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Project Turbunnium Part IV: Suspension, Wheels and Tires

Our 2007 Rabbit project was the first new car I had ever purchased, which means I was frankly terrified to start ripping it apart and replacing brand new things when years of payments still loomed ahead. I spent my teens and early 20s piloting 10- to 15-year-old VWs and Audis across the desolate terrain of our country’s northeast region, dreaming all the while of cushy new factory springs unmarred by the detritus accumulated over many winters.

If I hadn’t been accustomed to my previous cars’ harsh aftermarket suspension setups, I’d have second-guessed the decision to rip the comfy stock springs out of a new car. After driving the Rabbit stock for a year, though, Wes and I were eagerly anticipating some aggressive H&R goodness, in the form of a set of Street Performance coilovers. We cranked them down an inch and a half in front and just shy of two inches in back for a look that accentuated the lines of our Thunder Bunny body kit.

For the first few months the H&Rs were installed, my commute was 12 miles round trip on a stretch of road so dreadful that it was repaved twice this past summer, only to crack and crumble yet again. Blown tires were a weekly sighting, and braver drivers often hopped onto the slightly elevated median to avoid the worst of the threats. This was suburban autocross at its finest. Perfect for breaking in a new $1200 suspension, no?

Then, my commute changed, and not for the better. I was racking up almost 80 miles a day on the bunny, on an expressway that resembles a rumble strip. I’m not sure why the Illinois Department of Transportation made the North/South Tollway function like a runaway truck lane, but at least I’d never fall asleep at the wheel. I’m sure it goes without saying that the H&Rs weren’t particularly pleasant on extensive stretches of grooved road. The upside is that, when it’s possible to avoid such road conditions and debris, the Rabbit darts around obstacles with aplomb, corners planted firmly.

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The H&Rs are delightful on highways with a decent surface. We drove the Rabbit to MIVE Motorstadt in Michigan, to Waterfest in New Jersey, and to H20 International in Maryland. A trailer queen it is not, that’s for damn sure, and for the most part, the coilovers were smooth as butter.

Of course, after nearly a two-inch drop, we needed new rollers. The Rabbit spent most of the spring on a set of 19-inch VW Phaeton Helios wheels. While we loved the look, this particular set had become something of a bad luck charm amongst VWvortex staffers, so it was time for a switch. We knew we needed to go big to complement the Thunder Bunny kit, so 19-inch wheels were still a necessity. We talked to our friends at The Tire Rack and they suggested a set of MSW Type 16s.

We opted for the black and red finish (on the odds that it would coordinate with an updated interior in the future). The surface stands out amongst other black wheels. It’s certainly not gloss but not quite matte, with a really subtle shimmer that complements the black accents on the car. The thin spokes make for quick and easy cleaning, and brake dust wipes right off the heavy-duty finish. These wheels racked up a lot of miles last summer because the Rabbit was driven to both Waterfest and H20 from VWvortex’s home base nestled among the pock-marked streets of suburban Chicago; we’re impressed with how well they’ve held up.

The red trim trend may have peaked, but since red is a traditional accent color on VW hatches, it’s completely appropriate here and we’re happy with the look. Unfortunately, the stock brakes provide a rather uninspiring backdrop for these wheels. Bigger rotors and coated calipers are almost a necessity, though even the GTI/GLI setup would be a considerable improvement.

Our MSWs came wrapped in 235/35R19 Bridgestone Potenza RE750 Sport tires, which were loud at first. Really loud. I drive a lot of new cars with a lot of new tires, and I was still surprised by how much the tires chirped and squeaked. I was happy to discover that the noise dulled down after a few weeks and a few hundred miles of use.

The Bridgestones are also prone to spinning when taking off from a full stop, even on bone-dry pavement. The good news is that, unlike the stock setup, tire spin at take-off isn’t much worse in wet conditions than it is when perfectly dry. Stopping distance is considerably compromised on wet surfaces, but I’ve experienced few other drivability issues in the rain.

That said, the Potenzas certainly aren’t suited to a Chicago winter, and once the prairie winds started blowing cold, it was time to swap them back out. We had a great summer driving around on our new goodies, but for now, the Rabbit’s back on its stock alloys and OEM all-seasons. We’re not quite hibernating, but close enough.

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