It's with a small tear in the eye and a slight wrenching at the gut that we hand back Project Dub, our '06 GLI. To be honest, we weren't expecting to grow so fond of the old girl but it's been a fascinating year of discovery and adventure.
And through it all, the car's done what VWs do best; it's been utterly reliable and totally dependable.
Life with a GLI
The adventure began with the arrival of a totally stock GLI on 17" cross-spokes in United grey. We had spec'd it high with leather and satellite navigation because they're the items we can't normally afford when we're buying. All our toys put the GLI into VW's Package 2 category that automatically includes satellite radio.
We have to admit we're not fans of paying extra for radio, but the choice of terrestrial stations sucks so we thought we'd give sat radio a try.
With so many cars coming from the dealer with sat radio, we were surprised to discover how hard it is to get it working. Ours needed to be registered but when we tried to do so we were told there was no free trial period. When you've paid a great deal of money to have it installed in your car, such a policy seemed rude.
We later discovered the representative we'd spoken to on the phone was misinformed and that all VWs have a trial period, but by then we were content with local radio and CDs, so never bothered again.
We'd also planned to use an iPod, but the promised jack plugs weren't available in our car. And we're certainly not the only ones. In fact, we've not found them on any VW we've ever driven.
To be honest, these are minor gripes and the car itself has been utterly dependable. With long service intervals on new cars, we'd covered 5000 miles before taking it to VW Santa Monica for its first check up.
It cost about $70 for fluids but the poor reputation of VW dealerships was maintained with two oversights. Firstly, they forget to extinguish the service light, so the car continued to tell us it needed checking. They also refused to replace a loose headlight under warranty. To be honest, it didn't bother us excessively and was more of a nuisance to oncoming traffic.
We knew VW dealers were notoriously reluctant to replace parts under warranty but this car belongs to VWoA. You'd think they'd look after themselves!
Our first main service was at 10,000 miles and again we returned to VW Santa Monica. Everything appeared to be going well. We were told it would take 90 minutes and so we waited. After the 90 minutes we were told it just needed washing and we could go. Thirty minutes later we were told it hadn't been washed because they were busy but it wouldn't be long. Thirty minutes after that we were told they hadn't even started working on the car because the side skirts meant it couldn't go on the lifts. Thirty minutes later it went on the lifts.
Considering the number of dealer awards in the waiting room, we were expecting more. Our impression of the dealer isn't a good one, and other people share this feeling about the VW dealer network. All we can say is that the BMW dealer around the corner gave us trouble-free service on our 330i.
We previously admitted that VWoA wasn't keen that we modify its car. After all, they can't be seen endorsing such behavior. However, we can't be seen driving a stock GLI, so went ahead anyway.
In the end we succumbed to temptation and kicked off a three-part 2.0T tuning program with our GLI. In et 8/06 we fitted a Techtonics exhaust and GIAC software. We also added some VF-Engineering engine and tranny mounts as well as an evoms intake.
On the dyno, our stock 177.7hp and 190 lb/ft rose to 206hp and a substantial 248 lb/ft. And it's this lump of torque at low speed that transformed the driving characteristics. It allowed us to short shift and make real progress without drawing attention to ourselves by taking the motor to a noisy redline.
The software has performed smoothly, without flat spots or hesitation. The exhaust is also deeper but not aggressively noisy, so doesn't attract much attention while improving the driving experience.
The evoms intake was removed because it didn't reach the advertised figures and was quite noisy. It went back to the manufacturer so they could check it wasn't faulty, but never reappeared.
The engine mounts are subject to debate. It's hard to detect when they're working properly but it's easy to notice when they add more NVH to the cabin. Fortunately, they don't detract enough to make themselves annoying but the benefits at this level are perhaps marginal.
These made a huge difference to the car, both visually and dynamically.
It started with a set of Hotchkis lowering springs (et 10/06). The company had promised new dampers and sway bars but has never got round to them. However, our 1.5" lowering springs removed the GLI's ungainliness and gave the car more poise when cornering without compromising comfort, thanks to some clever Hotchkis engineering.
After that, we upgraded the brakes (et 11/06). We opted for Brembo's GT kit that uses 328x28mm drilled rotors and Lotus Esprit four-piston calipers. Cosmetically, we wanted something bigger behind the wheels but dynamically were surprised at how hard you had to tread on the stock brakes to get them to stop. Even at low speed the stock brakes felt ordinary, but Brembo's finest now pull it down powerfully from any speed. In fact, a fade-free downhill canyon run proved the worth of this conversion. We sometimes feel people fit big brakes because they're ticking boxes on a list, yet in our case they made a genuine improvement to driving the car.
The final chassis upgrade was the wheels and tires (et 10/06). We visited our friends at The Wheel Supply for some beefy 19s to fill the fenders, but they suggested some 20" DCR wheels might look better. As it turns out, they were right.
On the advice of VW's head of design, we went with elegant five-spoke centers and TWS provided the chrome lips. However, we insisted the centers be color-coded grey to give the car some real Euro credentials.
The wheels were assembled a few days before one of the first big shows last year and the rear offset isn't quite right. The wheels look great but do rub slightly when you're pushing hard on the best bits of road. TWS wanted to take another 2 or 3mm off the back of the rear wheels and this would have cured the problem.
If you decide to use the same DCR wheels, they now know what offsets to use on these cars. And we'd like to encourage you to consider the DCR wheels because we're astonished at their strength. We drive this car every day on some very low-profile 225/30 BFG KDW tires and despite the horrible roads around LA, the wheels have remained round and undamaged - a good testimony to their strength.
The GLI badly needed something to prevent it being mistaken for a Corolla. Fortunately, Caractere in Belgium came up with the perfect antidote: its newest body kit available from Landspeed USA (et 10/06).
It has a bigger, meaner mouth that further emphasizes that characteristic GTI/GLI face. The front end is also deeper to make it more sporting. The side skirts have a small vent in the rear to add some detail to the Jetta's blank flanks, while the rear end gets just a couple of fillets that neatly glue to the bumper to continue the lines of the front bumper and skirts.
On the trunk we removed the stock wing that came with the car and fitted a discreet, flush-mounted spoiler that's much more in keeping with a European GT.
The body kit was expertly painted and fitted by our friends at DTM Autohaus in El Monte, CA. They also ensured the GLI's black grille surround was painted on our Caractere part, as well as providing the signature red "GTI" stripe.
There are several different front bumper and grille designs to chose from Caractere. We went with a badgeless option and the company thoughtfully provides a piece to fill the notch in the hood. Ideally this would be blended to look factory but we're expected to return the car to stock, so weren't able to do so.
If you want to read all about Project Dub, it appeared on the cover of et 9/06. The issue contained a full feature, as well as updates in the issues listed above.
Through a combination of choosing good parts and working with top tuners, we've been fortunate in not experiencing any serious problems with our GLI. The car itself has been faultless, the suspension comfortable, the brakes reliable, the wheels durable and the polyurethane body kit beautifully withstands the knocks and scrapes of daily use.
Hopefully, we've been able to inspire some Jetta and GLI owners into owning a car with true Euro credentials. And with the addition of just a few parts, it can become a true head-turner. Many of these parts are equally applicable to the Rabbit and GTI as well. So we'd encourage you to have a go at extracting even more enjoyment from your VW.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
2006 VW GLI
Engine: 2.0 liter 16v i-4 with GIAC software, Techtonics downpipe, cat and system, VF-Engineering motor and transmission mounts
Driveline: six-speed manual gearbox
Suspension: Hotchkis springs
Brakes: Brembo GT big brake kit with 328x28mm cross-drilled front rotors and four-piston calipers, Brembo stainless steel lines, stock rears
Wheels/Tires: 20x8.5" DCR Monte Carlo forged three-piece wheels with color-matched centers and staggered black-chrome rims, 225/30-20 BFGoodrich g-force T/A KDW 2 tires
Exterior: Caractere front bumper with OE foglights and badgeless grille, side skirts, rear bumper pieces, low-level trunk spoiler and window spoiler
Interior: Package 2 leather, satellite radio, CD changer, sat nav, climate control
Contact: Landspeed USA (landspeedusa.com, 800/237-5625), The Wheel Supply (thewheelsupply.com, 909/468-1311), DTM Autohaus (dtmautohaus.com, 626/442-0318), Torque Factory (torque-factory.com, 310/466-4296), GIAC (giacusa.com), Techtonics Tuning (techtonicstuning.com, 503/843-2700), VF-Engineering (vf-engineering.com, 714/528-0066), Hotchkis (hotchkis.net, 877/466-7655), Brembo (brembo.com), evosport (evosport.com, 714/901-3100), BFGoodrich (bfgoodrichtires.com), Volkswagen (vw.com)