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.
Raw performance makes an enthusiast forgive a car many things, but as this motor was not particularly powerful either, I felt that while the concept had much merit, the implementation certainly did not. I was frankly surprised that a company as thorough as VW had allowed the 1.4 TSI out in this seemingly unfinished state.
Fast forward to late 2008, and the second-generation 1.4 TSI finally works with the smoothness and seamlessness missing from its predecessor. The 1,390cc twin-charged motor now sports 158bhp at 5,800rpm and 177 lb ft (240Nm) of torque between 1,500 and 4,500rpm. Good enough for 0-100km/h in 8.0 sec dead and 137mph (220km/h) all out.
The red Abt VS4 I'm driving today has taken this brilliant engine and put it on a fitness course via a remapped ECU that tweaks the fuel and ignition curves and raises the boost pressure.
In conjunction with a lower backpressure sports exhaust, these changes bring the big numbers up to 207bhp at 6,000rpm with 214 lb Ft (290Nm) of torque between 2,500 and 5,000rpm. To put things in perspective, that's late '80s 911 Carrera 3.2 US-spec horsepower from a mere 1.4 litre four!
Through the gears, the Abt VS4 now blasts through the 100km/h benchmark in 7.3 sec and on to 150mph (240km/h). This is pretty impressive for a mere 1.4 litre four, blown or not, and especially one that has exactly the same 145 g/km CO2 emissions as the stock version.
Fuel economy is not adversely affected unless you insist on using the full performance. In fact, in normal driving, economy is potentially better because the beefier torque curve allows you to attain and sustain the same speeds with less throttle and revs. Talk about having your cake and eating it!
For me however, the litmus test is how seamlessly the Abt car drives. Coupled to VW's seamless and lightening fast seven-speed DSG gearbox with its intuitive paddle shifts, the motor simply delivers the goods in as silky a fashion as you could wish for, and the shove in the back feels just as potent as the stock 2.0 TSI turbo motor.
A true measure of this car's performance in the real world where actual pace rather than stopwatch numbers count, was highlighted on the way back from the shoot with Abt's 237bhp Scirocco 2.0 TSI. When I did my autobahn top speed run in the Scirocco, that red Golf, while never able to fill my rear view mirrors, was also never far behind!
GTI levels of performance require GTI-level stopping power, so Abt offers a choice of two uprated brake kits for the Golf 6. The first offers 345 x 30mm vented front discs with four-pot callipers, fast road pads and steel braided hoses, and was fitted to the 1.4 TSI test car. The alternative is the sport brake system with 380 x 34mm front discs, eight-pot callipers, fast road pads and braided hoses. The latter system is a must for serious trackday junkies.
With just its big wheels and lowered suspension, the 1.4 TSI is attractive but also stealthy. Abt is also in the business of catering to those who want a bit of show as well, and the test car was decked out with their latest body styling kit.
This is made up of a deep front spoiler with large mesh air intake and small air splitter, the distinctive Abt front grille, side skirts, lower rear valance section with air diffuser and rear rooftop spoiler. That new rear valance section also facilitates the use of the distinctive angled Abt rear exhaust outlet pipes.
While a willing owner can go as far as a complete bespoke re-trim in the cabin, most Abt customers just have the alloy pedal set and floor mats fitted to the test car. Abt does not have an alternative for the T-handle of the DSG transmission, but if you have the six-speed manual, an Abt Sportsline gearknob is an option.
The professionalism they have shown over the years earned Abt their place as an independent tuning partner of VW and Audi, and a partnership with Audi in their hugely successful DTM programme. Because of this, Abt is in a unique position in the aftermarket tuning world, but they never rest on their laurels and are always striving to improve their products.
VW finally perfected the Golf 1.4 TSI, and now Abt has given it a harder, more focused character. But as we have seen, that sporting edge does not have to be an uncomfortable one. As hot hatches go, the Abt Golf VS4 is the archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove.
ABT Golf VS4
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.4-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve
Eight-piston calipers, 380mm rotors
* Wheels and Tires
ABT alloys, 8x18Pirelli P Zero, 255/40
Peak Power: 207 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 214 lb-ft @ 2550 rpm