You might call Chris Gigon a company man. No, he doesn’t work for the FBI – at least he’s not saying if he does. Rather, he’s an employee at Alabama’s APR. Consider his day job and consider that he owns this grey GTI and it’s a pretty good guess that any further discussion involves the word “Stage” and the number “3”.
We should probably rewind just a bit to tell the whole story of this United Grey VW. This Package 0 3-door actually began its modded life in the hands of an APR client as a development vehicle for APR’s K04 program. When the client decided to offload some of his toys, the GTI’s days were numbered… at least until the car was sold to one of Chris’ co-workers– APR’s PR and Marketing guy Keith Lucas. During its period with Lucas, the car served as a development platform for Volkswagen’s R-GTI SEMA show car.
Having served its purpose as development mule for the R-GTI, Lucas finally sold the car to Gigon who owns it today. And, we’re told, he sold it at the same price at which he purchased it prior to the engine modifications – one of many job perks that would play out on this particular GTI.
Gigon quickly set about making the car his own. At this time, he took the opportunity to jump on a full leather setup with bigger-bolstered sport seats – a configuration unobtainable on a sans sunroof Package 0 GTI from the factory.
There was another motivating reason for Gigon to pick up the GTI. Like several of his co-workers, APR had an interest in using the car as a display vehicle to bring to enthusiast events where the Alabama-based firm chooses to show its wares. This meant it had to be a full package, so everything and the kitchen sink from APR and plenty more by APR development partners like BBS, Koni, Michelin and Oettinger.
As you can guess from the name, Stage III goes a few steps beyond the run-of-the-mill engine management programming upgrades. Of course APR has tuned the software, but they’ve dialed it in to work with mix of hardware upgrades as well.
For starters, the GTI’s turbo has been upgraded to an APR/Garrett Honeywell Ballistic Series GT2871APR Ball Bearing Turbocharger. It also gets a investment cast inconel nickel alloy exhaust manifold, upgraded FSI injectors, uprated fuel pump, an APR designed larger cast aluminum mass airflow sensor housing with honeycomb style flow straightener, APR custom Silicone hoses, and an upgraded intercooler with almost three times the capacity of the stock unit. Also part of the Stage III kit, the car breathes more easily via a Carbonio derived carbon fiber intake that pulls fresh and cooler air from the front bumper lower vent opening .
Another optional upgrade for the Stage III kit fitted to this car is APR’s full exhaust upgrade with quad tips at the rear.
To help put the power to the ground, the car also gets a new Stage 4 Clutch from South Bend Clutch (SBC) and a Peloquin limited slip differential. Also firming up power delivery is an APR lower transmission mount insert – minimizing drivetrain shock and slack.
APR has also made a model of finding strong development partners that accentuate the company’s engine-focused product line. Names like Koni, BBS and Michelin have all paired with APR, so it’s natural this part-time APR show piece benefits from products of each of these partners. Koni 1150 threaded fully adjustable coilovers help keep the car stable in the bends, while titanium-finished 18-inch die-forged BBS REs are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 225/35/18 tires to help keep the car planted and pulling.
For what it’s worth, this grey GTI has a few modifications on the inside – namely the aforementioned Package 2 leather including seats, door cards, and armrest, OEM Navigation, a Valentine 1 radar detector system and Monster Mats from Volkswagen Accessories. On the outside, the car is subtly upgraded at the front with a Votex front lip, and at the sides with a set of Oettinger side skirts and a quad-tip rear bumper insert also from Oettinger. Given it’s a rolling exhibit for APR, full-on graphics promoting the company are expected.
A full-kitted APR 2.0T Stage III setup like the one on Gigon’s GTI is good for a claimed 385-hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The Alabama firm also claims a 12.84 second quarter mile at 111.71 mph though customers have even reported 12.28 seconds at 115.98 MPH.
Those are impressive numbers, but one of the most intriguing aspects of this particular 2.0T configuration is the drivability. A burbly Audi 4.2 overrun with torque at virtually all revs it is not, but this is also no high-strung tuner car. Power delivery and throttle are virtually OEM in their smoothness and refinement, and the speed comes on as deceptively as the forced-induction Audi RS 6 we recently tested.
As we putter around the college town of Auburn Alabama, APR’s Keith Lucas has his PR hat on and explains quite a bit about the company’s development process. Thanks to a three car Volkswagen GTI racing campaign by APR in the Koni Challenge, the company has had considerable access to former SPEED World Challenge Audi RS 6 driver Randy Pobst. Pobst, under contract with APR, has logged many miles on the brand’s new Stage III during its development on both road and track.
Around town man-handling would send the front wheels spinning with a howling screech that would most assuredly attract Auburn’s finest. On race fuel and race slicks, this particular setup would even spin in third as we’d later find at the wheel of APR’s white SEMA GTI. Gigon’s exhaust sounds cool, though it is a bit much for someone looking for a more OE-sounding setup. For that we’d suggest the company’s new Reflective Sound Cancellation performance exhaust. The latter features NASA-adopted tech – a baffle-free exhaust engineered to bounce sound waves into each other and effectively cancel out a considerable level of noise.
Out on the nearby highway, we can properly stretch the legs of the GTI and are truly impressed. Power builds low (3300 RPM and pushes the car. My neck isn’t snapping like it was around town, but it is pushed back into the headrest firmly as I watch the speedo do its clockwise dance much faster than any GTI has a right to.
Since virtually half of all GTIs and GLIs are sold with DSG, we’re curious about how the dual-clutch auto takes the Stage III’s upgraded torque so we decide to inquire.
Twenty minutes later we’re back at the shop and about to go out on our second test drive in a yellow Audi A3 – a car owned by the company’s president Stephen Hooks and driven by virtually anyone else at the company who has the need to grab the keys because the point is to log mileage and test durability. The A3’s got S-tronic, the very same Stage III setup as Gigon’s United Grey GTI and is just as impressive. More importantly, the DSG car has already logged some 20,000 miles of testing with Stage III and can boast no problems experienced with the transmission unit or the clutches.
That’s one hurdle down for making all GTI owners compatible with the kit, but there’s still another that Lucas tells us they’ve already begun to tackle. This year Volkswagen began producing cars with the new EA 888 series 2.0T from the Volkswagen Group. The engine is different enough that APR’s Stage III setup will need to get a few changes. Prototype units are already being tested, though injector changes mean the kits will be limited to 340-hp on the newer and more capable stock injectors until a new solution has been developed.
For now, those with pre-EA 888 2.0T engines can get the off-the shelf APR kit for a cool $5,299 stand alone or $7,299, with a high pressure fuel pump and intercooler., plus another $899 for the optional exhaust. It’s not cheap, but the cost per horsepower is actually quite reasonable and the refined drivability is hard to quantify. More importantly, it’ll transform a GTI or any 2.0T-powered VW or Audi into a car that can hang with much more expensive sportscars while getting more than 35 MPG on the highway. To a car enthusiast, perks of the job don’t come much sweeter than this.
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