The first thing we did with the TCR was take it back. We'd asked for the honeycomb decals to be removed prior to delivery; they hadn't been. Why did we want them taken off? Well, brass tacks, the Golf - particularly in a darkish colour like Pure Grey - looks better without them. Also, it falls to yours truly to carry the burden of 'ownership' this time around, and I'm not a big fan of try-hard styling flourishes in hot hatches. Better to keep its potential hidden beneath a bushel.
The second thing we did was take the TCR on last week's group test, where its likeable side was so well hidden under a bushel that Matt B declared it the least preferential front-drive hot hatch. It goes without saying that the case was well argued and generally on the money. Our run-out TCR car is indeed £41,289 with options, which is a lot. Too much really. It is also an automatic by default, which is all wrong. And Volkswagen has denied it the chassis settings which made the limited-edition Clubsport S such a riot. Which is a plain old shame.
Moreover - as Matt pointed out - its front end is less capable than the new Focus ST, its rear-end is less interesting than the four-wheel steer Megane Trophy and it is ultimately less entertaining to wring out than the irascible i30 N. Tot that little lot up and you arguably find yourself with a sizeable pile of reasons to park the TCR at the bottom of the current hot hatch wish list and declare the Mk7 GTI done. Come in 2012, your time is up etc etc.
So did I pull rank to drive something - anything - else the 200 miles home? No. Of course I didn't. Why not? Well, because when you've swapped a deserted stretch of B road for the M1 and you don't want to think about the physical act of driving for the next four hours, the Golf is so far ahead of its newer rivals that it's practically in a different segment. Namely the one for grown-ups living in the boring old real world.
This is where the Golf has always been; classless, yes - but a class apart, too. Clubsport S aside, the Mk7 has never been the quickest, most exciting or even the most desirable hot hatch in any of its years on sale; just as none of its predecessors were either. The Mk7 GTI's introduction coincided with the launch of the Megane R.S. 265 Cup, a car so far beyond its dynamic capabilities that the comparison seemed almost laughable. But when it came to spending actual money on a car to sit on the actual driveway in front of an actual house, most people still bought the Golf.
They were not wrong to do so. Riotous, immersive handling is one thing - deservedly the thing we all hold dear - but ask any OEM engineer and they'll tell you that a well resolved and instinctively cohesive driving experience is the hardest thing in the world to plumb into a conventional chassis. This GTI has this attribute in spades, and it is precisely by its virtue that the Golf allows you a chance to stop thinking about it when you don't need to and still not regard time spent in its company as a chore.
By default, that makes it superbly adaptable in a way its rivals are not. And make no mistake, all of its rivals - particularly Hyundai and Honda - have spent entire life cycles furiously benchmarking the GTI in hope of reproducing its canny mix of premium-end finish and functional good looks. That none of them has entirely succeeded speaks volumes about the job done on the Mk7 variant in the first place, and makes the predictably upmarket trim of the TCR seem consistent with what's come before.
None of this is a secret, of course - which does beg the question, why run one as a longtermer just before the curtain falls? Well, for one thing, PH is as much about buying second-hand cars as it is new ones, and with the Mk8 inbound, the Mk7 GTI buyer is likely to enjoy a noticeable drop in prices next year as the market swells - so there's plenty of food for thought there (especially as our former test fleet car has accrued 8262 test miles, and is therefore already in the nearly-new category).
Additionally, it seems only fair to take a longer look at the TCR specifically. After all, the model follows in a long tradition of end-of-the-line GTIs, and it's worth considering where its 290hp output stands in the lineage. Pitching it against the very slightly more powerful and very slightly heavier Golf R also feels like debate worth having before the latter has 48v technology forced upon it (as seems likely). The advent of mild-hybrid technology together with what's expected to be a slew of new safety systems and driver aids suggests it might also be a good time to savour the company of the comparatively analogue Mk7. And finally, there's the appealing thought of a Renault Sport Megane 300 Trophy in the car park for side-by-side ownership comparison - now we've got the Peak District bit out of the way.
Car: Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
Run by: Nic
On fleet since: Sept 2019
List price new: £35,305 (price as standard; as tested £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)(£2,900) Panoramic sunroof - electric, glass sliding/tilting including integrated blind (£1,000) rear tinted glass - from B-pillar backwards, approx. 90% tinted (£100) side decals - honeycomb design (£555) rear side airbags - includes rear seat belt tensioners (for 2 outer rear seats) and optical warning if rear seat. Pure Grey (£595) with TCR upholstery belts unfastened (£300) Retailer fitted optional equipment: Vodaphone S5-VTS - vehicle tracker including one year subscription (£534.19 incl. fitting)
Last month at a glance: Losing its stickers and a group test