It's a crisp winter morning on the eastern edge of New Jersey, in countryside that nobody who isn't from there would associate with the state. In the tiny, antique towns we pass through, cuteness and Harleys abound. We've crossed over the river and are now in the woods, driving on winding roads with every sort of turn, camber, surface and visibility. I strap myself into the red, red Sparco driver's seat of Performance Engineered Systems' Passat 1.8T and flip a U-turn. This time, I sort of know where the road goes, so I try a little harder. I lay on the gas exiting a turn taken at seven-tenths, and this front-driver's 19-in. AEZ Bimo wheels (supplied by Edge Racing, 954/217-2980) and Pirelli P-Zero tires spin. I back off until the road straightens, then stand on it. This thing is fast. Really fast. In fact, it has more urge than any other pump-gas 1.8t I've driven. Boost doesn't come on from super-low engine speeds like stock, but it pulls strong to redline the way a sporting engine should. I spend the next 40 minutes confirming this assessment on everything from frost-heaved tracks barely wide enough for yellow paint to multi-lane toll roads.

"We hate the K04," said PES' product development chief, Mike Nuskey. "KKK turbos are nicely made," he went on to explain. "They are just designed for O.E. use." In PES' view, K04s are usually sold as worth a lot more than they really are. Mike and PES president Tony Ricci met while racing. Tony is a businessman and Mike is a technician who worked for years getting aerospace research projects built. When they came together to start a tuning business, they were committed to doing things the right way, the best way they knew how. In the early stages, PES investigated the K04's upgrade possibilities, talked to KKK's engineers, and found the best it could do while ensuring long-term reliability was 212 crank hp. That wasn't going to be enough. It was possible to get more power, PES reported, but it couldn't guarantee the turbo would live.

PES knew all along that boost was not equal to horsepower, and decided to achieve its power objectives with as low boost as possible. "We want to be very Porsche-like in our dyno figures," Mike reported, "so that customers get as much or more power than we say. There's a huge difference between dyno and road tuning." The dyno is a helpful R&D tool according to PES, but several sensor inputs are very different than on the road, and acceleration is different.

PES set several requirements for its 1.8t turbo upgrade kit, requirements it thinks are correct for any turbo kit on any car that is to be driven on the street. First, it shouldn't be aimed at achieving the fastest quarter-mile ever. Instead, the results should be perfectly acceptable for "your wife's car." It must idle and drive perfectly. That is achieved by keeping the factory engine management happy, not by tricking it. Internal fuel and timing trim corrections must be held to a few percent. Second, it should be a truly bolt-on installation, with no guesswork and everything in the box. PES has the installation manual on CD. PES has found the Ross-Tech VAG-COM diagnostic software and connector (see european car, "Tool of the Month," Nov. 2001) to be indispensable, allowing PES to diagnose installation mistakes by phone or e-mail from thousands of miles away.

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