ECS Tuning and StopTech MK7.5 GTI Sweepstakes presented by Racing Line: Our Lucky Winner!

After an exciting few months, we have the winner for our MK7.5 GTI sweepstakes car we built in partnership with Racingline, Stoptech, Liqui-Moly, and several other amazing sponsors. If you have followed along, you saw the GTI transform from a totally factory MK7.5 to the most heavily modified example we are aware of in existence. Several of our sponsors developed many of their parts for the platform on this car, and it features many first-ever upgrades that will soon be available for other facelift owners to purchase. The GTI underwent quite the list of performance additions and now sits in its completed form, ready to take its new owner for an exciting drive every time he jumps behind the wheel.

So who is our lucky recipient? It is a he, and his name is Kevin from California. Once again, the sunny Pacific state takes home the grand prize, and even more coincidental is his affinity for Audi! I actually had the opportunity to speak at length with Kevin and he gave me quite a bit of background as to what led him to make the fateful purchase. He shared his car history, some of his personal background, and even his most recent B8 A4 project that secured his winning order.

Kevin has been around cars nearly his whole life and began his downward spiral into automotive enthusiasm back in high school. He purchased Datsun for $100 at sixteen that needed an engine, which eventually led to his interest in fixing his own cars. After the Datsun, a VW Beetle became his daily driver and ongoing project. That Beetle fostered a love for VW that persists today and has meant more than just enjoyable transportation to our lucky winner. In what seems to be a theme of fortunate happenstance, Kevin actually met his wife through his ownership years ago of that Beetle. The mechanic to whom he turned for advice ended up being her father so one could say the love bug might have a little bit of truth to it after all.

More recently than his high school days, Kevin experienced what could have been called some misfortune at the time, but ended up as a heartwarming bit of car-karma. His daily driver until a few months ago was a MK4 Jetta, which he quite liked in its intact state. Another motorist who was less concerned with Kevin’s Jetta and its un-crashed appearance decided to t-bone his car. Inevitably, the car was totaled. The insurance company, as always, gave up the bare minimum. This forced him to search for a new daily that he could pay cash for and still enjoy. A local dealership had a reasonably priced B8 A4 that seemed sorted, so Kevin made the purchase and enjoyed some worry-free transportation in a newer Audi.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with bad luck, Kevin caught another wave of inconvenience. The B8 ran well for a little over a week, then the engine decided it had enough of its timing chain and freed it from its state of confinement. The engine completely jumped time, the cams spun, valves extended, and Kevin assumed the worst. Since he is a competent mechanic, he decided to yank out the 4-cylinder and have a go at diagnosing the damage. In a silver lining stroke of luck, the valves were undamaged as were most of the other major internals. The engine was apart, so Kevin decided to just rebuild the whole thing to avoid worrying about any mechanical surprises for a long time.

Kevin’s rebuild included the very order that secured his victory in the sweepstakes, which we think could not be more fitting. When you look at the big picture, Kevin’s Jetta being totaled and all his bad car luck was just the little bit of bitterness before the sweet. With the chain-reaction of totaled Jetta to broken A4, we couldn’t pick a winner more deserving of a new car replacement full of goodies (that he won’t have to rebuild).

So what happens next? After Waterfest, Kevin has arranged for the GTI to go home with him to California where several of his old friends (and some new ones he didn’t know he had) will undoubtedly pester him into taking them on some joy rides. He does intend to get involved with the SoCal VW scene, so you California locals will certainly see the colorful ECS and Stoptech livery present at events, shows, and cruises around the lower half of the state. Be sure to follow along as we check in with him through the first year of his ownership of the car and if you see him cruising around, give him a smile and wave to say congratulations Kevin on your new MK7.5 GTI built and tuned by your trusted European performance tuning experts.

The ECS Tuning Volkswagen GTI MK7 Road Test and Review

Some cars have always carried a certain stigma attached to them. When I think about the quintessential scene-kid car, one of two comes to mind. I picture either a Honda Civic or a Volkswagen GTI. In my humble opinion,  the GTI replaced the Civic as the go-to boy-racer vehicle of choice in recent years. Despite my attitude towards the little hatchbacks, a sizable chunk of ECS Tuning customers and consumers around the world gravitate towards the Volkswagen GTI for some reason. As a writer and car enthusiast, I had to finally see why the VW GTI is so inexplicably tantalizing as a daily driven subject for tasteful modification.

Since we are a tuning company, there was no better choice than our own MK7 GTI 6-speed as a prime test subject. With this car, I could experience living with a GTI and drive around in an example that has been modified similarly to my own tastes. Its current state makes our MK7 a poor selection to talk exclusively about the car as a “new car” review, but that was not the point of my investigation. I wanted to understand why the car is popular on its own as well as how it holds up with a full catalog of bolt-ons slapped in the car.

Drivers on both sides of the pro-GTI and anti-GTI fence offered their opinions of this specific car to me before, so I felt like I had an idea of what the car was going to do for me. Their opinions mixed with my own preconceived notions did not foster high expectations for the GTI. To further add perspective, I alternate my wheel time between either my 2015 WRX or my 1988 E30. Based on the information I had going in, I fully anticipated the GTI to drive like a tame WRX with more torque steer. This made me wonder why anyone would choose the VW over the Subaru.

I sat in the little MK7, turned the key, threw the ECS Shift Knob in reverse, and backed out of our R&D shop to find out what made these cars appealing. Immediately I noticed a few intricacies of the car that I quickly became accustomed to. The clutch was incredibly light, the steering was light, and the flywheel chattered like that annoying guy behind you in the movie theater. I am used to a noisy lightweight flywheel, and our ECS lightweight flywheel did not disappoint with its vocal reminder that it had been on a diet. However, the chatter became barely noticeable as I pulled the car out of our lot and onto the Wadsworth back roads.

Despite the light pedal feel, our ECS performance clutch kit excellently engaged with a snappy response. The performance clutch and flywheel kit paired with our adjustable short shifter made the driving quite engaging, but I could not help but feel that it was still a removed experience when compared to something more mechanical. The fairly quiet cabin offered a relaxed environment and some luxuries not afforded to my WRX but was otherwise a familiar experience. New cars, in general, tend to have the same vibe from behind the wheel. I felt slightly detached, but not any more than I have in other brand new commuter cars.

When I put my foot down the first time, though, the sense of detachment and slight boredom disappeared. The wheels spun and the traction control nanny I never anticipated would need to engage instantly stepped in to kill my fun. But I noticed something: this car had a chameleonic ability to transform into whatever you needed it to be depending on how far down you pressed the throttle. I should mention that the example I drove is equipped with the APR Stage 2 tune, Luft-Technik performance intake, upgraded coil packs from the RS3, a full Milltek Sport exhaust, Airlift Performance 3H air-ride kit, 034 Motorsport sway bars, and every polyurethane bushing and mount we could interchange. The basic modification list represents what I would do myself, so it provided great insight into how good the car is to modify. That said, I felt instantly more engaged before pulling in to fill the car up with some gas for my extended test drive.

An important part of getting to know any car is to just live with it for a minute. Before I could enjoy throwing the car around, I needed to get the full experience of what it would be like to own every day for the purposes of my investigation. I filled the thimble-sized 12-gallon tank, played with the air-ride settings, deactivated traction control this time, and set out to hit some back roads.

With the traction control off, there was no overprotective babysitter to stop the mad wheel-spin. I could feel the differential doing its damnedest to control the hop and spin, but it might as well have tried to reverse the rotation of the Earth. Without some seriously sticky tires, the FWD layout was doomed to forever experience torque steer and traction loss under an all-out launch. However, this is not my first LSD-equipped high-horsepower FWD. I have experienced power to weight ratios similar to the GTI in other FWD cars that have felt terrifyingly out of control under a hard launch. The GTI at no point felt out of control, just that it could benefit from better tires and possibly less PSI of pressure in the front airbags. Immediately I was having fun listening to the noticeable but not overwhelming Milltek exhaust and the sound of the turbo spooling. Compared to my nearly stock WRX, this GTI felt considerably quicker. It was not terribly fast, but I began to understand why the little Volkswagen was so popular.

After a hard launch or two, I started looking for corners. Unfortunately, this is not my native state of Tennessee. Hardly a corner could be found. For the first time in my life, I was behind the wheel of a front-wheel-drive, turbocharged, hatchback that I wanted to drive hard. I am not a fan of any three of those things in any combination, but here I was with my hands glued to the wheel, engine sitting at the top of its range, and I was looking for any corner I could to try and experience the car in its natural habitat.

I drove around some back roads and eventually was able to find enough corners that I could say I at least threw the car around a little. The corners I found made me incredibly happy. The GTI just pulls you through high and low-speed corners like an excited kid pulling you down the toy aisle of a store. It begged to be driven hard, even on the air-ride and street tires. I started to fully focus on how the car wanted to be driven and found that it didn’t matter: it just wanted you to drive it. No matter what I tried, nothing made the car unhappy. Driving casually through one-horse little townships at low speed was comfortable enough to make me forget I was behind the wheel of a car that could give a new STI a feeling of humility. When the speed limits increased and the roads became more desolate, it didn’t complain that I kept it near the rev limiter almost constantly.

After I had some fun, admittedly for longer than I had intended, I needed to shift gears (figuratively) into what it was like to just use as a bit of transportation. Modified cars are quite often on a sliding scale of usability directly related to the amount and type of modifications they sport. The more you change your car to behave like a race car, the less it will behave like a street car. While this may be obvious as you read it, people frequently are caught up in the performance whirlwind. Often, they make changes that alter the car they were eager to tune into one they are eager to sell. I took the GTI through some small towns, to a store for a snack and soda, and out for some casual property hunting. All my stops were pleasantly and unexpectedly enjoyable in the modified hatchback.

Air bags are not always the most comfortable ride, but in this car, I almost didn’t notice a difference. I have driven an unmodified MK7.5 GTI and the ride quality felt quite similar just around town. Slight bounciness reminded me that the car was on air, but even railroad tracks and unpaved sections of country roads felt relatively comfortable on the Airlift suspension. A fun side-effect of the test drive is that I no longer consider air suspension to be a gimmick; adjustable ride height at the touch of a button with good ride quality is nothing to scoff at and perfectly suited for a modified MK7.

Inside the car, only a few squeaks and rattles made me remember I was in a GTI and not something much nicer. The solid feeling to everything, the chunkiness of the ECS shift knob and HVAC control knobs, and the spartan appearance inside made the car engaging and supple. My only real complaint is the car’s lack of a backup camera. I know this is silly, but I like the camera on my WRX even though I normally hate anything that makes driving easier. With the major blind spots, I noticed in the GTI, having a backup camera would make navigating something like a cramped gas station lot or a busy R&D shop much less stressful. However, that complaint aside, driving the GTI felt like driving a slightly more luxurious, more engaging, and more practical WRX.

In the few hours I drove the car I found that my fuel consumption was much lower than in the WRX, even though the GTI was pushing more horsepower and rocking a much more aggressive tune. It dawned on me that the GTI has the same mileage range as my WRX, yet more horsepower and a smaller tank than the Subaru. The theme of ‘it’s the same, but better’ just seemed to hold true for every aspect of the car.

The steering wheel design is again reminiscent of the WRX, but in a better, more comfortable material. The console controls are driver-centered, whereas in the WRX they are neutrally positioned. The seats offered similar side bolsters but were slightly more yielding yet supportive. I could easily have driven this exact GTI around the country and not become tired.

The whole time I drove the GTI I was constantly reminded of one upgrade fitted to the car that I could have done without. The ECS Big Brake Kit stopped the car tremendously but was completely unnecessary. It pulled my face off every time I touched the pedal and definitely felt like overkill for the amount of power produced by the little car. With performance pads, like Hawk HPS 5.0, and some good fluid, the brakes would have been more than sufficient. The oversized brakes on this GTI made it feel unbalanced. They would be perfect for a car with double the horsepower, but not a sub-400hp daily driver.

After spending an afternoon with the car, I felt hesitant to go back to the office. Not because it meant sitting down to write, but that it meant getting out of the GTI. I became used to the little quirks of that car and to the way it behaved with all its modifications. I grew fond of the plaid seats, oddly square rearview mirror, and the functionality of a hatchback. Even the slightly artificial sound of the engine had made an impression on me. I no longer felt that it sounded like a wannabe; it sounded like something with intention. Unfortunately, I had to bring the car back to our facility. I pulled it into the shop and said goodbye to a car with which I felt that I inexplicably bonded.

The GTI is now a car I have to own. Maybe not a MK7, but a classic GTI has made the list of cars I want to develop the same passion for that I have with my BMW. But what about this MK7? I thought exhaustively for about 5 minutes to come up with the categories on which I would judge it: practicality, drivability, comfort, fun, and complaints. Ten points for each category, a total of fifty points, and an adjusted final score out of 100 will give us the overall performance of our ECS Tuning modified MK7 GTI.

Practicality offered by the GTI is obviously high. Its large front doors make entry and exit from the car easy enough while the Hatch Pop Kit makes the spacious trunk area even more convenient. I could definitely fit all the spare parts a VW would ever need in the trunk. Out of ten, the GTI scores a nine for practicality in my eyes.

For drivability, the conclusion was a bit murkier. I definitely enjoyed the modifications and did not feel like they made the GTI behave too much differently, but I did feel that they were more aggressive than I would prefer in a daily driven vehicle. I had difficulty becoming accustomed to the light pedal feel of the clutch and actually wished for something slightly stiffer and with a more distinct engagement point on the pedal travel. The short shifter, however, behaved flawlessly. This short shifter felt precise and smooth in comparison to the average SSK feeling I am used to. Finally, the air ride suspension, of course, made sitting at a ridiculous ride height feasible. Overall, drivability suffered some from the clutch kit and oversized brakes. On a dedicated performance car, they are well suited, but for a daily, I’ll take less aggressive parts instead. I have to give the GTI a seven out of ten in drivability as a result.

Comfort is an easy category. The seats were supportive but not rough, the ride felt stiff but not bouncy or uncomfortable, and the steering wheel had a quality feel. I almost have no complaints about comfort. Easily the MK7 scores a nine out of ten in this category.

Fun is the most subjective of my judgment scale. As a daily, this would be very fun when you wanted to drive it and possibly a mild nuisance when you didn’t. This seems congruent with my experience in every car I have ruined with excessive modification only to tell everyone that I like it that way. Generally speaking, the MK7 GTI was intoxicatingly fun. The noise it made and the quick acceleration gave it a sense of excitement, while the torque and gearing gave it the ability to put a smile on my face in any gear under any conditions. However, the removed feeling and nagging reminder that I was driving a German economy car detracted from that enjoyment a bit. Fun receives an eight out of ten from my perspective.

Complaints are few and far between. To clarify, the more complaints, the lower the score out of ten. That said, I do need to mention the spring-loaded little cup supports in the cupholders. These can only be described as the absolute most annoying rattle to have ever generated sound waves near me ever. Burn them. Remove the cupholders, take them to a field, douse them in gasoline, and burn them. The same goes for the emergency brake handle. In second and fourth gear the bottom of my wrist contacts the e-brake handle no matter how I hold the shifter. A slightly shorter e-brake would be fantastic, VW. Some of us are over 6 feet tall. Lastly, the visibility out of the car was practically nonexistent. My primary concerns were the enormous pair of blind spots situated at each quarter panel. The blind spot mirror helped the driver’s side, but I almost felt hesitant to take the car on the highway for fear that I would miss a car or possible wayward planet in one of those blind spots. I will have to give the GTI a six out of ten for my complaints since these complaints would be something I’d just have to live with if the car was my daily driver.

So where does the car fall? A combined score puts the GTI at 36 out of 50 in its modified state as a daily driver. Unfortunately, that gives the car a C- on an adjusted score out of 100, but it does pass. C’s get degrees, after all. Funny enough, after sleeping on the experience, I do have to agree with the (arbitrary) score of 72/100. I feel that it accurately describes the car as one that meets nearly every requirement, fulfills those roles well, offers some excitement, but is fairly average across the board. It does a lot of things well enough, but no one or two things exceptionally well. I definitely understand the appeal, however, since it is something that you don’t have to settle for. You may settle a bit on one or two features, but as a total package, almost nothing I have ever driven offers the same levels of usability, performance, practicality, and aftermarket support. It was enough to change my perspective from that of a VW critic to a future VW fanboy, to say the least. Maybe my next project will need to be a MK1 or MK2?

Keep your eyes out for more reviews of the ECS cars and let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions, questions, or recommendations. We are always looking for cars and owners who have a story to tell or something to show off. If you think you have a car worth reviewing, let us know!

Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and BMWCCA O’Fest: ECS Tuning Official Coverage

As an automotive enthusiast and journalist, my life revolves around cars. Part of the auto-centric existence I lead is occupied by hours spent in amazement of what this past time represents to me and others. While I do have other interests like writing, for example, no hobby is quite as curious as that of the car enthusiast, especially the world of vintage cars. Those who dedicate their time to vintage and antique cars are truly a different breed. I have recently begun to view the hobbyists as caretakers and stewards of automotive history since their passion requires this full-fledged allegiance to indexing all sorts of eclectic knowledge and history. Their dedication garners true respect in the car community that comes with the territory of driving a classic car. When these special enthusiasts come together under a common goal, the results are always spectacular. This past week offered the east coast one of those magical events, which I was fortunate enough to attend driving my own personal vintage BMW.

The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and BMWCCA O’Fest 2018 took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which brought together an astounding crowd of these hobbyists who were eager to share their passion while they enjoyed imported beer and wheel-to-wheel vintage racing.

Before I arrived, however, I was reminded of a quirky aspect of vintage car ownership. With vintage cars, you become accustomed to plans changing as a result of your car. Last-minute suspension tweaks and a quick DIY alignment made me more cautious than usual, so I decided to take extra time in the morning before leaving Ohio to pack my travel tools. I have learned in the years of owning this car that whatever you don’t take with you will be what you need, so why not bring everything? Although some might consider these habits a nuisance, this is something I rather enjoy. I liked it more when I noticed so many other vintage BMW owners at the event with extensive toolkits open and used as they repaired something from the racing or cruises hosted along with the event. The requirement that you bring tools for any long stretches of driving is a part of vintage car ownership that is often exciting for me. As a kid, I always imagined myself as Han Solo fixing the Millenium Falcon. Now, I feel this similarity between the smuggler-turned-hero and his character basis which was that of the hot-rodding bootlegger. The self-sufficiency and favoritism of pleasure over convenience is what makes driving these cars more engaging and rewarding than picking something new.

After I packed the whole contents of my garage into my E30’s spacious trunk, I could finally enjoy a top-down cruise to Pennsylvania. The drive to a show is always a huge moment of anticipation, and this time was no different. I had never been to the Pitt Vintage GP or to a BMWCCA O’Fest, so I was quite eager to see how many enthusiasts would attend. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, the streets leading to Schenley Park gave me a taste of what I could expect. E-Type Jaguars, Devins, MG As, air-cooled 911s, and even a DB5 Aston Martin were a few I spotted street-parked or cruising around downtown. When I arrived at the actual venue, I was floored. The beautiful rolling hills were effectively painted with million-dollar show cars, vintage daily drivers, and enthusiasts of every brand, model, and era. The sound of antique 1 and 2-liter engines running at high RPM screamed in the background as I carefully navigated the grass entrance to the park.

Since this was an unplanned event for me, I had not pre-registered as I normally do. I took more time than usual to pack up my travel gear and arrived later than I intended, which had me worried when I saw how crowded the show was. Fortunately, I was the last walk-up they let park in the BMW corral. I felt more than a little bad for the folks with awesome cars who lined up just behind me and missed out, but there was certainly no shortage of excellence present in the BMW corral.

With my BMW parked in the sea of 2002s that attended, I was able to finally get out and peruse the grounds with the intent of spending time with every BMW that caught my eye. The problem with that plan I soon discovered was that everything was tantalizing. I had never before seen so many E9s, E10s, and various other type 114s. Among the most gorgeous, and most expensive, BMWs were three 507s. One formerly belonged to Elvis Presley and is currently owned by BMW North America. Sitting front-and-center was a turn of the century BMW 328 in a stunning black. More impressive was that not only was that one of two 328s in attendance, but that the second actually competed in wheel-to-wheel vintage racing despite the 5 million-dollar value.

Speaking of the vintage racing, a newfound interest of mine is a growing love of period-correct competition. Seeing pre-war cars duking it out on a road course up close is almost otherworldly. The whole park was essentially a time capsule: with very little imagination required, I was able to picture myself walking around in the 1970’s. This is part of what makes vintage car events so appealing to me personally. The feeling that you have been transported to somewhere else in time and space is surreal and addicting. Hundreds of thousands of owners and enthusiasts all sharing a love of old machines is breathtaking. That I got to see them race and then up-close in the pits absolutely put the Pittsburgh Vintage GP on my list of annual must-attends.

While I was not able to be there the entire week, I was able to get a taste for a much greater world of vintage car enthusiasm. That I was included in this community gives me a ton of pride, but also humility. The folks who have spent their lives dedicated to maintaining these cars and storing knowledge about them are truly special among the car community. Without their dedication, these cars would be totally forgotten as so many have been. The Grand Prix was an unbelievable spectacle. Being among so many people with similar interests and passions was definitely unforgettable. I do look forward to next year, but more importantly, I look forward to what will happen in between as my newfound interest grows and matures. Maybe next year one of my cars will be on the starting grid instead of the corral? We will have to find out together, but as always, you can read about it here at ECS Tuning.

Then and Now: Comparing the BMW 3-Series E30 to the Modern F30

In the mid-eighties, BMW released the second generation 3-series with its new E30 chassis as the sports car aimed at a market of enthusiasts with a taste for refined luxury and simple practicality. The car evolved over the years and truly became one of the all-time automotive greats, as its namesake is continued through today. Versions of the 3-series featuring different drivetrains, body variants, and interior trim packages gave the E30 a wide range of appeal to meet the needs of nearly anyone who had an affinity for balance between performance and comfort. The same holds true today with the current generation F30, though it is offered only as a sedan. The question becomes, though, how does the F30 compare to its E30 ancestor, which is considered to be one of the best production cars of all time and the father of the modern sports sedan? For this inaugural edition of Then and Now, we will take a look back at the old E30 and see how the F30 stacks up in today’s market.

Imagine the year is 1988. You are looking for a new car that offers a sporty feel, practicality, and a hint of luxury. If you are a discerning buyer, you will most likely set your sights on the brand-new E30 325ix coupe, BMW’s first All Wheel Drive 3-series. The 325ix offers a 6-cylinder M20B25 paired with a 5-speed Getrag transmission and front drive axles. The rear-drive viscous differential and viscous center differential help provide traction and send power to the rear wheels as a 60-40 split rear to front bias. This excellent AWD system gives the ix version a more stable acceleration in all conditions and will match the quarter mile time with its convertible cousin, which is no easy feat considering the extra pounds packed on by the AWD.

Inside the E30 is a comfortable yet practical interior that is incredibly driver centered. With the controls angled directly to the steering wheel, a cockpit-like appearance gives the E30 a fighter plane feel from the driver’s seat. Although it is only offered as a coupe, the rear bench is still quite usable and the trunk features plenty of space for luggage, golf bags, or a few dead bodies, depending on the lines of work that allow a buyer to afford the $33,000.00 MSRP.

Speaking of money, what else did customers receive for that astronomical price? The E30 was equipped with an onboard computer that showed fuel economy, range, average speed, air temperature, and many other functions that could be cycled from the blinker stalk with a press of the optional OBC control button. A sunroof, leather seats, ABS, cruise control, and air conditioning were all standard for the US market version, but little else was to be found inside the car. The radio and sound system were adequate, not exceptional. Still, for an AWD-equipped BMW with a 6-cylinder, leather interior, and 15-inch alloy wheels, $33,000.00 seemed a fair enough price in 1988 for the pinnacle of production coupes on the road.

Thirty years later, what does that $33,000.00 MSRP look like in today’s money? A whopping $70,400.00 cost would price this E30 325ix above the retail of its M-descendant cousins. The F8x M3 and M4 feature the all-out M craziness and every option BMW can throw at them and are still offered new with a hefty options package for less than the adjusted $70k price of the old E30. The more comparable model, the F30 335i xDrive, sits comfortably around $45,000.00 and still offers quite the equipment list. Just comparing MSRP retail price, we can already see BMW has gone to great lengths to keep costs down despite all the additional equipment.

The equipment list, as we mentioned, is extensive. The new F30 335i xDrive comes with that same comfortable, yet sporty, leather interior, but offers loads more tech than its spartan ancestor. The digital display screen centered above the climate controls, which is now flat and accessible to passengers, doubles as a navigation screen and total computer. The additional capabilities of that computer completely overshadow its distant relative OBC featured in the E30 and make it look like an off-brand calculator. The optional heated seats, heated steering wheel, HUD speedometer, and 6-speed manual transmission make the 300 horsepower 3-series comfortable year round and a blast to drive, giving a nod to its predecessor with that still available manual gearbox.

The engine is BMW’s N55 twin-scroll turbo straight six, which offers no shortage of fun. While some of the ‘purism’ is lost in the boosted engine and electric power steering, much of what made the E30 325ix so fun is still present in the F30. However, the F30 is more comfortable, dependable, powerful, and convenient with its larger size. All the extra space, two additional doors, and loads of equipment like the backup camera make the F30 technologically advanced even compared to competing vehicles in its segment, especially in terms of the overall quality of those components.

Now that we have looked at the two, let’s compare them in the fake world where they are both sold new side-by-side today. The E30 featured almost no equipment, little space, was initially only available as a coupe with the manual transmission, had a paltry 165HP SOHC M20 engine that made about 17mpg. The F30 335i xDrive in its top trim offers a head-swimmingly long equipment list, is brimming with the latest technology, has double the horsepower as its older brother, makes better fuel economy, and is available as a silky-smooth automatic or engaging 6-speed. When we look at the inflation-adjusted difference in price between the two models, it is staggering to think BMW somehow produced this most recent 3-series to sell for $25,000.00 less than its sparsely-equipped cult classic E30.

Used does tell a different story, however. The E30 is, as we said, is a cult classic. Its distraction-free cockpit, connected driving feel, and go-anywhere attitude with the beefy AWD system make the E30 one of the most rewarding driving experiences, even if you have to throw your foot through the floor to coax any speed out of the car. The F30 is more removed, full of convenience features and tech like the keyless start, in-your-face information screen, an absurd number of buttons, and has definitely lost some of those ‘fun’ characteristics that made driving the E30 such an absolute blast. In used form, a clean E30 325ix coupe 5-speed can be taken home for around $10,000.00 while F30’s are still sitting upwards of $30k.

Given the price difference in used 3-series, what equipment is offered, and the enjoyment factor is taken into account, this writer would have to say the new F30 is a much better deal for the money when compared directly to the E30’s absurd original retail price. However, the two on the current used market would elicit a different response. The E30, in this writer’s humble opinion, will always be the better investment. With the market moving towards more technology and less driver-reliance, a 180-degree turn provides a refreshing change to your commute. What’s more, the E30 is a vintage car that is still relevant today as a used daily driver or period-piece for any enthusiast’s collection. This makes the clear-cut choice for a used buyer who can live without a few modern conveniences to lean towards the time-tested E30 325ix coupe for the best driving and ownership experience.

Our Takeaways:

Best Value for Retail Price (Adjusted for Inflation): F30

Best Value for Used Price (Current Market): E30

Most Features: F30

Most Fun: E30

Most Desirable: E30

Our final arbitrary score has to side with a used E30 in today’s money, but admittedly, stacking the adjusted retail prices against each other, BMW clearly did more with less to produce the amazing car that is the F30 335i xDrive. How BMW was able to only raise the MSRP by around $12k in today’s money is a testament to their efficiency and how far the technology in manufacturing has advanced since the E30 was the pinnacle of economic performance. Of course, whether you own or are about to purchase an E30, F30, or any 3-series in between, ECS Tuning has everything you need to make your 3-series perfect in your eyes. Take a look at our inventory to restore your old E30 or deck out your F30 for the street, track, show, or just your own enjoyment. If you are interested in finding your own E30, be sure to check out our other article detailing what to look for during your buying process!

Special Thanks to Howard Guzman for his pictures of his White on Cardinal 325ix Coupe. Check him out at @mr_jigzaw

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The History of the GTI

Everyone bring your baseball bats for this edition of the ECS Tuning blog because we have a dead horse that we want to beat. The horse in question is the Volkswagen Golf GTI. As a European tuning company, a staple of our market is the GTI owner segment. The GTI sits among the most popular models chosen by our customers and has seen the production of over 2 million cars worldwide, making it incredibly widespread. With the high numbers of owners, enthusiasts, and total cars produced, it begs the question as to what makes the GTI such a successful car. To answer that question, we need to dig into VW’s history a bit and see what has made the GTI such an iconic car to many and the preferred choice for enthusiasts all over the world.

Okay, so the question really does have a simple answer. The GTI is popular because it is a fantastic car that is balanced well, is exceptional to drive, and gives sports cars with more zeros on the end of their MSRP a real run for their money. What made the GTI embody those properties, however, is the root of the question around what makes the car so good.

Like our other articles detailing the history of the RS7 or why the M Coupe is the best M car ever made, looking into the GTI’s most wonderful qualities took a bit of research. The car is well known by almost anyone with a driver’s license and a mild affinity for automobiles in general, but the history and subsequent movement spawned by its early success may be less than common knowledge. The story of the GTI starts similarly to other left-field successes: as an act of defiance by someone with a real vision.

In the 1970’s, America and the world experienced a gas crisis along with struggling economies. The economic situation caused automakers to ditch big, heavy, gas-guzzling models for smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars. VW was no exception, and it introduced the Golf for Europe in 1974. The little hatchback had been intended to replace the nearly 50-year-old Beetle as the affordable family car from Volkswagen. Known for its general awfulness and relatively unchanged design for its entire production run, the Beetle was always supposed to be ‘the people’s car’. The same mindset gave us the original Golf in 1974, but a complete 180 would propel what would have otherwise been “the square Beetle” into motorsport history.

Shortly after its release, a VW marketing executive saw immediate potential in the Golf as something more than just an affordable family car. He saw the opportunity to make an affordable performance car, which was unheard of at the time. Performance cars were inconvenient, nearly undrivable on the roads, and financially out of reach for all but the wealthy elite. Volkswagen would soon change that, but not without serious push-back from the rest of the folks upstairs at their headquarters in Germany. Naturally, as any good employee does when they are told no, the man behind the GTI vision went ahead with a secret project.

A six-man team secretly worked on what would become the GTI by stuffing a 110HP Audi four-cylinder engine into the Golf. The combination was an instant hit with the previously nay-saying VW executives, and a production run of 5,000 units was approved. The GTI went on to sell 420,000 units. Take that, members of the board! With the launch of the original GTI, performance became affordable to anyone without the need to sacrifice convenience features like a trunk or passenger space. For the first time, a taste of excitement behind the wheel was within reach. This spurned an automotive movement that has continued to this day known as hot hatchbacks.

The GTI MK1 performed so well that VW decided to bring production to America. They opened their first plant in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania and became the first foreign auto manufacturer to begin producing vehicles inside the United States. This alone is groundbreaking, as nearly every manufacturer followed suit. We now have production plants for dozens of car makers and the US economy was given a much-needed refresh as a result.

After the MK2 began production in America, it was clear the hot hatchback had cemented itself in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts all over the world. The MK2 received such high praise that it is still considered one of the best cars ever produced and has almost received every award from every independent reviewer who has written anything about cars. It even took home the coveted Car and Driver Car of the Year award after its release, which further helped expand the fanbase of the affordable hatchback.

The MK2 saw little change, but the MK3 gave enthusiasts the ‘modern’ GTI. The MK3 introduced the 12v narrow-angle VR6, which became a famous engine in its own right during its nearly 10-year run as the peak performance engine for the hatchback. Although it did receive a beefier 24v update that was seen in the R32, the VR6 ceased production in 1993. It would seem the ‘big engine in a small car’ concept did not ring true for VW as it did for BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche in some of their similar projects turned production cars. What the MK2 and MK3 did do was spark the hot hatchback fire which spread across Europe and into the United States. Without the MK2 and MK3 GTI, cars like the Peugeot 206, Fiat 500 Abarth, Renault Clio, Ford Focus ST, and even the WRX and STi would probably not have existed.

The GTI continued with the MK4, which was a fantastic car that offered an R32 version. The R32 famously featured a 3.2 liter 24v VR6 and would be the last to do so with a manual transmission option. After the success of the MK4, which held onto the boxy original styling of the MK1, VW decided they had made enough cool cars.

The MK5 was atrocious. It was ugly, only offered its R32 variant with a Dual Clutch Transmission, and the four-cylinder versions were prone to failures. They did offer a Fahrenheit edition, which was orange, and proved that Germans have a terrible sense of humor. “Look, vee made ein car orange und called it Fahrenheit! Vee are so silly!” It offered no benefits besides an even more atrocious paint job that called attention to the already lackluster body of the now egg-shaped hatchback. Nothing more should be said about the MK5.

The MK6 was released as a facelifted MK5, but several ‘problem’ areas were corrected to make the car more appealing. Aggressive styling, updated interior features, and more contemporary characteristics made the MK6 feel more like the original GTIs that stole our hearts back in the 70’s and 80’s. After the MK6 came the MK7 and now MK7.5, naturally, since the GTI is still produced.

The world of motoring was irreversibly affected by the introduction of the GTI in the 70’s as it spurned a love of automotive enthusiasm for the every-man that still holds true today. With the almost 180-degree turn from the vibe of the Beetle, the GTI was able to have a successful 40-year run that persists today as a beloved car that ushered in the era of affordable performance. Thanks to the MK1 GTI, the automotive community was forever changed for the better, or so we think. Let us know what car you think was more influential or throw us ideas for cars we should talk about next!

Koni ACTIVE Shocks at ECS Tuning for a Demonstration

The most coveted parts of the tuning community tend to be oriented around the best performance options with the highest price tags and the most awards and racing successes. There are times, however, when a car enthusiast can take his or her praise about the most sophisticated parts and eat those words. KONI is a suspension company that has been producing dampers as long as cars have used those suspension designs that definitely has the prowess, acumen, and pedigree behind them to check most boxes for enthusiasts, but this article is not going to center around pure performance parts. The new KONI ACTIVE suspension is something that we just couldn’t leave without sharing with our readership.

We had the pleasure of hosting a few KONI team members here at our facility who brought some of their toys for us to try ourselves. Among their lineup were three F30 320i BMWs with less than 200 miles on the oldest one and two 2016 Mustang GTs that were also infants in terms of mileage. The cars in which we were most interested were, of course, the BMWs. This writer has personally never driven a non-M F8x, so jumping behind the wheel of the automatic F30s was a fairly foreign experience in and of itself. The real trick, though, was what we noticed in the ACTIVE-equipped F30. First, we have to establish a baseline before we get to talk about the greatness that is the ACTIVE damper. The OEM suspension on the F30 is not what we would call harsh by any means. Jumping into a brand-new F30 was everything a prospective buyer would expect: sleek, comfortable, quiet, and engaging to drive. One thing we noticed was how much it ‘rumbled’ over bumps. The stiff suspension translated the road feeling very well into the car, but we could definitely tell the attempt at a good ride quality hurt the performance capabilities of the suspension, and vice versa. Next, we gave the ACTIVE-equipped F30 a spin.

For background, most of this writer’s time is spent either in a heavily modified E30 or in a bone stock WRX, so almost everything about the F30 was very new. The difference between anything BMW or otherwise we were used to was immediately apparent upon touching the throttle. The car felt smooth; there is no other word for it. The ACTIVE dampers use a high number of ports through the valves that can either be all open, all closed, or anything in between to allow the viscous fluid to pass through and compress the damper. The variability with the number of open ports through the valves allows the compression force to change based on the conditions of the road. The changes happen whether you are accelerating, decelerating, or cornering to maintain a silky driving feel. This immediately begged the question of how applicable they were for performance vehicles. According to the KONI representatives, the ACTIVE dampers were featured on a car that just won some high-level autocross championships, but to our expectation, were not something he would recommend on a car that sees any extended track time. These dampers perform exceptionally well on the road, however, as an excellent sporty choice that goes miles above the factory comfort. The road felt like glass, which is good, but another aspect that many performance drivers will consider is how it affects the inputs to the driver. We expected the feeling to be more muted than the stiff factory suspension. It wasn’t. Since the car did not pitch forward, backward, or side to side as much, and it did not react to changes in the road surface, we felt less like we were hanging on to the wheel and more like we were planted in the seat very stable. The suspension did more than just provide a comfortable yet sporty ride in that it seemed to ‘even out’ all the minute changes you may not think about correcting as you do with normal suspension. If you hit a small pothole and the wheel jerks, how do you react and how does that reaction translate through the car’s movements? These are questions I normally have in the back of my mind that were not present with the ACTIVE suspension, which made it all the better for a daily driver. Less thinking, more driving, and more comfort.

While the ACTIVE suspension might not offer the best performance capabilities, it does offer equal performance to the factory suspension mechanically speaking as well as a significant improvement to overall driveability and ride quality. The convenience of driving an ‘unmodified’ car cannot be beaten by anything modified for racing, so having a car that you can depend on that offers sportiness yet refined comfort is something most would consider out of reach for a normal budget. KONI ACTIVE dampers definitely gave the impression that the car could be double or triple the value as a result of the ride quality alone. The only thing left for us to wonder is how they will feel compared to abused, high-mileage, outdated suspension and really feel a difference! After all the driving, I can say I am disappointed to jump back into a car that does not sport ACTIVE dampers for my jaunts around town or on road trips. Look out for these dampers as they are set to be released in the coming weeks!

H&R Springs are the ride control your Audi, BMW, MINI, or VW needs

For enthusiasts, the handling characteristics of our cars play a massive part in the enjoyment derived from driving. The pleasure of driving a fantastic handling car that exudes German quality is nearly unmatchable. That’s why H&R has been developing TUV and ABE-certified springs and suspension solutions specifically designed to provide the ultimate ride and handling characteristics for your car.

H&R began in Germany over 20 years ago by producing high-quality springs that met the German TUV standards for installation on road-going cars. After a brief time with that certification, they were eventually accepted to receive the ABE-certification, which allowed them to be installed out of the box without any other approval. During this time, H&R famously manufactured suspension components for racing cars. Notably, the DTM German Touring Car Championship series featured H&R suspension on nearly every car. From that series, the legend of H&R’s top-notch suspension was born.

Now, after a few decades of excellence under their belt, the folks at H&R have branched out to produce Coilovers, Sway Bars, Springs, Trak+ Wheel Spacers, and more for the German enthusiast market. Any track day, car show, or a casual gathering of European car enthusiasts will feature many cars grounded by H&R Suspension for good reason. H&R has some of the highest-quality suspension components available to control your body roll, lower your center of gravity, and maintain an overall comfortable ride. With H&R you can drive to the track in comfort, compete in style, and drive back home all without changing your settings. If it is time to address your suspension needs, look to H&R for the time-tested and race-ready equipment you need for proper ride control.

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H&R Springs

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Slammed to the Arctic: Official Update

The Rallywagen has now made its full journey to the Arctic Circle, all the way from Wadsworth, Ohio to Alaska, and the Street Shield survived. We did our best to put the protective belly plate through the roughest environments we could imagine our MK5 Jetta Sportwagen would experience, but nothing could break through the shield. Our LIQUI MOLY Molygen oil stayed right where it should have been (for the most part) as the trip concluded with the wagen triumphantly driving to its final destination on time, no truck of shame needed.

The stops since our last update included a trip to APR’s facility in Alabama, where new wheels and big brakes courtesy of APR found their way onto the VW. The new shoes then took a trip to KW Suspension, where the suspension gurus dialed in our V2 coilovers for the best possible ride out to Pikes Peak for the International Hill Climb. We were fortunate enough to not only get exclusive access to the action but also to witness the Volkswagen factory team shatter several records with their insane hill climb car. After being allowed to run the peak ourselves a few times, we hit the road for Las Vegas, where we showed some of the local attractions what LIQUI MOLY and ECS Tuning are all about.

After Vegas, we continued west before heading due north for the border. A sketchy border crossing into Canada and miles of empty highway brought us back to the border with Alaska, and the final leg of our trip. The 8,500 miles full of adventure and incredible cars is nearly finished, but the Rallywagen will live on forever in ECS lore, glorified like the old Norse gods for its bravery and courage at the face of adventure. Take a look at all our wacky encounters below and catch up with us as soon as we return later this week. Don’t forget, at Waterfest on the 22nd of this month the GTI winner will be announced LIVE, so stay tuned to see if you are about to be a part of ECS Tuning’s next adventure.

The APR Facility

Our tires before the new APR wheels… don’t try this at home, kids.

On the Road

Pikes Peak

KW Facility

More road trippin’ and car spottin’

LIQUI MOLY Facility

The Last Leg

ECS Tuning Presents: NEO Cars & Coffee with Summit Racing

The North East Ohio Cars and Coffee is an event much like other C&C events across the country where enthusiasts gather for morning snacks, caffeine, and a few hours of hang time with vehicles of all types. The NEO C&C, unlike some of the similar meets around the States, is a traveling venue. Last week we were granted the opportunity to host the sizable crowd of drivers and regular attendees here at our own facility for a rare look at some of our headquarters.

Anyone who regularly makes an appearance at a C&C event knows how incredibly difficult it can be to drag yourself out of bed early on a Saturday morning to prep your car and drive before any food has hit your stomach. The drive into the show always provides the excitement buildup necessary to generate some energy, but the real kick is arriving at an event totally unprepared for the variety of builds, unique cars, and the total attendance numbers when they completely blow away any expectations.

 

We promoted the event alongside the NEO C&C crew, so a high attendance number was no surprise. However, seeing hundreds of people and cars of various makes and models pour into and out of the facility, all morning with seemingly no end thoroughly exceeded our collective imagination.

The crowds of enthusiasts milling about the overflowing parking lot were offered no shortage of excellent vehicles to see up close. Even for this writer, several first in-person sightings of favorite cars dominated the morning. One of the most appealing aspects of C&C events is the relaxed atmosphere that offers the opportunity to speak with owners of some interesting cars. From exotics to classics, and a host of modified contemporary cars, any type of gear-head could have seen something that makes them bust an enormous grin.

Some of the more noteworthy cars from the morning were an eclectic bunch of makes and models from very different roads of automotive history. An all-original BMW E9 3.0 Coupe pulled in amidst a crowd of vintage BMWs and immediately caught the attention of the folks who were in-the-know about that car’s notoriety. Alongside that E9, a period-correct Lamborghini Diablo drew the attention of nearly everyone in attendance at some point, as did an imported Makinen Edition Lan-Evo 6 that has to be one of very few Stateside.

 

Peppering the parking lot was more than strictly European cars, which made the event more successful. The presence of some well-done STis, an insane S14, and even an LS-swapped Miata were all featured around the lot and inside the ECS garage.

The Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari, CTS-V wagon, and M-Coupe also drew easy numbers of onlookers when they arrived and maintained a steady stream of admirers until their departure.

 

 

The morning concluded with the majority of attendees leaving one-by-one almost as if someone had made the announcement that it was time to leave. The early morning meet was finished before noon, which makes it one of the shorter, if not more enjoyable, gatherings that let you enjoy a car-filled day from sunrise to well past sundown here in Northeast Ohio. Due to the resounding success that the NEO Cars and Coffee event has been here at ECS, you can rest assured it will continue in the future. Stay tuned for more information about how you can engage with us at events and when we will open our doors once again to share some breakfast and cars together.

A very special shout out to Justin Raynak @shades43, the photographer who so graciously shot the event while our photographer was out and about with Jamie Orr on the “Slammed to the Arctic” road trip!

Experience some of the best coilovers for your BMW with FEAL Suspension

Just like motorsports never stops evolving as new technologies develop and discoveries are made by drivers to take their cars to new levels, ECS never stops growing to meet those demands. We bring companies on board who produce high-quality products to provide enthusiasts the widest variety of modifications and manufacturers so their build can be completely tailored to their liking. Companies who share that vision of constantly improving both their product and their outreach solely for the purpose of their customers’ satisfaction, however, are somewhat harder to find than one would think. FEAL Suspension is one of those companies that was borne from a need for competitive racing suspension at an affordable price that is still customizable enough to be specific for your driving style or sport of choice.

FEAL Suspension began in the world of motocross and rallycross as they were required to develop and tune their own suspension. As the demands on their vehicles grew, so too did their needs for an increasingly competitive suspension setup. After tuning, then re-valving and rebuilding, they ultimately designed their own dampers for the perfect blend of performance and affordability.

While affordable coilovers with available Swift Springs upgrades, 30-way adjustable damping, ride height adjustability, and Teflon-injected pillow ball mounts are fairly standard in today’s coilover market, FEAL develops their suspension specifically for how you will be driving the car. Their dedication to specific uses extends from grassroots drifting all the way to professional rally driving and even extends to European driving series. FEAL takes everything from downforce and tire specs to what part of the country your car will be driving into account when developing your specific suspension, which makes them unique in their price range for performance tailored to your BMW.

Improving your BMW’s handling can be achieved in many ways, but FEAL Suspension will give you a competitive edge in specialized suspension for your car the way you need it to perform. Their durable coilovers are sure to give you an advantage on the street or track while offering supreme quality at a respectable cost. Upgrade your BMW with FEAL Suspension to really feel that difference behind the wheel.

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FEAL Suspension

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