The previous update on European Car's long-term Volkswagen Passat covered the aesthetic makeover of air suspension and 20-inch wheels. While I liked the looks, I was a bit disappointed that this roomiest of VW sedans neither handled nor rode as well as when it left the factory. It seemed like a shame, since the VW Passat SEL at its core is rather enjoyable. The steering communicates well, the chassis is nicely balanced, and—with the new 1.8L turbo—it has a great powerband. Considering this magazine's new focus is to shift from aesthetic to performance mods, it seemed appropriate to scratch the go-fast itch.
Step One: get the suspension sorted out. The factory car has spring and damping rates that are well matched to each other, but lean more toward ride comfort than handling (no pun intended). I wanted some ride height adjustability and not over-lower the car for the sake of appearances. After checking out a few alternatives (from just sport springs all the way up to fully adjustable damping coilovers), I decided H&R Street Performance coilovers were the way to go. They were installed and adjusted by Eurosport Accessories in Anaheim, California.
Ride height was set about 1.5 inches below factory, slightly higher than with the H&R Sport Springs. It left plenty of suspension travel, kept the roll center well above ground level, and made sure each tire stayed in the favorable part of the camber curve. Ride quality is substantially better than the air suspension and, while subtle, it makes the Passat look 10 times better than stock.
It's certainly stiffer than the factory setup. Impacts are now more pronounced, and broken pavement is more obvious. But lower-frequency stuff is handled better. There is no longer any float or wallow, even over the biggest bumps and even at high speeds. The car exhibits a more tied-down feel. High-speed cruising is more like an Audi S6.
With the suspension resolved, it was time for more grip. The 20-inch tire and wheel package looked great, and the Continental 5Ps have lots of grip and are quiet at all speeds. The big Rotiforms were heavier than I would have liked and the short sidewalls made things a little choppy. For this stage, I decided a 19-inch wheel would probably be the ideal size for both comfort and grip. The Neuspeed RSe14 weighs just 25 pounds and the 9-inch width is ideal for the 245/35 tires I was able to squeeze under the fenders.
I decided on a Yokohama AD08R this time, as I wanted something a bit more aggressive than the Continentals. The new tire certainly has a substantial amount of grip, but that also comes with more noise. It's far from excessive, but next to the whisper-quiet Contis, it's noticeable. The ride quality improved as well, but it would be tough to say if that was due to the tire itself, or the extra half-inch of sidewall and lighter overall package. This suspension, tire, and wheel formula is exactly what I was hoping for. Better body control, loads more grip, and ride quality appropriate to a sports sedan.
When I started this project, I had dreams of big turbos, giant front-mount intercoolers, and a screaming 3-inch exhaust. None of those were on the cards at the time of writing. As I've mentioned before, the new generation of 1.8T is a good engine right off the showroom floor, but I was curious what a couple of bolt-ons could do.
While Neuspeed had my attention with the wheels, the company told me about its new plug-and-play power module developed for the 1.8T. It connects to the boost sensor and MAP sensor and essentially convinces the factory ECU it's producing less boost than it actually is. This isn't just a diode; the billet aluminum case contains a circuit board that has to match the two signals together or else the ECU will fall into limp mode.
Installation took about 15 minutes with handtools in the European Car Global Command Center parking lot. The power module can be removed easily when taking the car in for servicing. I did just that and the service manager didn't threaten me with a voided warranty, so I'm guessing they never knew the difference. My only complaint with the power module is that it mounts (or is supposed to mount) to the plastic engine cover with sticky backed Velcro. It doesn't work, the Velcro won't stick to the cover, and you end up with the gorgeous, black anodized billet aluminum block swinging around by the wiring harness. A wire tie will go a long way here.
Neuspeed's Aaron Neuman also mentioned that his engineers had found the biggest restriction on the 1.8T to be the turbo discharge pipe that connects the turbo outlet to the intercooler. The factory piece is a flattened plastic tube that looks like it would be more at home connecting air conditioning vents behind the dash than creating power under the hood.
Neuspeed makes an aluminum pipe with new billet connectors that is a direct replacement. Installation took nearly an hour from jacking up the car to dropping it back down. I followed the instructions exactly, but my advice would be to leave the bellypan in place, remove the wheel, then the fender liner, and follow the directions from there on out.
With the power module already installed, there is a noticeable difference in top-end power with the discharge pipe. Before installation, the power module seemed to make a big difference in low- and midrange punch, but it flattened off at the top. After the discharge pipe was installed, the increased power is noticeable almost to redline. The power module has a switch for both 91- and 100-octane. I've never felt the urge to drop $9 a gallon on gas, so it has stayed in 91-octane mode the entire time.
Some modifications are more psychosomatic than real-world performance, so I decided to test our project Passat against a Passat Sport 1.8T to see how much of an improvement I had made. The weight difference between the two is relatively small, with the well-equipped long-termer weighing 3,469 pounds and the Passat Sport at 3,309 pounds. The long-term Passat is nearly a second faster from standstill to 60 mph, doing it in 7 seconds flat compared to the Sport's 7.9 seconds. I was actually a little surprised it was that much better.
Both cars are difficult to launch. If there's any wheelspin, the undefeatable traction control kills the power. Also, both cars are traditional automatics and the shifts are on the slow side. A DSG transmission would have my Passat in the mid-to-high-6-second range.
The long-term car held on to its lead in the quarter-mile, running 15.3 seconds at 92.3 mph, compared with the Sport's 16 seconds at 87.3 mph. I did the testing on a hot Southern California day and the factory intercooler was definitely feeling the heat by the end of the quarter-mile. A front-mount intercooler would do wonders for the 1.8T, or another option I'm tempted to try would be water/methanol injection. It would add greater charge cooling as well as adding the extra octane to try that 100-octane mode.
The heat certainly didn't help figure-eight times, either. But the modified Passat still ran an impressive 25.5-second lap. Again, the intercooler was cooked on the relatively low-speed, but high-heat track.
Figure-eight guru and Motor Trend's testing director, Kim Reynolds, also gave the car a workout. Reynolds drives just about every car for sale in the United States and is a walking database of handling characteristics. He had nothing but positive things to say about the modifications to our Passat. "The car still has a great balance. The clarity through the steering and brakes is superb. It does exactly what I want and it never surprises. It is a genuinely fun car to drive."
Reynolds was a bit surprised at the level of grip achieved by the Yokohamas. The 0.95 g is right up there with some of the best cars on the road. Even the 26.1-second figure-eight lap puts it in some rare company. If you're wondering: A much smaller '14 BMW 320i and a similarly sized '14 Mercedes S65 AMG ran exactly the same time. The Passat Sport was 0.7 of a second slower, which equates to a lifetime in the figure-eight.
Overall, I am thrilled with the results. The power modifications totaled a most reasonable $650. We spent another $1,480 on the coilovers, plus $2,660 on tires and wheels. The upshot is a car that could easily be badged as a Passat GLI.
As stated earlier, I would like to try a front-mount intercooler and even a turbo-back exhaust. By the time you read this, upgraded intercoolers should be available, although I'm still not sure anyone will make an exhaust. I suspect a Jetta downpipe might fit and the rest of the exhaust could be fabricated by a decent shop. I would also like to try these modifications on a manual-transmission car. A MkVII Golf 1.8T (which is substantially lighter than our Passat) with these power modifications would likely come close or even exceed a MkVI GTI in performance.
Sadly, the Passat went back shortly after testing, so this was as far as the project could go. But this project clearly demonstrates the car's potential, even with the base engine. With a few more well-chosen modifications, I could quite possibly get this family cruiser to GTI-like track performance. If I was to do this again, I would start with the Passat Sport with a manual transmission. The transmission and lighter weight would mean better performance and the lower entry price would mean all this for right around 30 grand.
|'14 Volkswagen Passat||TSI Se Sport||SEL Premium|
|Price as Tested||$28,730||$31,715|
|Vehicle Layout||front-engine, FWD, five-pass, four-door sedan||front-engine, FWD, five-pass, four-door sedan|
|Engine||1.8L/170hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4||1.8L/170hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|Transmission||six-speed automatic||six-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight (F/R Dist)||3,309 lb. (59/41%)||3,469 lb. (57/43%)|
|Wheelbase||110.0 in.||110.0 in.|
|Length x Width x Height||191.6 x 72.2 x 58.5 in.||191.6 x 72.2 x 57.0 in.|
|0-60 MPH||7.9 sec.||7.0 sec.|
|Quarter-Mile||16.0 sec. @ 87.3 mph||15.3 sec. @ 92.3 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 MPH||118 ft.||108 ft.|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.85 g (avg.)||0.95 g (avg.)|
|EC Figure-eight||27.0 sec. @ 0.64 g (avg.)||26.1 sec. @ 0.64 g (avg.)|
H&R Street Performance Coilovers
I've tested H&R products on everything from MkI Golfs to 911 Turbos and never been disappointed. This application starts with a monotube damper with a threaded body, allowing height adjustment and corner balancing with minimal hassle. The fitment for the Passat offers 1.25 to 2.5 inches of lowering, based on the factory ride height. Available from dealers all over the country. And you didn't hear it from me, but you can probably pay less than retail.
Suggested retail: $1,480
Neuspeed RSe14 Wheel
Classic styling along with modern flow-formed manufacturing define Neuspeed wheels. Lighter than factory but just as strong, these are a lifetime part. Available in silver, gun metal, or black, they have a finish that will work with any car color. The 19-inch version is available in either 8- or 9-inch widths and weighs between 21 and 25 pounds. I really loved the OE-yet-aggressive look. Combined with lowering, it drew the eye of enthusiasts, but not necessarily the law.
Suggested retail: $359.95
Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R
Some of the petroleum in this tire is replaced with more environmentally friendly orange oil. If you don't care about that, the compound also uses a higher level of carbon and micro-silica with a new polymer blend to increase grip in both dry and wet conditions. I was blown away by the grip and only noticed the extra tread noise with the stereo off. The trade-off was well worth it. Even after a day at the test track, the tires barely had a knick on them.
Neuspeed Hi-Flo Turbo Discharge Conversion
VW always seems to build in a roadblock to power addition, either inadvertently or not. Like the previous 1.8T in MkIV models, the pipe leading from turbo to intercooler is flattened out, creating a restriction in flow. Neuspeed's discharge pipe is claimed to add an additional 8 to 10 hp, especially with other modifications. Billet aluminum connectors and a silicone hose are included. Installation is a bit more involved than the power module, and you will need a jack and jackstands.
Suggested retail: $249.95
Neuspeed Power Module
Plug-and-play modules allow additional boost without changing timing, fueling, or any factory safety protocols. You can see this as a positive or a negative, as timing and fueling changes might net a few more ponies, but ultimately not have the same level of self-preservation as the factory ECU. Neuspeed claims an additional 35 hp and 35 lb-ft of torque on the 4-psi 91-octane setting. Adding boost is the biggest bang for the buck in a modern turbo car. Install is quick, even for a journalist.
Suggested retail: $399.95
Special thanks to Eurosport Accessories