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VW GTI TCR: The classic that roams our streets

There was a neat marking above the cubbyhole on our test Volkswagen GTI TCR: “300/300”. The meaning the numbers denote is simple, this was the last of a set number of cars in existence in the country. It’s a common tactic for limited edition runs; a niche reward for investing in exclusivity.

VW had decided to bring over 300 of the racey TCRs last year. The timing is all a bit odd considering that the Golf 8 GTI is imminent. In a parallel world, in fact, it would have been here already – a global “shortage of the semiconductor chips” is purportedly to blame for the delay. As things stand, it arrives in the third quarter of this year.

The TCR thus feels like a special goodbye to a South African icon – one which has sold more than 13 000 units here (incredibly a third of the Golf 7 sales). It is also everything the car represents, the distilled essence of the GTI. Named after the Golf representative in the Touring Car Racing series, the ambition here is to replicate the track experience as faithfully as possible.

If you’re lucky enough to spot one of the 300, you’ll likely know it by the 18-inch alloys, emphatic boot spoiler and spotted decals plastered on the side. The honeycomb design of the latter wouldn’t look out of place in a Fast & Furious movie – before they became indestructible secret agents – and is probably the most divisive aspect of this car. Of course, if you were buying it new you needn’t put them on if it’s not to your taste.

There’s nothing too different inside. The main distinguishing feature is red plaid seats and lashings of suede that run through most models. Otherwise this is Golf as you know it: good quality without too much extravagance. Those used to GTIs kitted out with the top accessories – such as the bigger infotainment system – might find it a tad unpolished but that fits the track aesthetic.

The TCR is bought to be driven. The standard 2.0 litre turbo engine of the GTI has been jigged up to get a substantial bump in power. As much as 213 kilowatts and 380 newton metres can now be squeezed out of it, not as much as the Golf R but respectable nonetheless. Coupled with the lowered, tighter suspension you’ll now find yourself getting from 0 to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds. Top speed has also been pushed up to 264km/h (which is actually more than the electronic limits of the R).

For day to day driving, that takes away a little bit of comfort from the ride; every crook in the road feeling that little more painful. For the trade off, however, it’s well worth it. With its sportiest settings tuned in, the TCR tears through most tight corners with glee. For amateur gymkhana enthusiasts –  Jo’burgers – this is the holy grail of the GTI range.

The bad news is they’re all gone: VW has now sold the last of them. You could pick one up second hand but expect to pay full price, such is the nature of limited edition runs. 

Rather than being able to offer sensible consumer advice, this is an occasion to acknowledge that the TCR will likely grow into something of a mythological vehicle as the years tick on … perhaps even cement itself as a classic. 

For now, it’s a good way to say goodbye.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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