on the R to complete the subtle look. That, and a de-badging exercise, would be the ultimate incarnation. Given that most four-cylinder engines in race cars feature a 4 into 1 or 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust systems, why the need for this particular (expensive) piece of bling on a road car? Is there a more capable all-rounder available to buy anywhere than a 5-door (or estate version) Golf R? I can't think of one. Anybody....?
Exhausts have been a styling exercise for years now, I think people need to stop worrying about it laugh The Golf R is certainly a fantastic all-rounder. A bit too sensible for me personally though. It just lacks a bit of that edginess that makes a car feel special.

Driver101 said:
£41k and £44k as tested? That's crazy for a Golf.
Who actually pays that though?

Thornaby

438 posts

18 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
The TCR is a lovely looking car with the carbon fibre bits on it. They have one in my local VW dealership, it really stands out.

GoodCompany

160 posts

12 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
rollo said:
Is there a more capable all-rounder available to buy anywhere than a 5-door (or estate version) Golf R? I can't think of one. Anybody....?
How about the Seat/Cupra offerings with the same engine and drivetrain? From what I can see they offer more equipment as standard with possibly a bit less quality on the inside (according to reviews). Not in the market for this sort of thing but if I was I'd find it a difficult decision tbh.

if in doubt

85 posts

72 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
sidesauce said:
rollo said:
Given that most four-cylinder engines in race cars feature a 4 into 1 or 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust systems, why the need for this particular (expensive) piece of bling on a road car?
There is no need - it's an option!

I think he's referring to the 4 into 1 into 4 exhaust that the R gets regardless of whether you tick the expensive titanium option.

juniorbox

32 posts

93 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Driver101 said:
£41k and £44k as tested? That's crazy for a Golf.
I bought a brand new R with DCC and Dynaudio for ~£29.5K last year. I can confirm it's really good: obviously not as raw as a Megane R etc. but it certainly isn't dull!

J4CKO

28,975 posts

149 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Is this partly about the R being so numerous due to being available on affordable lease deals for a few years ?

Am guessing it outsold the GTI for a good while and the pecking order was in place, but of late the R has gone from being the top of the range to being a bit common, and has attracted its fair share of knobheads and a reputation for being a theft magnet.

The humble GTI is once again desirable as its not quite as shouty but still a brilliant package, but its a bit plain, not quite fast (or expensive) enough so VW jazz it up for R objectors with a smidge more power and a few tweaks and a suitably rarefied price.

It reminds me of people deciding to go back to Vinyl records from CD or Streaming and all those other occasions where the top of the line option gets a bit too mainstream, sort of not about having the best, just having something not many other people have. Throw a few things about purity, being more focused and some other subjective stuff in to justify paying more (or the same) for less.

At least the TCR has back seats, I would feel such a tit saying I cant offer someone a lift because my otherwise normal looking Golf doesn't have any back seats to keep the weight down to save a few seconds on a German racetrack.




Drive Blind

3,323 posts

126 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
RE: the exhaust thing - even on lesser Golfs the back box almost spans the width of the car. So it's not hard to add 1,2 or 4 short tail pipes.

Mr911lover

94 posts

95 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
rollo said:
Reading the report, it appears that the R wins in every single area. Not much of a comparison then, eh? Besides, stealth is a better attribute than shouty spoilers and a pointlessly large diffuser which is trying to marshal airflow from a totally messed-up underbody area. If only VW would offer a single tailpipe option on the R to complete the subtle look. That, and a de-badging exercise, would be the ultimate incarnation. Given that most four-cylinder engines in race cars feature a 4 into 1 or 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust systems, why the need for this particular (expensive) piece of bling on a road car? Is there a more capable all-rounder available to buy anywhere than a 5-door (or estate version) Golf R? I can't think of one. Anybody....?
Seat Leon Cupra ST?

cerb4.5lee

13,372 posts

129 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Neither are my cup of tea and without the option of a manual gearbox I do wonder what the remit is for these cars. A hot hatch used to be about being an engaging drive and only having 2 pedals changes that to me.

dirky dirk

1,733 posts

119 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Both seem so similar little to differentiate little point doing both models


Id get the cupra stuff myself, the golf costs more than my house did

hotrod30

48 posts

127 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Another win for the R. A very capable Q car.

So pleased with my Lapis Blue, 3-door, manual 310bhp. A keeper! Especially as no 3-doors on the new Mk8. Shame.

Matt Wills

74 posts

177 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
Heavy cars with auto boxes don't make the last work in hot hatch driving pleasure but can be got on reasonable finance deals and seem to impress some people.

I don't see either as a car that I would get up early to take for a drive ot on a road trip.

Perhaps a Focus ST Megane Trophy or if no one would see me in it a Civic Type R would be vastly more interesting and easier to tell apart from all the GTD Golf's that litter the roads.

I'm sure the Golf's are a nice sensible car with good resale values but they do nothing for me same as the SEAT and Audi models they share all there parts with.

It's nice that there is at least some choice out there and hot hatches can be had with a manual gearbox.

SmoothCriminal

2,671 posts

148 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
I'd never understand why you'd want a GTI over an R these days?

Dale487

1,061 posts

72 months

Tuesday 31st December 2019
quotequote all
SmoothCriminal said:
I'd never understand why you'd want a GTI over an R these days?
Because you fancy having a car to drive to work in the morning.