It seems only a few short years ago, VW was nice enough to pick up the cost of the first three services that occurred in 10,000-mile increments between picking up your new car and 30,000 miles. 2015 model year cars now only get the first service free, and it consists of an oil change, tire rotation, and a brief inspection that includes a report on brake pad life. I had my service done at my local dealer in Huntington Beach, California, and then the following day, the VW dealer in Santa Monica scored an assist for actually topping off the oil as I passed by on the way to the Bay Area. Both experiences were near painless, while only one should have been necessary. I will also note that dealerships should either commit to investing the time and money to properly wash a car, or stop trying—just my opinion.
In the last update, we had just installed our Neuspeed Power Module and P-flo Intake. After some brief testing, I came to a simple conclusion. In First and Second gear, adding power doesn't make a difference in acceleration. As a matter of fact, our 0-60 times were nearly indistinguishable from the stock runs. The problem isn't power, it's grip. With stock power levels, the GTI will spin its tires in both First and Second, and since the traction control will step in, even when disabled, it cuts the throttle and consequently boost even with mild tire spin. We tried and tried but just couldn't do anything more than a 5.9-second 0-60 mph run. I was, however, able to pick up a couple of mph in the quarter-mile trapping at 99 mph.
On the trip to the Bay Area, I carpooled with Automobile Magazine's Rory Jurnecka, who spends a significant amount of time in a long-term GTI from his own publication. After a quick blast in Third gear merging on to the freeway, he proclaimed ec's GTI "significantly more powerful" than his. Third gear is really where you feel the Power Module. You feel a brief additional surge in Second, but the traction control quickly steps in and spoils the fun. It isn't the traction control's fault really, it's the tires. They just can't stand up to the monster torque the GTI is capable of producing—even with the Performance Package's limited-slip differential.
As you may remember, I equipped our GTI with Bilstein PSS10 adjustable coilovers fairly early on. I played with damping settings both at the test track and on the streets. For those wondering, I settled on "5," which is the middle setting, in front and an "8," with 10 being stiffest, at the rear. At those settings, the ride was slightly stiffer than stock, but still comfortable and appropriate for this type of car. Ride height was lowered by 30 millimeters both front and rear initially, and that felt too low. The car would run out of suspension travel; it felt as if it were falling over the outside front tire and also as if it had more roll in front than with the stock suspension, likely from the increased roll-couple associated with lowering MacPherson Strut-type suspension. At one point, I ended up raising the front slightly, which gave better results.
When we received the car, part of the plan was to evaluate multiple options of tuning methods. With that in mind, I decided it was time to try something new with the suspension. The PSS10 setup is $2,320 through Tire Rack and is what I would consider a good midrange option. We wanted to try something a bit more budget friendly, so we sourced some H&R Sport Springs, roughly $225 and H&R antiroll bars, $320 (front) and $300 (rear) and brought those down to our friends at AU Tuning in Huntington Beach for an install and alignment.
We reused the stock shocks and struts as these are probably the stiffest damper settings ever seen on any GTI from the factory. Installation of the springs is straightforward, although with every generation of the Golf it seems to get a little bit harder. The antiroll bars are a bit more involved; the front requires dropping the subframe for installation. Both jobs were accomplished and the new alignment was done in a few short hours. The rear of the MK7 allows for some camber adjustment, and we settled on -1.4 degrees. Sadly, VW didn't build any adjustability into the front of the car, so -1.2 degrees is all you get. Given a choice, we would add more negative camber up front and possibly a little more caster angle as well.
While I was at it, I thought, "Why not try and add more grip?" I called up Tire Rack and described the situation. The unabashed tirephiles agreed with my evaluation that the factory Bridgestone Potenza S001 is a good tire, especially good for factory equipment. They did say, however, that if I was willing to give up a little bit of noise, a slight bit of ride comfort, and some tread life, they could help me out with the brand-new Bridgestone RE-71R. A brand-new OZ Omnia wheel was also recommended, and with great looks and at only 20 pounds, it's an easy choice for the GTI.
Some quick impressions of the new setup: First, I like the sport springs and antiroll bar combination. The ride height is almost exactly the same as the initial 30mm drop of the coilover setup. It's definitely stiffer than factory, and I do feel as though the H&R Sport Springs might be just slightly stiffer than the Bilstein PSS10 spring rates. If I were to do this again, I would probably choose to replace the shocks and struts with a shorter sport damper—something with a little bit stiffer rate as well. I really think that would be the best combination on a budget. The antiroll bars have stiffened up the roll resistance noticeably. We haven't been back to the track yet, but even on freeway ramps, the difference is obvious. Again, we haven't had enough of a chance to really push the car, but it does feel as if the handling is balanced better as well. I will give you a better idea once I get the car on some asphalt without laws and with plenty of runoff.
The story is roughly the same with the new Bridgestones. They do feel stickier, but how much will have to wait and see. Between 30 and 40 mph, they make a humming noise similar to a failing wheel bearing. The ride isn't noticeably stiffer in most situations. Occasionally, a crack or expansion joint feels overly harsh, but it is nearly impossible to say if it's worse than with the factory tires without driving over it with both back to back. Luckily, I can't report on any treadwear issues just yet. The tires certainly look more aggressive than the Falken 453s previously on the car. I've received a few compliments on the wheels so far. The multi-spoke design fits the lines of the car and they are subdued enough that without knowing, they could almost be factory equipment.
Software Tuning I have been talking to a few different tuners about trying out an actual software flash for the ECU. I love the ease and practicality of the Neuspeed Power Module, but as mentioned before, I intend to compare as many different options on the car as possible. As most tuners are now offering both engine and DSG flashes, we will likely try out both.
First, I don't want this car to be unnecessarily loud, at least not all the time. I want better sound and more of it, but only when I'm driving aggressively. A valve-controlled exhaust would be ideal, but they are few and far between in the aftermarket these days. I am also going back and forth between just doing the cat-back exhaust and going all out with the full turbo-back. Hopefully by the next project update, I will have all of that ironed out.