Volkswagen tuners in North America have it rough. Not only are they forced to put up with VW’s notoriously long product cycle, they also have to wait an extra year or so after a new model is launched in Europe before it arrives on our shores. A perfect example is the fifth-generation GTI, which debuted last fall in Europe (a full seven years after the Mk IV GTI came to market), but won’t be available here until early next spring. Not content to simply wait it out, veteran VW tuning house AutoTech has taken bold measures to ensure that when the first US-spec GTIs roll onto dealers’ lots next year, they’ll have a full catalog of modifications waiting.
Taking advantage of the market-timing gap between Europe and America, AutoTech went to Germany and purchased a European-spec GTI and went to work turning wrenches right away.
OK, it wasn’t really that simple. Clearly you can’t just fly to Germany, buy a new GTI, then ship it home. We wish! Once the car was purchased, the red tape started flowing. All told, it took AutoTech nearly a year to convince the US government that it was necessary for them to have this car here for product development purposes.
Of course, part of the deal is that the car won’t be driven on public roads, and it can only be here for a year before returning to Europe or going to the crusher. By the time this GTI leaves the country next March, however, US models should be arriving in local showrooms.
Once the little red GTI got the stamp of approval, the guys in San Juan Capistrano went off in search of improvement. This was a bigger challenge than in the past, as VW actually put a fair effort into making the Mk V GTI a “real” GTI again. Factory seats, suspension, and power were all significant improvements over the outgoing model. But as good as the new GTI is in stock form, Autotech understands that enthusiasts have different needs, and it wasn’t long before some new solutions surfaced.
The 200-hp 2.0T engine that comes in every new GTI is one fine motor, with very little turbo lag and a healthy torque curve. But really, if 200 horsepower is good, another 50 horses couldn’t hurt, right? Autotech turned to the hexa-decimal wizards at APR to dial up the boost, fueling and ignition settings to bring total output up a bit. The result is APR’s Stage I ECU upgrade, taking to horsepower 252 on 93-octane gas, with an even more significant gain in torque from 200 lb-ft to 303.
In search of even more ponies, Autotech developed its own cold-air intake system. Still in prototype form, the intake air is fed through a 3-inch inlet tube directly to a high-flow air filter in the intake plenum for increased throttle response and a more entertaining under-hood symphony. On the other side of the engine lies Autotech’s T321 stainless exhaust system. The exceptionally thin construction eliminates more than 10 pounds as compared to the original, at the same time endowing the hot hatch with a more appropriate growl.
For now all this power runs through the stock 6-speed manual gearbox, but Autotech is working with Quaife, for whom they are the exclusive North American distributor, to develop an Automatic Torque-Biasing (ATB) differential for the new GTI as well as the Jetta V. A lightweight flywheel and high-performance clutch are also in the works. In the meantime, they have modified the transmission mount for less engine and transmission movement under acceleration to provide better traction and reduce wheel hop.
Modifying the suspension on the Mk V GTI presented a real challenge. The newest generation does away with the old twist-beam semi-independent rear axle in favor of a truly independent multi-link suspension. This alone addressed some of the handling limitations of past GTIs, and most who have driven the model would agree that Volkswagen has struck a fine balance between ride and handling with the stock suspension settings.
Being careful not to upset this balance, Autotech developed the Club Sport suspension. The setup consists of fixed-height sport lowering springs and shocks with rates that are optimized for each other. The result is a ride height nearly 2 ½ inches lower than stock and with slightly firmer settings.
Cornering ability is enhanced with the addition of Autotech’s famous hollow, tubular-style sway bars, measuring 25mm in diameter at both the front and the back, each employing adjustable end links for fine-tuning. Unlike past models with their twist beam setup, the Mk V GTI’s multi-link rear axle can make due with smaller diameter sway bars. Combined with the hollow structure of Autotech’s design, this keeps additional weight to a minimum.
Going faster and cornering faster are both great things, but at some point you must also come to a stop, so why not do that faster as well? Autotech developed a high-performance brake conversion for Mk V chassis, consisting of massive 362mm (14.25”) x 32mm front rotors squeezed upon by AP Racing 6-piston calipers. In the back, 310mm (12.2”) x 25mm rotors are used with a pair of upgraded rear calipers from the VAG parts bin, retaining the parking brake. Stainless steel-covered Teflon brake lines deliver hydraulic pressure to the big brakes, offering improved pedal feel and better modulation compared to the factory rubber hoses.
With brakes that big, it’s safe to say Autotech wasn’t even going to try to refit the factory 17” alloys. Smart move, not only from a functional standpoint, but also from an aesthetic one. The latest evolution of the GTI design seems to swallow any wheel less than 18 inches in diameter, and even those can look small at times. Instead they fitted 19-inch versions of a German classic, the BBS RS-GT, and wrapped them in 225/35-19 Yokohama Parada Spec-2 rubber. Not only do the wheels fill up the generous fenders, they also look absolutely perfect for the Autobahn burner that this GTI is.
The BBS’s aren’t the only nod to German style. Autotech treated the bodywork to some upgrades from none other than Zender. The complete kit consists of a new front bumper and grille, deeper side skirts and rear valance made of flexible polyurethane. The kit gives the lowered GTI an aggressive presence on the road.
Inside, the crew has pulled out the excellent front sport seats in favor of a pair of ultralight Sparco EVO seats. Driver and passenger are each restrained by Schroth Profi-III six-point competition harnesses. Rear seat passengers? Not in this ride- the rear seats have also been removed as part of the weight-saving plan. It goes without saying that you find a trunkful of subwoofers and amps; in the words of the Autotech guys, “Who cares about listening to the radio when you have a 2.0T on boost???”
As a leader in the Volkswagen tuning scene, Autotech takes pride in being the first to get their hands on this important new model. Their test mule made the major show circuit this summer to get customer feedback and, aside from a few non-VW enthusiasts who thought it was a really cool-looking Civic, reaction was good. As of this writing, the car is still undergoing new product development and testing, and if you don’t get a chance to see this car again before it goes back home, you’ll certainly see the fruits of Autotech’s labor on the first few modified GTIs in “civilian” hands next summer.
For more information or updates on this car’s development, contact:
Autotech Sport Tuning
32240-E Paseo Adelanto
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Phone: (800) 553-1055 in USA, (949) 240-4000 intl
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