GTI Mk6 Project – Clearing the Airways

In our last VW GTI update, we covered the install of new tires and wheels to beef up the aesthetic side of our little hatch. But, as they say, what good is show without the go?

To help rectify that, we turned to Forge Motorsports, who just released an intake kit for the sixth-generation GTI. We’ll be honest and say that a major reason we went with Forge’s cleverly named TWINtake system is because it just looked so different, and we wanted to see how Forge thought it could improve upon the tried-and-true filter-on-a-pipe intake design. Consisting of two inlets, two filter cones, and a load of Forge’s signature silicone hoses, the kit certainly looks different, and fills the engine bay of the GTI to the brim.

Installation is no more difficult than any other aftermarket intake system. The hardest part involves the fact that the stock air box runs from the intake point at the grille, all the way down the back of the engine, so there’s lots of piping and tubing to remove and replace. Otherwise, the typical removal and reinstallation of the MAF sensor is the most technical thing required for the install.

The job was a bit high stress simply because of the sheer number of clips and tubes and other stuff that comes with this kit, plus the concern of making sure everything cleared the hood when it closed. Thanks, oddly enough, to the many silicone hoses and hose clamps, we were able to leave the connections loose until all the pieces were installed, allowing us to wiggle and twist to get everything tucked in nice and tight.

And speaking of tight, we couldn’t help noticing the extremely close proximity of the secondary air inlet to the driver’s-side headlight housing. We figured the inlet would draw air from an open area in the engine compartment, but discovered instead that it just points directly into the headlight housing, where there’s not much open air to be drawn. We think that this is a result of our car being an HID-equipped model, since the halogen lamp’s housing might not get in the way as much. Forge assures us, though, that this intake still takes in quite a bit of air, and that there aren’t any performance issues due to the obstruction.

Forge claims that the kit has shown gains of up to 17 horsepower, and customers have done independent tests to verify some significant gains from the kit. Forge says that the key to this kit is that having a second filter pulling from a separate location takes a significant load off of the main canister, leaving plenty of overhead of airflow if the main filter gets bogged down. In our own experience, we certainly noticed an increase in power, but we particularly appreciate the improved throttle response. After the first few drives in the car after the install, smooth launches were tough and rev-matches were trickier as the needle climbed through the revs a bit faster than expected.

This additional airflow also added another layer of character to the GTI’s turbocharged engine — more noise. When the turbo starts to spool, you know it, since it now has two barely-baffled outlets to whistle through. The recirculation valve also benefits as it dumps the leftovers from the higher volume of air now coming through the turbos back into the system. Bursts under bridges and tunnels are no longer a quiet, laid-back affair, with anyone remotely close to the car now able to hear the inner workings of the engine.

The throttle response and the turbo noise could be partially due, however, to the other major upgrade since we last checked in: chip tuning from GIAC. Claiming a 35-50 horsepower increase, paired with the staggering addition of torque (50-85 lb-ft) , we knew the chip would give the two-liter engine a bit of a kick in the pants, but paired with the Borla exhaust, and now even more so with the intake, it feels like a completely different animal.

Power kicks in rather early in the powerband, and then climbs very quickly. From a stop, launching the car without wheelspin takes practice, as the chip gives our Direzza tires a hard time in keeping traction. A small poke at the throttle in first or second gear will generally overwhelm the rubber, and when things get even slightly damp, delicate throttle modulation is needed in order to get any sort of forward momentum.

Installation was dead simple, at least for us, as all we had to do was hand the keys to Induktion Motorsports, who did the flashing for us. The process for them was a bit trickier, as the ECU had to be pulled for the initial flash. But after that, changing between the available 91-93 octane, 89 octane, race gas, stock, and valet modes is a snap, done by simply by plugging GIAC’s flashloader device in to the OBD2 port and selecting which whichever program suits the situation.

We haven’t been able to get the car to a dyno yet to see what the true numbers are in terms of performance, but we’d be surprised if it wasn’t making the claimed higher end of the 35-50-horsepower increase. And when working in tandem with the intake and exhaust, the car’s manners have completely changed from when it was stock. Sure there are minor annoyances, like the touchy throttle response, the added decibels, and the wheel hopping, but the payoff in giggles is huge.

With everything sorted out front, we figured it was time to turn to the back end of the car. We’ve always liked the dual exhaust setup of the new GTI, which gives it a properly sporty appearance. But we’ve always found the exhaust tips both a bit too small and a bit too protruding, plus we do love a nice exhaust growl and the refined new GTI doesn’t have that. Borla contacted us right away to let us know a system was available for the new GTI, and we’ve been waiting for the right time to install it.

The Borla exhaust is a cat-back system that consists of two sections. No cutting or welding is required; simply unbolt the rear section of the factory exhaust and slip the new one in place. The most difficult part of the installation, which took us about 45 minutes working on the garage floor, was freeing the mounting tabs from the exhaust hangers.

The Borla exhaust addresses our visual hang-ups very well, boasting four-inch tips for a much more aggressive look while also allowing us to align the placement to our liking. The aftermarket system also saves a few pounds over stock — 19 pounds, to be exact. On the road, the Borla produces the kind of deep growl that was an essential part of the GTI’s character in generations past. The growl is really only present under load, becoming surprisingly docile at cruising speeds. And because the GTI’s turbocharger acts as something of a muffler in the first place, this Borla setup lacks the persistent boominess that often plagues aftermarket exhaust systems. Only on our long trek from Chicago to the east coast and back for Waterfest and H2Oi, and especially riding the world’s most boring roller coaster up and down the small mountains through Pennsylvania, did we feel the exhaust note was a mild nuisance.

We love this GTI around the office and it has become the go-to road trip vehicle for weekend adventures (despite the VMR wheels seeming to be unable to deal with potholes, but more on that in a future installment), which is why we’re sad our days are numbered with this car. It certainly has been through a lot with us, and hasn’t put up a fuss once. It’s plucky, and that’s why we love it.