First Drive: Why and how the new 290PS Golf GTI TCR will leave you breathless
First Drive: Golf GTI TCR
Only a decade or so ago the conventional wisdom was the maximum power you could reasonably put through the driven wheels of a front-wheel-drive car was 200PS.
Any more, back then, and the chassis and drivetrain just couldn't cope, it was claimed.
I well remember driving hot hatches of that era where, if the whites of your knuckles weren't showing from gripping the steering wheel firmly, you were at severe risk of being pulled into the scenery thanks to arm-wrenching torque steer.
So what to make of Volkswagen's latest Golf GTI which pumps out 290PS (380Nm) via the front wheels?
You should know from the start , that the Golf GTI TCR is going to be a rare beast; only 20 are scheduled for Ireland.
TCR stands for Touring Car Racing. This is the road-going version of Volkswagen's race car that competes in an international racing series.
It's the Mark 7 Golf GTI's last hurrah - an all-new Golf will be unveiled later this year.
Hitherto the most powerful GTi was the 245PS Golf Performance. That continues as the 'entry level' version; the previous 231PS model has now been dropped.
So the GTI TCR is by some way the most powerful GTI to date; it's only 10PS down on the all-wheel-drive Golf R.
Only available with a DSG auto gearbox, it's priced at €47,495 (€2,325 more than the regular GTI) and it undercuts the R by just more than €2,000. Interestingly it comes as a 3dr or 5dr - for the same price.
It does 0-100kmh in 5.6 seconds and has a top speed of 250kmh. There is an option to remove the electronic Vmax limiter to give you an extra 10kmh.
That is a somewhat superfluous addition considering there isn't even a race track in Ireland where you could reach that kind of speed, though it also includes a sports version of the rear shock absorbers and adaptive Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC).
Compared with the regular GTI, the TCR sits 5mm lower, has a limited slip differential and perforated brake discs with special brake pads.
Body mods include an additional front splitter, a specially designed rear diffuser and black spoiler.
Inside, a red mark at the top of the steering wheel adds to the race car feel.
It's probably a measure of how expectations have changed that it was no surprise the GTI TCR was able to handle those 290 horses with ease.
Even under hard acceleration there was hardly a hint of a squirm from the steering wheel.
The ride was noticeably firm, though that in part is probably due to the optional 19ins rims fitted to test cars -18ins is the default size.
Much of our driving was on the Portamao race track near Faro, Portugal where the GTI TCR was in its element.
Its ability to turn in and accelerate hard without drama belied its front-wheel-drive layout.
At Portamao we also had the opportunity to drive all of the six previous generations of GTI.
What a privilege that was.
Writing about that is a story in itself, but suffice to say that stepping from one to the other brought into stark relief just how much cars have evolved since the Mark 1 of 1976 vintage.
Those cars redefined sportiness in their time, but even the slowest modern cars would feel rapid compared with the first three generation GTIs where 80kmh felt like 180kmh in the TCR.
That Mark 1 had all of 110PS, and doubtless its engineers could never have envisaged its successor would pump out not far off three times that figure.
Whether the Mark 14 GTi in another 40-plus years will boast in the region of 600PS remains to be seen, but for now, this GTI TCR looks set to be a much sought-after niche model of what is a true icon.
Deliveries start in March on a first-come first-served basis.
What a treat a limited number of people have in store.