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 |   |  2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda
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2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda

When life gives you lemons, you build a sweet Mk6 Jetta GLI

Justin Fivella
Dec 3, 2013
Photographer: Adrian Jon Photography

Although a self-confessed diehard VW fan, months of service issues and electrical gremlins almost caused Derick Szyda to throw in the towel. He'd been down an arduous path with his Jetta TDI and reached breaking point. But like any gearhead, he persevered and emerged better for it.

"It was disheartening, to be honest. I'd heard so many good things about the Jetta TDI and finally bought one but, of course, mine was the one-in-a-million lemon that spent more time at the dealer than on the road," Szyda said.

At about the moment Derick didn't think he could take any more, VW bought back the TDI under the lemon law, freeing him from any VW obligations. Yet like a true VW aficionado, he didn't run for the doors, but rather approached the dealer with a counterattack. "I told them I'd stick with a VW if they could get me exactly what I wanted: A silver GLI six-speed with an Autobahn Package and no sunroof. It was very specific and super-hard to find, but weeks later they located one in Wisconsin and a few more weeks later it was parked in my driveway," he said proudly.

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI replica hybrid headlight 04 Photo 2/13   |   2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda

We should also point out, this wasn't his first VW, having previously owned a Mk4 GTI and later a 2006 Mk5 GLI that was featured in eurotuner and can be found at Fitted with a big turbo, lowered on air-ride and repainted with a pearl effect, the car was a star back in 2010.

With his background, it was inevitable that when the TDI had to be returned, Szyda had his work cut out to restore it to stock. "I hated the car's trailing beam rear axle so had swapped the Audi A3's independent rear suspension into the TDI and fitted Air Lift suspension. Fortunately, I was able to swap most of the air ride over to the GLI, along with my brakes and CCW wheels," he told us. "I got the TDI back to stock just in time for it to be picked up."

Having a brand new car with a full air-ride kit, CCW rollers and Forge Motorsport big brakes would normally be the best thing in the world, but more lemons were in his future. "Owning the GLI of my dreams and having it modded within the first week was awesome, but bad luck struck again when I hit a 6x6" on the highway. It destroyed a bunch of parts, including my CCWs," he explained.

Coming on the coat tails of the TDI debacle, most people would have called it quits, but Derick stuck with it. "I decided to turn the bad luck into my chance to totally rethink my concept of the perfect Jetta," he explained. And so it began. And by "it" we mean one of the cleanest OEM+ Mk6 GLI builds to grace these pages.

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI steering wheel 05 Photo 3/13   |   2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda

"I vacillated about the wheels for what felt like forever. I wanted ADV.1s for years, but they were too expensive, so I considered some cheaper alternatives... Then one day I decided to get what I really wanted, no matter what it took because it was going to make me happy," he said.

The pursuit of happiness took the form of a pair of ADV.1 7TF three-piece wheels measuring 19x8.5" front and 19x9" rear. The ultra-exclusive rollers were wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber and the entire ensemble rotates around the 356mm Forge Motorsport rotors and six-piston big brakes up front - one of the more positive leftovers from his TDI experience.

If finalizing the wheel choice was good, then upgrading the suspension would be even better. "I always wanted the car to have show and go, with the ability to get low at shows but preserve the car's capabilities elsewhere," he said. "The old air-ride kits were only damped correctly at certain heights and lacked the provisions for sway bars, so I went for the latest Air Lift kit because it works as good as it looks."

The Air Lift Performance Kit included adjustable camber plates up front and used an AccuAir e-Level management system. The combo of the e-Level brains controller and 30-way adjustable dampers meant the GLI can go as low as you want while still maintaining stellar handling when needed. "You wouldn't believe how well the car rides and handles. I can't count how many people I've taken for a drive who used to think air-ride was useless but would leave the car realizing it could be every bit as good as a coilover system," he told us.

Big Turbo

Szyda wanted the GLI for several reasons, one of which was the TSI motor. Working closely with software specialist Unitronic meant the 2.0T was about to receive a serious kick in the pants. "The Unitronic K04 combo made 348hp and 330 lb-ft on the in-house Dynapac dyno with equal doses of civility. It spools only 100rpm later than stock, but makes more than 100hp more!" he explained.

As Szyda mentioned, the entire package is built around Unitronic's larger K04 turbo kit and fortified by its stage 2+ software along with Unitronic DV re-route kit, cold-air intake, front-mount intercooler and a full 3" turbo-back exhaust system. Lets not forget the Snow Performance Stage 3 methanol kit as well, which keeps the octane up and intake air temps low.

"I toyed with adding an even bigger turbo, but it would be useless since the car just spins the tires already - if I ever went that route I'd have to convert it to AWD with a system from the Golf R or R32," he added.

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI unitronic K04 turbo kit 02 Photo 7/13   |   The Unitronic K04 big turbo kit and software boosts this sleeper to 348hp and 330 lb-ft at the wheels

If you hadn't noticed by now, Szyda likes things factory fresh, so it made sense that the exterior and interior each received minimal but precise attention. "I felt the GLI's exterior was already perfect, so I only added small things like OEM Jetta Hybrid LED tail lights and replica headlights," he said. "Eventually I'll add the Jetta Hybrid headlights as well, but I want the adaptive and auto-leveling features, so I won't start the project until I can dedicate the proper amount of time," he said.

Life on the inside is fortified with a plethora of JL Audio amps, speakers and processors mounted throughout the cabin and under the leather-lined trunk enclosure. The red contrast stitching in the trunk looks OEM and was used to highlight the color-matched air tank recessed into the floor.

We'd be lying if we didn't judge this book by its cover, believing the GLI has spent more time in the garage than on the road, but Szyda will be the first to admit it's a legitimate daily driver with 31000 miles on the odometer in just one year of ownership. Forget the trailer queens, Derick gets out there and drives his car.

2012 VW Jetta GLI

Derick Szyda
Lake in the Hills, IL
Owner, D.Two Industries

Engine 2.0L four-cylinder TSI 16v with Unitronic K04 turbo kit, stage 2+ software, K04 DV relocation kit, CAI, 3" turbo-back exhaust and FMIC, CTS throttle-body pipe, Snow Performance stage 3 methanol kit

Drivetrain stock manual transmission

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI K04 turbo kit 13 Photo 11/13   |   2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda

Brakes Forge Motorsport 356mm drilled rotors, six-piston calipers f

Suspension Air Lift Performance Kit, front camber plates, 30-way adjustable dampers, color-matched air tank, AccuAir e-Level management

Wheels & Tires 19x8.5" ET42 f, 19x9" ET47 r ADV.1 7TF wheels, 225/35 R19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires

Exterior OEM Jetta Hybrid LED tail lights, replica Hybrid headlights

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI podi boost gauge 08 Photo 12/13   |   2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda

Interior Podi boost gauge

Audio/visual JL Audio CleanSweep DSP, C5 component speakers, 13TW5 subwoofer, 300/4v2 and 500/1v2 amps in leather-trimmed trunk enclosure

Thanks fiancée Aimee, family and clients, Mike Z and Unitronic team (, "uncle" Corey Rosser and Air Lift team (, Jesee Jensen and AccuAir team (, Matt and ADV.1 team (, Matt at Snow Performance (, Crystal Lake VW crew, "Loud" Mike, Tan G, Jake S, Matt S, Nick W, Dmytro O, Richard Jr, Angel and Forge Motorsport team (

2012 volkswagen jetta GLI front fascia 11 Photo 13/13   |   2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Lemon Szyda
By Justin Fivella
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