It's almost as if the Mk5 Jetta was waiting for air suspension to come along to make sense of its low roofline and short overhangs - last month's H2O, and this month's Air Affair show coverage, have plenty of slammed examples to make our point.
In stock form, the Jetta looks tall and wobbly, but decked on air it seems to gain the sleekness its VW designers must have originally intended.
While there are several examples we've been itching to feature, we've broken the ice with this '06 GLI belonging to Derick Szyda from Lake In The Hills, near Chicago.
The 24 year-old auto mechanic works at Komet Motorsports in St Charles, IL. He told us he "likes to try lots of different things," so did a great deal of the work himself.
He became a Jetta owner after his modified Pontiac GTO spun a main bearing, twisting some rods and damaging pistons. As a previous Mk4 GTI owner, he had an affinity for VW and liked the GLI's mix of "luxury, space, performance and looks," he told us. So the blown GTO made way for the GLI, and modifications quickly followed.
He started with window tint, smoked side markers and an H&R Cup kit. The 2.0T FSI was then flashed with APR software when he made the journey from IL to APR's grand opening at its new AL HQ - we met Derick at both Waterfest in NJ and H20 in MD, so he definitely isn't afraid to use the car!
A year later, stage two for the GLI took the form of FK coilovers and a set of 18'' Raderwerks M1090 wheels - one of five sets that would eventually call his Jetta home.
The car remained like this until 9/09 when what Derick describes as "the most horrible month" happened. While working on a customer's car in Chicago, somebody keyed the panels on his car - a particularly senseless and distressing crime to suffer. It came as a shock and forced Derick to re-evaluate car ownership. "This is why you shouldn't own nice cars if you live in Chicago," he lamented.
Tempted to abandon the project entirely, he eventually reversed the tragedy and took the car to the next level rather than allow the mindless vandalism to win the day.
The first priority was to salvage the bodywork, but not before a few modifications had been carried out. Taking the car to Scott Ball at Huntley Collision, the skirts and rear valance were smoothed. A Votex chin spoiler was then added as well as a de-badged grille from Black Forest Industries, which meant the hood notch needed to be filled.
The GLI trunk spoiler was deleted and the rear fenders were pulled 1'' to match the front fenders the owner had previously stretched about 0.5''. With new side markers in hand, the car was ready for paint.
Experimenting with paint, Derick started with the original Salsa red base, adding Lexus silver and blue pearlescent top coat before clearcoating it all. He then had the roof and the center of the rear valance painted matte black, with black European R-Line mirrors tying it all together.
At this point, Derick worked his contacts to get sponsorship from a friend at NOS Energy Drinks. They use his car at events and he has NOS graphics on the car. These appear as a subtle matte black vinyl roof, grille surround and lip spoiler, with matching matte black honeycomb mesh on the front bumper as well.
The final piece in the puzzle was the wheels. When we first saw the car it wore 18'' Raderwerks M1085s, but they were swapped for the staggered Avant Garde Type-310 wheels you see here. "All the previous wheels had deep-dish, but I wanted a more performance look with the flush wheels. However, I was a bit disappointed the finish is more of a semi-gloss than matte black, so I'll be refinishing them over the winter," Derick said.
The air suspension was introduced partially for aesthetic reasons but also for practicality. "The roads around Chicago are pretty bad," he told us, "and I have a high curb into my driveway, so the air allows me to alter the ride height as I need to.
"I also think the car handles well on the AirLift suspension. I've heard some people complain about air but if you piece a kit together to make it cheap, then don't expect it to be the best. The AirLift really works well, though."
The AirLift Slam XL kit includes everything - front struts, rear dampers and four air bags. There's also a Viair 380c compressor hidden at the back of the trunk, behind the 5-gallon tank that's partially covered. Everything is controlled by AirLift's Easy Street digital controller mounted to the bottom of the console. It was color-matched to the dash and allows access to the ashtray where the owner located the video and USB connectors.
The trunk with the air tank is breathtaking to behold. The burgundy velvet suedette material was applied by Derick once he'd built out the trunk. There's a 4'' false floor to hide the spare wheel and JL Audio amps, one of which powers the 10'' JL sub in a fiberglass enclosure on the driver's side. "I looked at lots of sub boxes but didn't like any of them, so I made my own that fitted flush into the trunk but was the optimum size for the amount of air the sub moves," he told us.
On the opposite side, he built another wall with a door to access the cubby behind it, while the rear wall conceals the air compressor and tank, as we mentioned, as well as all the plumbing and solenoids.
Despite its lowrider appearance and thumping bass, this isn't a trailer queen. Derick drives the car regularly and has a big-turbo conversion to provide plenty of entertainment.
Built around a K04 upgrade from AWE Tuning, the kit included larger Audi S3 injectors and FMIC, as well as an uprated fuel pump. Other AWE components include a carbon intake and 2.5'' exhaust with custom cat delete. Forge Motorsport also provided a number of items including a catch can and hoses.
The AWE/GIAC software originally contributed 279whp to the project, but it was reprogrammed after Derick installed an RS4 fuel return valve to allow higher fuel pressure. Currently, the 2.0T is producing 290whp but the aim is 310whp on 93-octane pump gas. They will also tune for a 60% methanol mixture thanks to a Snow Performance injection kit that should boost it to around 330whp.
Ultimately, Derick is looking at forged rods, stronger pistons, lower compression and possibly cams to match the S3 engine spec that should avoid another expensive failure like his GTO!
Other plans call for a matte white vinyl wrap for 2011. This is intended to both give the car a new look and avoid the endless paint chips that are the inevitable consequence of the GLI's constant use.
With the Jetta ticking all the boxes for both performance and appearance, Derick has a great combination of parts that create a very special car, and one we can't help thinking is still in its early stages of development.
2006 VW Jetta GLI
Owner: Derick Szyda
Location: Lake In The Hills, IL
Occupation: auto mechanic
Engine: 2.0T FSI four-cylinder 16v turbo with AWE Tuning S3 K04 turbo kit and high-pressure fuel pump, OEM S3/AWE injectors and front-mount intercooler, AWE Cold Cone Box intake, 2.5'' downpipe and cat-back exhaust with custom 2.5'' stainless steel cat-delete, AWE DV relocation kit, S3/Forge Motorsport splitter valve, Forge catch can, coolant hoses and K04 wastegate actuator, GIAC custom engine software, BSH throttle-body pipe, Snow Performance stage 3 water/methanol injection
Drivetrain: six-speed DSG transmission with GIAC software
Brakes: Eurospec slotted rotors, Hawk HPS pads, StopTech lines
Suspension: AirLift Slam XL struts, dampers and air bags, Viair 380c compressor, 5-gallon tank, Easy Street digital controller
Wheels & Tires: 18x8'' front, 18x9'' rear Avant Garde Type-310 wheels with 225/40 front, 235/40 R18 rear Yokohama Avid ENVigor tiresEXTERIOR: badgeless grille, filled hood notch, smoothed valances, vinyl-wrapped center section on VW Votex front spoiler, front grille and roof, pulled fenders, three-stage Salsa red pearl respray with flat-black painted roof and rear valance
Interior: Eurojet boost guage in vent, color-matched digital air controller, Euro CC headlight switch, red LED footwell lightingAUDIO/VISUAL: Flyaudio OEM-integrated head unit, JL Audio G4500 and G2250 amps, JL Audio 10W3v3 sub in custom enclosure, JL C5-650 component speakers, trunk and false floor wrapped in suedette
Thanks: Komet Motorsports, Rush Group Detailing, Huntley Collision Center, AWE Tuning, GIAC USA, Forge Motorsport, AirLift Company, NOS Energy Drinks, Snow Performance, BSH Speedshop, Aimee, family and friends