In January, I bought a 2019 GTI Autobahn DSG with 5k miles in Washington DC, where I lived at the time. I enjoyed the car’s practicality and thought it had the potential to be a razor-sharp daily driver with a few changes.
A stock Volkswagen GTI — on stock tires — feels like a 5 or 6 tenth’s car on harsh roads. It was unwilling to turn in, crashy over rough surfaces, and had a general “looseness” over road imperfections. So I plotted a course for a series of minor changes that added up to a much more positive driving experience.
In my view, I’m augmenting decisions by a company limited by cost sensitivity and brand hierarchy. With one exception (see giant intake below).
Problem #1: Un-linked MacPherson strut.
As the front suspension uses MacPherson struts (as opposed to double wishbones) stress from bumps and cornering travels to the strut towers, which are not braced together from the factory. As the strut towers are connected to the body, imperfections in the road can cause a terrible shimmy that rattles the body of the car and upsets the handling when you need it most. This pressure upsets the alignment of the suspension geometry, making handling unpredictable. Solution: Euro Sport upper front strut tower brace. This links the strut towers into a single unit, allowing the entire front suspension to respond to pressure. This bar made turn-in more compliant, added stability at all speeds, and dramatically reduced noise and shimmy over all road imperfections. It made the car feel less noisy and more expensive. Full list of benefits:
1. More grip on turn in
2. More *consistent* grip on bumpy road conditions.
3. Before, when going over road imperfections, I’d get this shimmy and noise that I kept blaming on the road. No more noises.
4. No more front-end creaking during articulation over driveways.
5. Turn-in is WAY more predictable. You can more accurately judge to how much turn-in you’ll need, especially on lopsided roads.
6. The car feels more expensive now. Nothing bothers it. way less NVH…
7. The strut bar simply lets the stock front suspension work properly. Before, on “normal mode”, the suspension felt harsher, because a bump would go up the shock and quickly into the chassis, so the damper couldn’t “finish up with damping.” Now, normal feels softer because the damper has the time to work.
8. Before it felt like the front wheels were held together by a rubber band. I didn’t want to say anything and blamed the roads.
Why didn’t VW add this from the factory?
I believe it was partly a cost-saving exercise, and a way to distinguish the GTI from more premium Audi models. There’s zero downside to this mod. I can’t recommend it enough. It feels like the car was missing a critical structural part beforehand. The car should have come from the factory like this.
Problem #2: Sloppy driveline
In addition to the struts, I also noticed “looseness” in the engine and transmission mounts. When I hit bumps, or quickly slowed down, turned, or accelerated, the driveline would wobble around, and shifting felt loose and slow. Given that the GTI has a dual clutch transmission, I viewed sloppy shifting unacceptable.
The loose engine mounting is more feature than bug, as solidly mounting the engine increases NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness). As the GTI needs to be a car for everyone, I can understand this compromise from the factory. Still, I found it personally unacceptable. I looked for a solution which offered the most solid mounting with the least possible NVH.
Solution: 034 Motorsport Upper/Lower Dog Bone Mount Insert. At first, I completely regretted this mod. While it totally “worked” to tie down the engine and trans, it produced an insane amount of vibration at engine start, idle, and acceleration, and a constant low level vibration at highway cruising speed. I was disappointed and embarrassed that I’d made the wrong bet on this modification, as most reviewers said the increase in NVH was extremely minor. After reading more, many people said that the mounts needed a few hundred miles to “settle in.” Since the mod was already on the car, and I knew I’d return to the shop for more work in the near future, I decided to rack up miles. 400 miles on a road trip, still loud. another 200 on a weekend drive, still loud. Another 300 the following week, 15% better. Then suddenly, after about 1000 miles, I started up the car one evening and noticed that annoying vibration tone was gone!
Finally, I had all the benefits of tighter engine mounting, and the only discernible evidence that I had this modification was a slight vibration during uphill stop-and-go. I really didn’t expect the part to “settle” this well, or for it to have taken essentially 1000 miles to do so. I’m very happy that I kept this part installed, but It’s clearly an idiosyncratic mod, as everyone seems to experience a different level of NVH, and a different break-in period.
Given how it turned out for me, I’d recommend the inserts for those who want tighter shifting, but I must caution everyone against the initial NVH, which is definitely unacceptable for a daily driver. Mine turned out very well, but I cannot promise the same result on your GTI.
Problem #3: Loose turn-in
A significant portion of this problem was solved with the strut brace, but I had three other solutions in place to further mitigate this issue: Black Forest Industries Front Control Arm Bushings, Front and Rear TyrolSport Deadset Rigid Subframe Kit, H&R 24mm Rear sway bar, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. As I installed all of these at once, my review of these items will blend together, as is only fair, as my butt dyno cannot perfectly distinguish between the three of them, though I’ll try my best.
1. The PS4S are described adequately elsewhere, but they’re an amazing tire, and they should be the first “mod” to anyone who actually enjoys spirited driving. The grip breakaway is smooth and gradual, and the tires last a very long time at speed if you avoid burnouts from a dig.
2. The Front and Rear Tyrolsport Deadset Kit made the car arrow straight on the highway, and eliminated a lot of subframe groaning common to these cars. Along with the LCA bushings, the locked-in subframe no longer shifted when throwing the car into turns.
3. The BFI Lower Front Control Arm bushings are rubber with no voids in them, which is even more aggressive than the LCA bushings on an Audi RS3. With these, I was able to more accurately *and gently* place the car on initial turn-in, and got a better sense of how the steering loaded up. With electronic steering, every little bit of input helps!
4. The H&R 24mm Rear Sway Bar & Moog End Links significantly decreased body roll and added high speed stability. The car feels much happier to take turns on the highway at over 100mph in Minecraft.
Turn in review:
*takes very sharp left turn*
1. PS4S tires grip1000x better than stock all seasons
2. subframe doesn’t shift right, holds tight
3. BFI LCA’s have little to no deflection
4. *Both* shock towers come along for the ride because of the stress bar
5. H&R RSB helps reduce understeer & body roll
Additional note: I’ll also be installing the Euro Sport Rear X brace, and then I’ll finally be done. It’ll be different this time. I promise!
Odds and Ends:
The only other mods I’ve done are OBDEleven stuff (Urban Joke light effect + Coded Soundaktor off + coded ESC off + Turned off “Rough Road Optimization” + Changed LSD setting to “Increase Traction” + keyfob convenience mode — opens/closes windows & sunroof) the silver DSG Paddle Shifters 2.0, the Integrated Engineering intake, and the APR turbo inlet pipe (would have done IE, but supply chain -> still works great)
The OBDEleven RRO tweak made the car feel much faster in gears 1, 2, and 3. Really worth trying out.
I installed the IE intake + APR TIP last week, and I must say it’s very enjoyable! The car is much more fun to drive, makes a ton of hilarious noises, and feels much more eager to be in the 4k-6.5k rev range. Especially after coding out the soundaktor, I didn’t really know where my RPMs were when north of 60mph, and I’d rather not look at my gauges when driving spiritedly.
Conclusion & Year 1 Review:
All in all, I’ve driven 15,000 miles over the course of the year so far (not bad for working remote), drove the car across the country from DC to San Diego, have had zero reliability problems, leak no fluid, and I’ve really enjoyed my first year with this car. I’m looking forward to many more!
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