This is the second part to last week’s introduction to our hand-picked performance upgrades every VW deserves. From the highly popular GTI to the less prevalent enthusiast platforms like the Atlas and Tiguan, our team of Volkswagen gurus have picked out exactly what we think the foundation for a VW build should be. This week, we’re looking at suspension, drivetrain, and visual upgrades to compliment the hearty list of power-adders from last week. If you missed it, go read last week’s article for the horsepower stuff. This one is all about style.
Coilovers/HD Install Kit
We start with probably the first “big purchase” outside of engine upgrades that most enthusiasts prefer simply because coilovers offer one of the most noticeable changes to even an otherwise unmodified car. We have plenty of explanations about “why” coilovers, which you are welcome to read, so this is more of an encouragement to put a set of BC Racing or our own Adjustable Damping Coilover Systems on your Volkswagen. For the price, the ride quality on the street, and the handling improvements, you’re already getting a lot for your money. Add in the adjustability for dialing in your ideal ride height and fitment, you’ve got some pretty neat improvements for a relatively low investment.
Speaking of investment, if the VW you decided to build is a bit long in the tooth and high in the mileage, coilovers and our HD Install Kit replace most of your suspension components that tend to wear with age. This is a dual purpose upgrade and maintenance service that only has you spending the money once. C’mon, you were gonna replace all that stuff anyway to restore the ride quality, why not make it better than factory new with improved handling and added adjustability settings? Plus, you get cool coilover spanners that definitely don’t hurt your fingies and knuckles when you adjust the ride height on the car. Nope, not one bit.
Alternatively, for a much lower price but a bit fewer benefits, lowering springs are an excellent option for two key reasons. First, if you’re tastefully modifying a relatively new car, lowering springs tend to be a preferred choice for achieving a better look with a lowered ride height. Lowering springs allow you to retain factory electronic damping in cars that have it, which means you get the ride height you want without sacrificing some trick suspension. Second, if you’re set on pairing your favorite shocks and struts with a higher rated spring for a “set and forget” setup, lowering springs are a great option.
It should be noted that most factory shocks and struts are not suitable for higher rated springs and shortened travel, so don’t be fooled by the low cost of the springs. You’ll want to install lowering springs with a specific setup in mind ahead of time. And, if you don’t have them, you’ll need a set of spring compressors to reinstall the upper mounts. So, if you’re considering lowering springs, you should hunt out exactly what upper mounts, struts, and shocks you want to build your setup around.
Another area that older cars tend to suffer are the control arm bushings. Just like any other rubber material in a car, over time, those bushings wear out giving you a soft, clunky, and vague suspension feeling. While you can simply replace those bushings with new rubber, you’ll still have deflection in the suspension that was designed to offer a comfortable ride rather than a bias towards handling performance. Upgrading those bushings with a higher durometer polyurethane is a better move, but the best option is to simply replace the whole control arm assembly with pre-installed poly bushings in a lighter weight aluminum housing.
You’ll see a few key benefits from lighter front and rear LCAs with stiffer bushings. First, you get the much cleaner looks offered by our design. The factory stamped steel components tend to rust and just look terrible, so brand new arms give you a nice shine under the car that will have your suspension looking brand-new, especially paired with those coilovers. Second, the lower semi-sprung mass helps improve the efficiency of your suspension by reducing the amount of weight that has to travel with suspension articulation. This alone is a solid benefit, but the third and final benefit is the increased stiffness from the bushings, which reduce suspension deflection and offer a more direct feeling between you and the road.
Sway Bars and End Links
Lastly in the suspension department, sway bars and sway bar end links are almost necessary. For the same reasons mentioned above, stiffer end links and sway bars dramatically reduce deflection and increase turn-in response. They also pair nicely with a lower ride height by reducing body roll for better cornering. Most of the coilover options we offer include adjustable sway bar links, which you’ll need to eliminate preload and binding on the sway bar with a significantly lowered ride height, but pairing them with a stiffer set of sway bars and sway bar bushings is the real package. Again, you’ll replace components that have likely worn out or will be soon to wear out just like the above mentioned parts, but you gain those handling benefits that will make your VW feel tight and nimble through the twisties.
Tying all that suspension work together is achieved with a perfectly fitting set of wheels. While we love to push our entry-level Alzor options that give you OEM+ styling improvements, cast wheels have some drawbacks. Namely, they aren’t exactly lightweight. To truly feel the benefits of the reduced sprung, semi-sprung, and unsprung weight many of the upgrades in this list offer, we suggest at the least a Rotary Forged wheel option. Fortunately, we have you covered there, too, with our Tekniform line of performance wheels. We spec’d these wheels for perfect VW fitment that is both aggressive yet bolt-on for an easy upgrade. You won’t need any overfenders or significant fender pulling to rock a set of our Tekniforms, they’re intended to give you ideal fitment right out of the box.
Additionally, Rotary Forging offers strength and durability in a relatively lightweight package. The lowered weight again helps to reduce that unsprung weight for increased agility and a nimble feeling from your VW. Plus, they just look great. We offer a number of styles to choose from, so you’re sure to find the perfect look for your build.
One of the best “driving feel” improvements you can make is upgrading your rubber brake hoses with braided steel versions. Again, we’ve talked about the benefits of our Exact-Fit Brake Lines many a time, so we won’t go into too much detail, but the gist is that you gain a firmer, more responsive, pedal feel from upgraded lines. A firmer pedal is more direct feeling and easier to control, which naturally helps you to subconsciously reduce braking time. Less time braking means more time on the throttle, after all.
More than the benefits performance wise, though, you also have the chance to perform some likely much-needed maintenance. Since you’ll need to evacuate and refill your brake hydraulic system, it gives you a chance to put fresh new fluid in and get that hydro system feeling brand new.
Of course, upgrading your lines is a nice feeling, but upgrading your rotors is where you’ll find significant improvements to brake performance. For one, performance rotors like our go-to Hawk Talon rotors help to shed heat under hard braking conditions better than the stock versions. Shedding that heat faster is what helps keep your brakes in the optimal heat range, which means slower fading and longer performance. Second, Talon rotors are lighter than the factory brake rotors, which again helps to shed some unsprung weight and increase the agility of your VW’s feeling through corners. Naturally, you also get the benefit of new rotors, which are something that should be replaced every few years anyway. So, if you’re going to replace them, they might as well be something that offer some improvements like Talon rotors.
Drivetrain Mount Kits
If there’s a theme here, it’s maintenance with a kick. Drivetrain mounts including the engine mount, pendulum mount, and transmission mount, are not lifetime items. They eventually wear down and become softer with age, which means the already softer rubber factory mounts have more and more give over time. That means power that would otherwise go to your wheels is lost to drivetrain deflection and your drivetrain itself is allowed to move around more than it should. Naturally, you should replace worn out mounts. But why just go back to stock when our drivetrain mount kit includes everything you need for a stiffer, more direct feeling, and less deflective alternative? Upgraded mounts offer better feel behind the wheel and help eliminate unnecessary slop in the drivetrain so you have more direct input that translates to more of your usable horsepower being sent where it should.
Another example of a wear item with the opportunity to improve your performance is the clutch and flywheel (for you manual transmission folks out there). With all the power added in our list from last week, you’ll approach the limit of what that stock clutch can handle, even if it’s brand new. If you have a few years on your current clutch, it’s a sure bet you’ll be slipping it with 50% more power than you had from the factory. Our clutch kits and forged steel flywheel setups we designed offer the holding power you need to handle big turbo builds, so we’d call this upgrade a necessity if you’ve done most of what we talked about last week. You have to get that power to your wheels, so you need something like our Stage 2 or Stage 3 clutch setup, depending on your torque output. Of course, that will also mean you have years of enjoyment without worry thanks to this wear item replacement.
Adjustable Short Shift Kit
Just for kicks, a short shift kit like our adjustable shift linkage setup will help you get the best feeling out of your gear changes set exactly to your liking. While it can help reduce your shift times, I hesitate to call a short shift kit a true “performance” modification, but they sure feel good and keep you engaged behind the wheel. With less slop and shorter throws, you’ll gain a more direct feeling with each gear change.
We should preface this section by saying in no way are any of the following visual upgrades going to add any performance to your VW. That said, you’ll certainly love the more aggressive looks to match your improved power and handling. So, the remainder of this article will simply be the “just for fun” stuff. The logic being, you should focus on the power, maintenance, and performance upgrades first, saving the visual stuff for last. I know it’s hard to be patient, but trust us, these should be your finishing touches, not the first things you grab.
We offer a number of front lip options, both our in-house designed and aftermarket options from other manufacturers, that can help bring the front end of your VW closer to the ground. There isn’t much to say, just look at it and you can see the visual improvement from a more aggressive front lip setup. Nuff said.
Street Shield/Skid Plates
Ok, maybe there is a bit more than aesthetics to this list after all. The plastic splash guards in your VW are fine for keeping road debris and grime out of the engine compartment and help reduce drag for fuel efficiency, but they do little to actually protect a lowered VW from true hazards. That’s where our engine and transmission tunnel street shields and bracing comes in. If you’re driving around low and static, it is almost imperative that you give your VW some protection in the form of metal skid plates designed to take impacts that your oil pan or transmission otherwise would. If you’re going to drop your car, make sure it has a hard surface to bash into the inevitable, unavoidable, hazards.
A rather forgotten part of any exterior is the rear diffuser. In recent years, aggressive rear diffusers styled after time attack and road course cars have become all the rage. They’re popular for good reason, too, because they offer a spicy visual improvement that takes a completely bland part of your car’s exterior and turns it into something you want to look at. Our rear diffuser options we design right here in-house give a much-needed upgrade to the overall attitude of the car and easily replace the factory “diffuser” section for a quick and rewarding installation that you can truly enjoy.
Rear Hatch Spoiler/Spoiler Extension/Rear Lip Spoiler
Finally, what’s a sporty VW without a bit of aero? Even if it isn’t functional, a rear hatch spoiler, spoiler extension, or trunk lip can help set your VW apart from the rental fleet with a more aggressive look. Again, there isn’t much to say besides just showing you how good these look. You almost forget the car didn’t come with it from the factory. Well, we think they should have, so we designed plenty for you to choose from depending on what VW you have.
Well, that does it! This is our high-level, two-part, hand-picked upgrade list for your VW. Whether it’s a Golf R, Jetta, or even an Atlas, we have plenty to offer for you to make your VW your own.