Last year Volkswagen stirred things up at the 2005 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Seems it wanted to show the world what classic Germanic tuning could do for its cars. VW's efforts yielded a trio of turbocharged vehicles that won't soon be forgotten. Hugely powerful, immensely quick and remarkably agile, they reminded us why we love VW cars. For 2006, the company wanted to see what the US tuning scene could do, so several American VW tuning specialists were approached to participate in a GTI Tuner Challenge. The idea was simple: while retaining consumer accessibility and building vehicles that an enthusiast could replicate, each tuner would create its own interpretation of the ultimate GTI. The winning entry would appear on the VW stand at the SEMA show in Las Vegas.
A tuner will normally develop a plan, then tear down the vehicle to its most basic components. Each part is analyzed and then re-engineered to reach the initial goal. There should be a balance between daily-driven practicality and something suitable for track use to exhibit racecar-like acceleration, handling and braking, while still maintaining street-going civility.
The criteria for the GTI Tuner Challenge was along those lines: good power delivery and smooth acceleration, a firm suspension with street manners, positive steering feel, positive clutch feel with precise shifting, clean and original exterior styling and paint quality, and a smart, comfortable, accessible and functional interior.
Performance testing was carried out on Dynajet dynamometer to determine exact power and torque numbers. And each entry made the trek to Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California, for acceleration and braking sessions, as well as hot laps on a pre-planned road course at the Streets of Willow circuit (adjacent to the full-length track). Results are listed in each car's individual spec box.
Driveability, Acceleration, Exhaust
Optimum acceleration is smooth and uninterrupted, with readily available torque. The car should have very little lag (preferably none), so there's no waiting until 5000 rpm for the power to come on. From standstill, the clutch should allow for easy take-off, with no chatter. The exhaust should emit a nice tone without any annoying drone-sometimes it's necessary to sacrifice a little power for sanity.
The ABD GTI's acceleration gives a bit of a fright, since power delivery is abrupt and creates torque steer. The clutch is a little touchy off the line, but once the car gets going this is no longer an issue. The dual exhaust has the right note, but creates a slight drone at cruising speeds under part throttle.
Acceleration from a standstill in the APR GTI shows a smooth power curve and linear delivery. The stage-three clutch and Quaife differential deliver power when and where it's needed. The quad-tip exhaust system is on the quiet side, but still has a nice deep tone.
H&R's GTI is equipped with a DSG transmission-a somewhat unfair advantage, since the computer does all the shifting. The Supersprint turbo-back exhaust is quiet, to the point where it's unnoticeable. If someone hadn't told us otherwise, we would have sworn it was stock.
A suspension system should inspire confidence. The ultimate configuration will allow a vehicle to excel at the track while maintaining a comfortable ride over even the most unfriendly freeway surface. The vehicle should not be so low that it inhibits daily use or aggressive cornering. The brakes should be quiet yet highly efficient.
The ABD GTI definitely qualifies as a daily driver. Ride quality is good and the vehicle handles well. The only complaint is with its steering. At low speeds it feels loose, disconnected and a little unpredictable. The Brembo brake kit, coupled with ABD's drilled rotors and lines, give a positive brake feel-great for the street as well as light track use.
The APR GTI has the most balanced suspension set-up. Its steering has a positive feel, offering crisp response. The overall ride is firm yet tolerable. The vehicle is a bit low, and with the tire and wheel set-up, aggressive cornering causes rubbing. Given the car's undeniable speed, the Alcon-based 13.5-inch front brake upgrade is only adequate.
The H&R GTI is a little on the firm side, but that can be remedied with easy access to compression and rebound damping adjustments. Even though the car is not equipped with the overly sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires found on its rivals, it maintains a neutral stance in every corner, with no over- or understeer. There is enough stopping ability to match the vehicle's power output, and the fact that it is DSG-equipped adds to the quality of the braking.
ABD's GTI is outfitted with a full Caractre body kit. A highly complex paint job (reportedly taking 48 hours to complete) further enhances the effect. The interior is definitely more for show or racing rather than daily functionality. The high-end factory Recaro MkV R32 seats are tight and are a little tough to get in and out of-perfect for race day, just not every day.
APR's GTI is equipped with an Oettinger body kit. Unfortunately, the exterior paint scheme causes the kit to be somewhat overshadowed. But the Hella DynaBeam headlamps, Celis light-guide rod and high-performance LEDs give it a unique look. Covering the cabin's surfaces with Alcantara gives this GTI a luxurious feel normally associated with vehicles several times the price. It is also equipped with a complex computer system which, after reading the 100-page manual, should prove useful.
The exterior of the H&R GTI has been modified using parts from VW's factory accessories catalog, giving it an upgraded look that is straightforward and clean. The vehicle features a two-tone paint job separated by a reflective silver strip. The interior's spun-aluminum belt line trim is inspired by the R32 and accents the two-tone seats, bringing the exterior's paint scheme into the cockpit. Mounted in the trunk is an intricate stereo system featuring H&R's own VW FAST.
Pack Your Bags For Vegas
The APR GTI is overall winner. Even though it does not win all the tests, it keeps within VW's original theme. APR's GTI feels like the most complete vehicle, achieving a balance of styling, street performance and track attitude. The best thing is that the entire car is easy to replicate and all the parts are readily available.
GIAC software, Supersprint turbo-back exhaust and high-flow catalyst
H&R performance street coilovers, 26mm solid adjustable front anti-roll bar, 24mm solid adjustable rear anti-roll bar, 5mm rear Trak+ wheel spacers
Brembo four-piston GT calipers, two-piece cross-drilled and vented floating rotors
Wheels And Tires
OZ Ultraleggera, 8x18 Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R, 225/40
Two-tone silver upholstery with 'machined' piping, headrests with red GTI-style accent, R32 aluminum beltline trim with machined accents, AWE boost gauge in custom pod, Pioneer audio system
Factory accessory lip spoiler, European rear bumper with lower diffuser, Reflex Silver/Porsche GT Silver two-tone paint
Peak Power: 217.30 hp @ 5750 rpm
Peak Torque: 216.87 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm0-60 mph: 5.5 sec.
60-0 mph: 116 ft.
Hot Lap: 1:34.94
APR stage three turbo kit (Inconel cast exhaust manifold, APR/Garrett turbocharger, proprietary APR FSI fuel components, silicon hoses), cold air intake, front-mount intercooler with cast aluminum end takes, cast aluminum piping, APR software, three-inch turbo-back exhaust with quad tips
Six-speed manual, stage three clutch upgrade, Quaife torque-biasing differential
APR coilover kit, rear anti-roll bar
Four-piston Alcon front calipers, 13.5-in. rotors
Wheels And Tires
BBS RS-GT, 19-in.Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 235/35
MkV R32 Recaro seats with Alcantara inserts, Alcantara headliner, custom painted belt trim, StreetDeck Mac Mini infotainment system
Oettinger body kit, custom black and white two-tone paint, Hella DynaBeam headlamps
Peak Power: 355.99 hp @ 6600 rpm
Peak Torque: 288.77 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.2 sec
60-0 mph: 118 ft.
Hot Lap: 1:29.21
ABD 'Industrial' GTI
Low-compression pistons, reinforced connecting rods, VF Engineering tubular manifold and fuel pump, Garrett GT28RS turbo, uprated FSI injectors, ABD front-mount intercooler, ABD ceramic stage two LAN intake, Audi A3 front intercooler pipe (removes sound amplifier system), GIAC software, Techtonics Tuning 2.5-inch turbo-back exhaust, modified dual exit configuration with four-inch double walled tips
Six-speed manual, Quaife torque-biasing differential, SPEC stage three multi-puck clutch disc, aluminum flywheel
Eibach adjustable coilovers, 27mm front anti-roll bar, 23mm rear anti-roll bar, ABD twin tube front upper stress bar
Brembo four-piston GT front calipers with two-piece cross-drilled and vented floating rotors, ABD cross-drilled rear rotors, ABD braided stainless steel lines.
Wheels And Tires
iForged multi-piece alloys, 8.5x19Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 235/35
Momo race seats with Schroth Rallye harnesses, Momo leather shift knob and boot, ABD custom roll cage, custom aluminum paneling, silver carbon fiber dash trim, billet aluminum boost gauge bezel, floor mats, silver carbon fiber accents
Caractre body kit, custom 'bare metal' industrial-look finish, custom painted front and rear factory lighting
Peak Power: 349.29 hp @ 6600 rpm
Peak Torque: 309.25 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.4 sec
60-0 mph: 117 ft.
Hot Lap: 1:32.07