My year with the '15 MK7 GTI is coming to a quick close, and I'm starting to wonder what life will be like without it. Not only is it a great car, it's become my favorite long-term car I've had since starting in automotive journalism. It does everything so well, from running my son back and forth to school, to canyon runs and even track driving. It hasn't made Southern California traffic disappear, but it has made it more bearable.
Since the last update, the car's odometer has turned over 20,000 miles, which meant another trip to the dealer for the 20K service. Again, I took the car into my local VW dealership in Huntington Beach. This time, I specified "No car wash" in order to spare myself from the inevitable disappointment. I waited for the car again. This time when the service advisor told me the car was finished, she remarked that it was "quite a car." I asked what she meant and she stumbled over her words to say she liked how it looked. Later, when I got back into the car, I found that not only was the driver seat adjusted every way it could be, as were the mirrors, but suspiciously so was the passenger seat. I guess everyone enjoys the modifications as much as I do.
The service advisor told me about an urgent need for brake pads. Not terribly surprising since this car hasn't lived the easiest life up to this point. She also informed me that Performance Package pads weren't available. Good thing I know people. So for an oil change, pollen filter, and extra-intensive, multi-expert test drive, I shelled out 250 hard-earned dollars. I'll need to sell a few more magazines to cover that.
I've thought for a while that I could probably make a decent improvement to the brakes with minimal expense and effort with just rotors and pads. EBC Brakes gives enthusiasts a huge range of choices when it comes to both pads and rotors. I could have chosen an Ultimax compound, which is essentially a factory replacement pad. A slight upgrade would be Greenstuff. For hard road use, EBC offers Redstuff, but ultimately I decided on Yellowstuff, which is designed for track use but is also just mild enough for road use. Here's the caveat I'm bringing up based on location. In the midst of California winter, the bitterest cold I've seen since installing the new pads was a bone-chilling 53 degrees—don't worry, I wore a coat and got the 20-ounce Americano instead of my normal 16. So those of you worried that these pads may or may not work well when it is actually cold, like zero, call EBC. The company will be able to tell you with far more authority than me.
Did I need rotors? No, the factory units would have gone another set of pads at least. But, EBC offers an array of choices, again, everything from a direct replacement to the BSD rotors the project GTI is now wearing. The disc is made from a proprietary material, creatively named Discalloy—however, do they do it? It is still gray-iron but is alloyed with a small amount of copper in an effort to mitigate cracking. Another step at mitigating cracking is not starting them by drilling holes through the rotor to begin with. The BSD rotor is machined with "blade-slot" grooves, which to my eye look like stylized 7s arranged around the rotor. You get left and right rotors, so those of us with a touch of OCD won't chew our own arms off knowing the 7s are going different ways on each side of the car. The slots allow for hot exhaust gases to escape instead of being trapped between pad and rotor, plus they keep the pads cleaned, plus-plus they look awesome.
Our friends at Auto Union Tuning helped with install again, and as you would expect, everything dropped in fairly easily. The anti-vibration spring clips that EBC uses are slightly different from the factory pads, so they require a bit of care combined with a bit more force to get them in the carrier, but nothing too challenging. This is something you could easily tackle in your driveway if so inclined. Just keep in mind: You will need a specialized tool to twist the pistons back into the rear calipers. Also, be careful when ordering—the Performance Package cars need different part numbered pads than the standard car. Obviously, the rotors are bigger, too. Another point of interest, my early build Performance Package car doesn't have brake pad wear sensors.
You may also notice that the GTI is no longer wearing the OZ Wheels with Bridgestone RE-71R tires. I still have them, but with the speed at which I was turning them into slicks, I thought it would be wise to try something a little more daily-driver appropriate.
I've had my eye on VMR Wheels for quite some time. After seeing them on cars everywhere from track days to car shows, I thought we could give them a shot on the GTI. The wheel you see here is a V710FF. The V710 has been one of the more popular styles for the Anaheim-based company for several years, but recently they have added the flow-formed version, explaining the FF suffix. I went with a 19x8.5-inch wheel in Matte Graphite. I know, in the past I have not been a fan of 19-inch wheels on cars with a 25-inch overall diameter, but having a set of dedicated track tires convinced me to try the 19-inch wheels, for science.
To make the GTI just that little bit more usable, I also chose an all-season tire in a 235/35-19. The weather forecasters continue to warn of an impending El Nino season that will make the last El Nino look like El Nada. Having just tried out the Continental ExtremeContact DW on the Golf R I drove for our Tuner GP, I decided to give the ExtremeContact DWS 06, an all-season version of that tire, a test run. The tire size is just slightly taller than a 225/40-18, which would be the factory size, but the 235/35-19 is what the factory chose for the Golf R.
We had the tires and wheels mounted, balanced, and installed at our local America's Tire, that's Discount Tire to the rest of the country. The techs were shocked at the weight, or more accurately the lack of weight, of the VMRs. At this point, I will apologize for my lack of carrying a trusted and calibrated scale with me everywhere I go. VMR claims the 19x8.5-inch V710FF is just over 22 pounds; they felt lighter to me by a substantial margin. Since they now have tires and valve stems on them, I can't weigh them, so we will go with what VMR claims.
The short sidewalls of the Continentals made for mounting struggles, but eventually all four were stretched over the respective wheels. A little more weight than I would like was necessary for balancing, but I have a feeling reorienting the tire would have helped. Since they were such a pain to mount to begin with, it wasn't attempted. VMR machines each wheel to order, so factory lug bolts are retained and no hub-centric rings are necessary.
Continental tires tend to be some of the widest on the market; the size is merely a guideline. Ask Subway if a foot-long sandwich is actually a foot long. With the low ride height from the H&R coilovers, we were getting some slight rubbing, and since this isn't our car, we decided not to do any fender modifications. The obvious option was to raise the car slightly. If you're wondering, the highest point of the wheelwell opening is now just over 25.25 inches from the ground. I am thinking of going maybe just slightly higher than this even—we will see. I think it looks great a little higher up, more purposeful and usable.
Lastly for this update, I had to replace my car key battery. When I checked online to get the battery number (it's a CR2025) and to look for any problems owners had run into, I found loads of complaining. I know—on the Internet—complaining...how unusual, right? Apparently MK7 owners are absolutely beside themselves that VW would have the nerve to put such an ill-conceived product, literally in the hands of the public. Yes, folks, because of keyless ignition and locks, which I will attest have made my life better, key batteries are now lasting anywhere from six months to a year before needing replacement. Oh, I know, I've already read on the Internet how upset you are because the battery in your '92 Toyota key lasted 47 years without needing replacement, and even then, a technician from Japan came to your house and replaced it for you, only after an hour-long apology. So it was with great contempt that I spent all of 90 seconds to install the new $4 battery into the key to my car—that never requires more than me having it on my person to lock/unlock the doors, open the trunk, and start the car. I heard a rumor VW is firing 3,000 employees over this tragedy. (Sarcastic rant ends, exit stage left with exaggerated eye roll, FX—golf clap.)