Lately, we’ve been talking about the best way to get a project car started with maintenance and where you should focus your upgrade money in the first stages of the build, but we haven’t talked about specific cars that are ideal for what you may have in mind for your next project. This week, we’re looking at a few cars we think check all the boxes no matter what your goals or needs are. For this edition of Tuned In Weekly, it’s all about the cars that do it all, from the street to the track, to even a show, and then back to your normal commute on Monday. We’ll look at cars with the potential to hit all three uses simultaneously and what we suggest you do to get them there.
The B8 S4 and facelifted B8.5 S4 offer pretty much everything. They’re fast out of the box, available in both manual and DSG transmissions, drive all four wheels, have tons of space for passengers and cargo, and are right at home anywhere you put them. It’s no surprise that many of us here drive B8 S4s and consider our research and development B8.5 S4 (pictured) as our favorite shop car. Heck, I’m a BMW guy to the core and I’d rather take the B8.5 S4 than anything else we have. Here’s why:
The B8 S4 is easily upgradable for substantial power even with stock internals with just a few bolt-ons. You can reasonably expect well over 400whp with a dual pulley upgrade, intake, downpipe, exhaust, software tune, and our new 80mm throttle body. That’s all it takes to make some wicked noise and mind-bending power from what’s otherwise a luxury commuter car. For suspension and wheels, a good set of coilovers like BC Racing or our ECS Street System adjustable damping coilovers won’t set you back too much. Paired with a good set of wheels like Rotiform LAS-R or Tekniform 006, you’ll have a stately-looking sedan that can run at the drag strip or even the track with ease without compromising any daily usability. But what about a show car?
Naturally, you’ll need to make some improvements to the interior and exterior to stand out from the crowd, but again, it doesn’t take much. Our front lip spoiler, front grille accents, side skirt extensions, rear diffuser, and rear spoiler give the exterior a complete transformation. Combined, whether you choose carbon fiber or gloss black, these easy visual upgrades make the S4 look sinister rather than sedate, but aren’t so striking that they look out of place. It’s a blend of aggressive aero inspiration and tasteful subtlety that makes this package work so well, especially when it’s sitting much closer to the ground with better wheel fitment. This setup is just as easy to drive daily and enjoy as it is to garner respect at a high-profile car show or even put down some serious times on a strip or track. For this, we think the B8 S4/B8.5 S4 is one of our top picks for a ‘do it all’ performance car.
SHOP B8 S4 Engine Performance Upgrades
SHOP B8 S4 Suspension Upgrades
We won’t just repeat ourselves here, as the E90 335xi shares nearly all the same benefits as the B8 S4, the difference is mostly in personal taste and preference. That said, the N54-powered E90 335xi does offer a bit higher of a performance ceiling with about the same type of upgrades, so we’re placing it right next to the S4 in terms of ‘do it all-ability.’
With a good intake setup, like Turner Motorsport’s Turbo Side Intake, upgraded stock-location turbos, high-flow downpipes, an exhaust, tune, and intercooler, the N54 can easily surpass the 3.0T found in the S4 as well as the S65 V8 from the E9X generation M3. Just don’t neglect your carbon cleaning or forget to add a catch can and upgraded clutch, as you might run into the downsides with this platform.
The only reason we don’t place it above the S4 is due to the additional maintenance services needed to keep an N54 happy. Chiefly, the necessary walnut blasting to clean out carbon deposits on the intake valves and the critical addition of a catch can to prevent future buildup.
For suspension and wheels, we recommend KW, BC Racing, and Bilstein. All three offer a range of products from affordable to extremely competitive (read: pricey) that will help you reign in all that extra power on the street or track while keeping your stance on point for any shows you might find yourself attending. For wheels, APEX FL-5 wheels are a solid choice and a nice refresher from the more common setups found on E9Xs.
Finally, to help improve its presence, a Turner Motorsport High-Kick carbon rear spoiler, M-Sport front, and rear bumper conversion, and ECS Carbon Fiber Front Lip Spoiler will help sell the performance of your E90 335xi visually. That’s all it takes to find yourself behind the wheel of a seriously impressive BMW that can be driven year-round on the street, turn some heads at a show, or deliver on the track.
SHOP E9X 335xi Engine Performance Upgrades
SHOP E9X 335xi Turner Motorsport Engine Performance Upgrades
SHOP E9X 335xi Exhaust Upgrades
SHOP E9X 335xi Exterior Upgrades
SHOP E9X 335xi Suspension Upgrades
SHOP E9X 335xi Tekniform Wheels
MK7 Golf R
Rounding out our list is the MK7 Golf R in all its hatchback glory. While it doesn’t quite have the same potential for raw, unbridled, power that the other two have, what it does offer is additional convenience in the form of extra storage space and slightly lower maintenance costs in the long term. The MK7 R is a Haldex AWD, which means you have the traction when you need it, and the efficiency of FWD when traction isn’t an issue. Usability year-round: check. With the stout Gen3 2.0T under the hood, five doors, available manual transmission, and availability of parts, the MK7 R makes a perfectly well-rounded car for your daily commute, weekend track event, and even striking presence at a show.
To make the most out of a MK7 R, we suggest a few key performance upgrades that will bump the power from respectable to eyebrow-raising without much effort. First and foremost, an intake like our Kohlefaser Luft-Technik system, front mount intercooler, downpipe, cat-back exhaust, and a software tune will set you up perfectly no matter where you drive your car.
For the visual side of things, we have the usual suggestions. ECS Street System coilovers to bring it down to the ground with our HD install kit to reduce deflection in the suspension and improve handling. With a set of wheels like our Tekniform 013 or APEX SM-10, you’ll set your fitment up to perfection while reducing unsprung weight with these lightweight options. Around the exterior, our gloss black front lip spoiler, front grille accents, rear diffuser, and hatch spoiler extension are just what you need to set the appearance just right.
SHOP MK7 Golf R Engine Performance Upgrades
SHOP MK7 Golf R Exhaust Upgrades
SHOP MK7 Golf R Suspension Upgrades
SHOP MK7 Golf R Exterior Upgrades
SHOP MK7 Golf R Tekniform Wheels
These are by no means the only cars that can pull triple duty as a daily, show car, and track day toy, but they’re some of our favorites. Our in-house developed visual and performance upgrades offer just the bump in power, handling, and striking aggressive appearance updates to sell the package and give it the added capabilities needed to perform on the track without sacrificing usability on the street. Even if your car isn’t on this list, or you’re not considering any of these as your next project, we still stand by this basic performance upgrade list as the gold standard for well-rounded builds.
For anyone who values practicality as much as I do, the MK7 Golf Sportwagen is the way to go. VW really missed a bet by not offering an R version of the wagen, but they missed a much bigger bet by discontinuing the Sportwagen in the North American market. High performance station wagons remain very popular in Europe, for good reason.
Originally I actually wanted to talk about the MK7 Sportwagen rather than the R! The only drawback is the lack of factory performance variants for the US like you mentioned. A Sportwagen R would be hands down #1 on this list. Long Live Long Roofs!