The question has been asked repeatedly- what’s the better value, a GTI, or its “lesser” counterpart, the Golf ? While the argument definitely varies with the generation we feel that with the MK7 in particular it’s as tough a question to answer as ever.
With the entire range of the Golf family receiving high praise from the motoring press, we knew it would be hard to go wrong with whatever choice we made, but with most of the focus being given to the GTI, and with the knowledge that many of the parts would be interchangeable, we decided to see just how much value we could squeeze out of the less expensive Golf.
A few shots of how we got it- fresh off the dealer lot (sans APR decals 🙂 )
Initially, the plan was to purchase a Launch Edition. This would give us the largest theoretical margin with which to add our desired upgrades to match the purchase price of a fully loaded GTI. A few factors steered us (literally) in the direction of the “S” model,however. One, the steering wheel which is essentially the same as a GTI model, and in our opinion is more aesthetically pleasing than the GTI, was nicer as well as having steering wheel controls. While this could be upgraded after the fact, it was something that made sense to sacrifice up front cost. With that steering wheel, you also get cruise control, something that is not an option with the Launch Edition trim. In addition to the steering wheel and cruise control, the “S” model is equipped with the V-tex leatherette. The leatherette is a nice neutral black and we actually prefer it over the plaid cloth which is standard on the GTI. Black vinyl is apparently an option for the GTI, however those cars are very hard to come by we’re told, and to get the similar look in real leather you’re looking at a very high sticker / optioned out GTI. Another notable interior difference that was in our opinion a bonus with the Golf over the GTI was the brushed aluminum trim instead of the glossy black faux carbon fiber look. It was evident that the GTI trim would be higher maintenance and in our opinion was not as attractive as the brushed aluminum in the Golf. While the ambient and threshold lighting are fancy touches, that was something that was not too hard to sacrifice. Clearly the seats are not as heavily bolstered as the GTI either, yet they are still supportive during spirited driving, while being comfortable. Ultimately we plan to remove these, as we would with any GTI as well in favor of something a little more special. (more on that later)
In most all other areas besides the interior the Golf loses out to the GTI in stock trim. The Golf is equipped with a 5 speed vs. the GTI’s slick 6 speed manual, and there is no potential for any E-diff with the Golf. The brakes are larger, the sway bars are larger, and the suspension is better out of the box with the GTI, but of course those are all obvious candidates for upgrade. Cosmetically the Golf is very unassuming, especially at stock ride height. The halogen headlights scream out “replace me!”, but with very few of the GTI cars being equipped with the lighting package, you run into the same issue there.
But for us, first thing’s first. Like many of you, it’s hard to bear looking a stock ride height vehicle for us, so we decided to make a conservative modification, and upgrade the springs with the MK7 Golf 1.8T VWR “R-Line” Sport Lowering Springs
These springs work well with your OEM shocks and give a noticeably sportier ride while at the same time dropping the car appx 1.5″. The spring rate is designed to keep things comfortable while preventing unnecessary body roll. Installation is the same as with any spring replacement and the quality is as good as any factory part. These springs offer the best compromise for those who are looking to add a little more performance to a daily driver, and improve the looks of their car while not sacrificing a great deal if any of the real world functionality. These springs will however leave you wanting more if you’re expecting to have the same feel as even a factory equipped GTI, due in large part to the fact that these springs cannot compensate for the smaller swaybars that the Golf receives in comparison to the GTI. Fortunately VWR does have plans to offer an upgraded swaybar, that likely will be larger than both the GTI, and Golf versions. While we enjoyed the VWR springs on the car for testing purposes, we will be looking to add a production ready coilover kit soon.
Here’s a look at the car after the spring install:
Next we turned to another product from VWR / Racingline, in an attempt to free up the breathing in our MK7 just a bit. The MK7 VW Golf/GTI & 8V Audi A3 VWR R600 Intake System. The R600 is the most sophisticated cold-air intake available, housing a double-sized filter in a giant airbox with twin air inlets to give lower intake temperatures and worthwhile power gains.
The overall appearance of this intake is nothing short of factory and the fit and finish is as good or better than anything we have every installed in the aftermarket. Once installed you can definitely notice that the turbo is able to spool a little more freely, however the difference is only slight depending on the situation. With this intake there is no appreciable increase in sound. For that we would recommend purchasing an APR Carbon Fiber Intake something that gives equally good performance, with the additional sound and also a very high level of fit and finish. The APR intake does have a much more custom appearance, it all depends on your preference.
Here’s a look a the R600 Kit:
With the car now breathing better on the intake side, we decided to help things out a bit on the exhaust side as well. While there are not many options out right now for the 1.8T in terms of exhaust systems, we wanted to do a little experimenting and work out a custom set up of our own. Step 1 was to remove the rear muffler entirely to get an idea of just how much muffling we were going to need with our system. To our surprise with the entire rear muffler removed, you could barely even tell it was gone if you were not intentionally listening for it. That was good news to us as that meant less parts to buy and less complexity. So a tip was chosen and ordered up and we set about welding up a custom “rear muffler delete” exhaust.
We chose a stealthy black powdercoated slash cut oval to match the cut-out on the bumper and to give a factory type look. While shiny polished tips are nice, we thought the Project Schwarz deserved something a little more sinister as well as something that required a little less maintenance 🙂
We chose to make our set up V-band just like the factory to keep things modular. Likely we will be removing the center section / resonator when we install our APR Cast Downpipe. We are looking forward to the added sound as well as the increased performance from that highly anticipated APR part.
Not only does removing the rear muffler free up some exhaust flow and add a sportier exhaust note, but by removing this hefty part we reduced over 25 lbs of weight. With all of these factors added up, we were able to increase performance noticeably on a very tight budget.
Mocking up fitment. Ultimately everything wound up sitting nice and flush. We went back and painted inside the tip with high temperature black paint to draw less attention to the inside of the tip. We could have just let nature run its course however and the inside would eventually have been black on its own 🙂
Another look at the V band coupling
And if you’ve got a good eye, you may have noticed that we couldn’t help ourselves, as we have somewhat of an obsession with multipiece BBS wheels. For this project we decided to use a set of BBS LM’s , a wheel we have yet to incorporate on any of our projects. These two piece wheels measure 18 x 8 and 18 x 9 et 40 and 43 respectively.
These wheels have a bolt pattern of 5×114.3 but with the use of our Flexfit / Wobble Bolts we were able to easily bolt them on our MK7 which has a 5×112 bolt pattern. While the offset is near perfect, we have grander plans for this set of wheels. We have already put in production the pieces needed to upsize these wheels to 19×9 and 19×10, to give a more dramatic look as well as house a bit more tire.
With the exterior looking a bit more like we wanted, we set about sprucing up one of the weakest spots of the interior, the shift knob. Fortunately for us we just happen to produce what we think is the absolute best shift knob on the market. Our GS1 and GS2 Series Shift Knobs are a near universal fit, that offer a heftier replacement for your wimpy and unsightly factory knob. Our shift knobs feel very refined, and really help to complete what is already a very attractive looking cabin.
The gray knob you see here is a prototype of a possible production part. We’d love to hear your feedback on if this should make it up on the website for sale?
To compliment the shift knob, we also elected to add a set of of Genuine VW MK7 Aluminum Pedal Caps. These caps are very simple to install and they just replace your existing rubber pedals. Both the shift knob and the pedal covers work together nicely to round out the interior. We still plan on upgrading the seats, however beyond the stereo there is really not much we would change on the inside of our MK7.
After all that was wrapped up it was time for us to install a few more of our own performance goodies, starting with our engine mounts. When we first got this car, the shifting feel was simply terrible. The clutch engagement was vague, and getting back on throttle after a shift made you seem like an amateur driver even if you were consciously trying to drive your smoothest. It was abundantly clear that the factory engine mounts were to blame. Fortunately our Stage 1 Engine Mount , Stage 1 Torque Arm Insert , and Stage 1 Pre-assembled Transmission Mount were the perfect solution. These mounts hold everything firmly in place without compromising any of the comfort inside the cabin. Our new proprietary design allows for the maximum amount of performance without added vibration. Shifting is now very predictable and gear changes are as smooth as can be!
Another thing that the car was lacking was any sort of cosmetic interest in terms of bodywork. Our Golf still looked pretty basic despite its new wheels and lower ride height. In searching out an option to visually lower the car we came across the recently released line of Maxton Design Splitters / Spoilers. These ABS plastic splitters are specifically made to fit the contour of each individual bumper to give a very OEM- like fit while enhancing the looks with an aggressive, sportier style. These lips need no prep or finish work and are ready to install straight out of the box using the included hardware and installation instructions. We are now the exclusive U.S. importer of their products and we could not be more pleased with how the partnership has been progressing.
While the Golf has come a long way in the short time we have had it, we do have quite a bit more planned. Keep an eye out as we rebuild the BBS wheels, install a set of coilovers, add a Clean Catch Oil Separator, replace the seats, add APR software and downpipe, new headlights, sideskirts, foglights and more…