Because most German roads are consistently good, many of the uprated suspension kits developed in Germany are downright uncomfortable on the broken road surfaces of England or California.
This has been my experience with almost every modified Golf GTI I've driven since 1981. Both generations of factory Golf R32 were borderline filling removers, while tuner versions of the independently-sprung GTI Mk 5 were only slightly better.
Imagine my surprise then when I rode out in Abt's Golf 6 VS4 recently and experienced an almost limo-like ride quality both at town speeds and on the autobahn. When I later commented on this back at base, Florian Buengener, Abt's effusive PR chief, explained that this was Christian Abt's target for all their new sport suspension systems.
As a DTM (German Touring Car Championship) ace, Christian knows a thing or two about driving and setting up cars. "While stiff suspension works on a billiard-table-smooth track, real world roads need good wheel travel and a compliant secondary ride to keep the tyres in contact with the tarmac," he explained. "In that respect, ride comfort and effective power deployment work hand-in-glove."
Unlike racecars with their seam-welded bodyshells and full roll cages, road cars, especially hatchbacks with large tailgate openings, tends to flex over bumps. The sports suspension then has to be made fairly stiff to compensate.
However, advances in computer-aided design that enable stronger, stiffer and lighter bodyshells has made it easier to maintain suspension geometric accuracy under load. This in turn has made it possible to dial down spring and damper stiffness, especially in secondary ride.
While the new Golf 6 may look generically similar to its predecessor at a cursory glance, its bodyshell is significantly stiffer. So even though VW uses similar suspension components to the Mk 5, the new settings have significantly improved the ride, both with the standard suspension and the Adaptive Chassis Control (DCC) system.
Using this new baseline, Abt has been able to develop its latest sports suspension in a way that sets a new class benchmark for secondary ride comfort in an aftermarket sports suspension. H&R makes the coil-over suspension kits to Abt's unique specification, and the Golf 6 system uses progressive rate springs with fixed-rate dampers all round.
The resulting compliance is unprecedented despite the 30mm-lower ride height and the 8.0J x18-inch Abt AR style alloys with 225/40ZR18 rubber that fills out the Golf's wheel arches.
At higher speeds, the primary ride is also supple, but when you really lean on the chassis on a twisty road, things stiffen up progressively, revealing iron-fisted body control.
The ability to absorb and control the outputs of the 200+bhp motor is also very impressive, with almost no torque steer to contend with accelerating out of tight bends in second gear. Overall, you feel you are riding a quick but totally civilised machine rather than a bucking bronco looking for every opportunity to throw you into the bushes.
The next marvel is Abt's interpretation of the second-generation 1.4 TSI twin-charged engine. Using a supercharger and a turbocharger on the same engine is nothing new. Back in 1984, I drove the Lancia Delta S4 rally homologation special that used this system to couple the advantages of a supercharger's low-end response with the high-end power of a turbo. But digital motor electronics were in their infancy then, and the system was a bit ragged in operation.
Ironically, when I lived with a VW Golf 5 1.4 TSI test car for a week in 2007, that car's system was a bit ragged too, despite 23 years having passed and electronics having advanced in leaps and bounds. This first generation 1.4 TSI suffered from significant hesitation when the supercharger disengaged and the turbo took over. Seamless it was not.