286-horsepower VW Golf GTI TCR Is ‘Almost Ready for Production’

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Volkswagen’s Golf GTI isn’t a vehicle you hear people complain about very often. Bridging the gap between fun and functionality near perfectly, the hatchback delivers on every promise it makes. Still, detractors exist, and they’ll fixate on the GTI’s somewhat vague clutch pedal and lack of horsepower.

Both of these gripes are preferential problems. The car’s light clutch pedal can be a blessing in extremely heavy traffic and also totally optional, since the automatic is still highly enjoyable and shifts with greater speed. Horsepower is similarly subjective, since a lot of the car’s charm comes down to how it delivers power. The 2.0-liter turbo isn’t a heavy hitter but if feels like the right tool for the job most of the time.

However, there remains a subset of the enthusiast population that will look at the base GTI’s spec sheet and claim 210 hp isn’t nearly enough. VW has already introduced a solution to that by offering one of the better performance packages we’re aware of. Unfortunately, competition threatens to unseat the hot hatch king from his throne. The 275-hp Hyundai Veloster N is fast approaching North America and its entire existence revolves around taking sales away from the plucky little German. Volkswagen can’t have that , so it recently introduced the new GTI TCR Concept to level the playing field. 

While not yet a production vehicle, VW has already expressed its intention to make the car happen before 2019. Unveiled at this year’s Wörthersee GTI Meeting, the GTI TCR offers more of everything — provided it relates to performance. Its 2.0-liter cranks out a claimed 286 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, both of which are a cut above the standard GTI specifications. Power is transmitted to the front wheels via the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and a limited-slip differential.

Top speed is also standard to the GTI Sport, at 155 mph. But Volkswagen says the TCR will have a governor which can be disabled for a new top speed of 164 mph. This is some BMW nonsense, and not something we’re into. The average customer may not need to travel that fast but we are not fond of automakers charging more to unlock the full potential on performance trims you already paid extra for.

New 18-inch “Belvedere” forged aluminum alloy wheels are standard and VW claims upgraded brake calipers, working with perforated discs, will stop the TCR just as quickly as the race concept that inspired it. Customers can opt for a performance pack offering 19-inch wheels, a sports chassis setting, DCC adaptive damping, and the higher top speed.

A new front bumper feeds air into the vehicle’s two additional radiators. Other tell-tale signs that this is not a standard GTI are its subtle front splitter, rear diffuser, and side skirts with TCR badging.

The seating upholstery ditches the standard plaid for a tech-chic design in microfiber. Further distinguishing the model are red accents wherever VW could make room for them. The rocker trim emits a red hue whenever the doors are opened, which also project the TCR logo onto the pavement, and there is contrast stitching on both the steering wheel and shift lever.

While the model is definitely a little off-kilter, there’s nothing to suggest everything we’re seeing won’t make it into a production vehicle. “At the moment, the Golf GTI TCR Concept — an athlete derived from racing — is a study. But at the end of the year, we want to make this GTI vision come true,” Jürgen Stackmann, Sales, Board of Management of Volkswagen AG, said at the car’s unveiling.

After rumors that it wouldn’t make it to North America, we’re stoked to see Volkswagen of America talking about this car. But the company will need to keep it a healthy distance away from the Golf R’s price tag if it wants it to be a success. The base and Sport GTI still feel like a good value but the top-trim Golf GTI Autobahn’s $35,000 MSRP is really hard to rationalize when the all-wheel-drive R is just a few grand more.

Volkswagen referred to the TCR as the “new top GTI,” which leaves us thinking it could begin above the Autobahn’s starting price. That slightly worrisome. However, if VW manage to leave the model’s specs as claimed, a race between the Golf R and (presumably lighter) front-drive GTI TCR could be close enough to warrant closer pricing. We should know more as the model approaches production.

[Images: Volkswagen Group]