Among cars that have earned a valedictory special, the Mk7 Golf GTI is arguably more deserving than most. After the fairly tepid Mk6, the 7 has re-established the GTI as the most broadly talented hatch out there: refined when required, entertaining, engaging and - whisper it - fun when needed, with all the usual Golf attributes thrown in to the package as well.
Just think what's spawned from it: a Golf R finally worth giving some attention to, an estate version of the same that should render many SUVs redundant, and the exceptional Clubsport S. In its near six years on sale, the Mk7 GTI has proved unequivocally that VW can certainly make a hot hatch.
To bid this car farewell, then, and in anticipation of the Mk8's arrival, we get the TCR. That's TCR as in, er, Touring Car Racing, the tin top series (and set of regulations) that the Golf racer has enjoyed considerable success in across the globe. So, motorsport success, a special edition required with production ending... there's only one thing for it - the race-inspired road car!
Truth be told, the concessions to actual motorsport and the racing car are limited in the GTI TCR (shock, horror). There's an aggressive, but still fairly modest, aerodynamic kit, some interior jazzing up and 'Pure Grey' as a unique colour choice on the palette. And, fear not, the body graphics are optional. Anybody expecting a fully fledged track renegade will be disappointed - but then they would have foolish to expect such a thing in the first place.
The impression that we're basically getting a Golf GTI made a bit nicer bears out on the road. All cars tested on the public highway were fitted with the first TCR option pack - the one that introduces 19-inch wheels and the DCC adaptive dampers, but not the Cup 2 tyres - and, as has always been the way with these MQB hatches, there's a perfectly inoffensive compromise struck between comfort and control in all the drive modes. The 18-inch wheels and passive dampers would surely do as effective a job, although don't expect many TCRs in the UK to go without the larger wheel option. Indeed in its meeker settings the TCR is as docile as any other Golf, smothering bumps and shuffling through its seven-speed automatic gearbox without drama.
So far, so Golf GTI. However, things do improve with speed, firstly because it's accrued that bit quicker. With a minimal torque improvement from GTI Performance to TCR but a 45hp gain (still produced from 5,400-6,400rpm, it's only with revs that the improvement is noticeable - but it's certainly there. Combine 290hp with a kerbweight of less than 1,350kg and the TCR can certainly get a shift on, accompanied here by overrun gurgles and upshift parps (from the new exhaust) that lift the experience above that of the regular GTI.
Furthermore, it can put the power down better than the equivalent Leon Cupra, implying a bit more sophistication to the hardware or setup here. Again, it'll be no surprise to find the traction trade off very nicely done - less wild than the SEAT, more interesting than an all-wheel drive R - and a nice reminder that a powerful, front-wheel drive hatch still has something to give even as the sector moves away from arrangement.
Throw some corners in and the TCR feels how this era of Golf always has: nimble, neutral, light and energetic. It's direct into a bend, balanced during it and brisk on the way out. While the steering's weight is still either a bit too light or a bit too heavy, it does give the driver confidence and, although the VAQ 'diff' is not as effective as a conventional mechanical unit, traction is so seldom challenged that it's not a significant issue.
Down a challenging road the Golf is a car that feels more honed that an i30 N (if perhaps less immediately entertaining) and more predictable than a Megane; any misbehaviour wholly introduced by the driver. There's perhaps a slight trade off in ride quality for a fraction more dynamic edge going from Golf Performance to Golf TCR, though that would surely need a back to back comparison to be sure - certainly it's nothing drastic.
The impression, though - that of a GTI+ - is both a blessing and a curse. Because while it'll be familiar (and most probably welcome) to those coming from the standard car, it does feel like the run-out special might be deserving of just a little more excitement. Especially so given what we've seen this architecture achieve in the shape of the Clubsport S, which - and this is no exaggeration - remains one of the finest driver's cars of the past few years. To know that experience of uncanny chassis dexterity and genuine road racer engagement has already happened (and hasn't been repeated here) feels like something of a shame.
The same is true on circuit: on the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres - the same as fitted to the CS - the TCR knows a level of purchase and accuracy on track that would have seemed otherworldly for a Golf GTI not so long ago. It's stable, consistent and fun to a (laudably high) point, if lacking that final layer of polish that separates the truly great from the very good - and found exactly you know where.
Which, to some extent, leaves the TCR languishing in no man's land. It's certainly an eminently talented and rather likeable hot hatch, as it was always going to be with the Mk7 GTI as its foundation. However, it neither accommodates quite as well as a standard car - owing to some additional noise, and the slightly more extroverted styling - nor enthralls like the Clubsport S. As enthusiasts the extra edge makes the TCR preferable to a GTI Performance, and yet the fact that VW didn't go the whole hog once more does rankle a tad. For those after the best driving new Golf GTI currently available at £34,000, the TCR is the car to buy; for those after one of the very best hot hatches in recent memory (that just so happens to also be a Golf GTI) then buy a Clubsport S - just like this one.
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 (to EU, with 75kg driver)
CO2: 175g/km (WLTP combined)
MPG: 42.2 (NEDC correlated)
Price: c. £34,000