No one can deny the impact VW's 1.8T engine had on the aftermarket industry. Before this 20-valve turbocharged unit popped up, VW's powerhouse was the 2.8-liter, 12-valve VR6. Although a great powerplant, it was tough to see huge power gains without an equally huge cash outlay. The 1.8T changed this, making gains easy and affordable.
VW and Audi enthusiasts have a variety of ways to enjoy the 1.8T's turbo goodness; everything from coupes and hatchbacks to sedans and wagons. The 1.8T's first appearance in the MkIV platform happened in 1999, in the New Beetle. The following year saw it introduced into the Jetta/Golf/GTI and Audi TT. Since these cars are nearly 10 years old, the average consumer can use them as reasonable starting points for a great project build. Sifting through the classifieds, it's easy to find MkIVs for under the $10,000. For a budget build, first-year Beetles can be had for around $5,000. There are also a number of MkIV owners whose cars are paid off and are now looking to have some fun with it.
We're using a 2003 Beetle as our starting point. But regardless of platform, the things we are doing can apply to all MkIV 1.8T cars, featuring common modifications any owner can do-without adversely effecting the use of their car as a daily driver-and things we feel any enthusiast would want to do to optimize their MkIV's performance. Most mods here are standalone, meaning they can be done all at once or one at a time. We are also giving special attention to parts replaced through normal wear and tear, showing a performance alternative to a factory replacement.
First up is suspension. The factory went soft on the MkIV suspension and most enthusiasts feel their cars sit way too high. Apparently, someone at VW is convinced Americans like cars that float down the road and we constantly feel the need to pull in over parking blocks. There is a wide variety of suspension systems on the market and an enthusiast can spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand to get the desired effect. Threaded body adjustable coilovers became popular with the MkIV crowd, mainly for the tweakable ride height. But for most people, they are really overkill on the street.
We've chosen a more conservative and less expensive alternative. After trying many different brands (and we have a lot of favorites), when it came down to it, we went with Koni Sport shocks and struts and Eibach Pro-Kit springs. The Koni dampers are five-step, rebound adjustable, allowing us to dial them in to best suit our driving styles. We have also found them to provide excellent damping ability while maintaining a comfortable ride. The Eibach springs dropped the car about an inch and half-not slammed, but noticeably lower than stock. They also provide a good compromise between ride and handling. Bumps are a little more pronounced, but nowhere near harsh. Dive and squat are both reduced and the car feels more eager to turn into corners.
To give the springs a little help in controlling body roll during cornering, we chose Eibach's anti-roll bars. At 22mm in front and 25mm in the rear, they balance out the car nicely and help us keep the tires' contact patches flat on the road.
Since shocks and struts are normal replacement items that usually require attention around 50,000 or 60,000 miles, it makes sense to upgrade at this point. The minimal cost of springs is worth doing, since the labor is already being paid. The anti-roll bars are a nice addition we would recommend, but labor will be more and they can be done later.