Project SportWagen TDI: Wheels and Tires

Let’s be clear, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient of definitions: the Mk7 can fit an absurdly huge wheel without rubbing. This is smart packaging on Volkswagen’s part, as right off the showroom floor, we were able to bolt up a set of 20” by 9” wheels left over from our Turbo Beetle Convertible project. It was a just a why-the-hell-not joke, and if you follow us on Instagram, you can see how cartoonish it looked. But not only did the “wagon wheels” not rub on bumps, we could crank the wheel over to hard lock and they wouldn’t even graze the fender liners.

The other part of the equation? Wheel gap. Gargantuan wheel gap. Wheel gap that, using the standard unit of measure that our parents used back in the day, is big enough to park another Volkswagen into. We took the car out for a shakedown cruise with the twenty-inchers and – between the 1.5” larger diameter wheel/tire combo and stone stock suspension – found the rear bumper of a Ford Escape parked in the next space over sat at exactly the same height as ours.

We’ll deal with the suspension later, but for now let’s keep talking wheels.

As much as we liked the look of huge wheels on the Beetle, one thing was made abundantly clear: unless we could Konami-code our way through the bombed-out, pockmarked streets of Chicago, it was impossible to drive without bending wheels or bubbling sidewalls. They just weren’t practical for daily use. We needed something larger than the 17” stockers but something more reasonable than the dubs on Dubs pendulum swinging too far in the other direction – and, fortunately, the answer was in the VW Accessories catalog.

gsw-tdi-stock

In stark contrast to our TSI SportWagen build, our biggest goal for this project is to make the TDI Wagen appear as factory-built as possible, leveraging Volkswagen’s generous parts bin wherever we can. We liked the elegant, classy look the 17” Geneva wheels and felt their thin, split spokes worked well with the TDI’s personality. With that in mind, we chose 18” Talladega (or Montauk, depending on fitment) wheels from the Mk6 Golf R. Available straight from Volkswagen Accessories, we knew they would be exactly the right centerbore, exactly the right offset, strong enough to live through what the Tri-State dishes out, and – at $280 out the door for a 18” by 7.5” fitment – we wouldn’t cry if one did fall in the line of duty. Most importantly, the arrangement of spokes in five groupings of three was a perfect fit for the look we wanted. After all—if we in the U-S-of-A are going to be denied both the GTD and the mk7 R SportWagen, then what’s to stop us from making ours as close to both as possible?

Why stop at 18”, and not 19” or 20” wheels, you ask? Good question. We found that bolting anything significantly larger than 18” up to our Golf murdered its fuel economy. Highway cruising with the original 17-inchers was a 47mpg affair. With the 40+ pound twenties mounted, our ‘Wagen struggled to break over 42. Former Mk4 owners that most of us are, with our slick 16-inch GLX wheels, we never thought that we would be choosing 18-inch wheels as a practical matter, but between their lesser weight and the narrower 7.5” width, our TDI’s status as reigning office mileage champ remains unchallenged.

gsw-tdi-wheel

The Talladega is a factory wheel, which does mean factory-friendly offset and factory-friendly track. To push them a bit closer to edge, we sandwiched in H&R’s aluminum spacers – 10mm on the front, and 15 on the rear – to help pad the SportWagen out. Making the job easier, we took advantage of another VW Accessory, the “tommy bar.” For those not familiar with the term, it’s ostensibly a composite rod, with a rounded end and a threaded end, that slides easily through the bolt holes in your wheel, and holds it in place while tightening the bolts. Necessary? No. But it sure makes life a lot easier when wheel/tire combos are pushing 35+ pounds these days.

Now the original tires on our SportWagen were Pirelli Cinturato P7s all-seasons—standard fare from a quality manufacturer. But describing them is much like describing Marsellus Wallace:

They’re black…

Go on…

They’re round…

Do they look like a performance tire?

(silence)

Then why you try to drive them like a performance tire?

In a lot of ways, we can’t blame Volkswagen for the Cinturato; they have a long tread-wear rating of 700, will age gracefully until the cars are well outside of warranty, and are exactly the kind of practical choice to which Consumer Reports will happily give a red dot. They are underwhelming, understeering, and under no circumstances did we want to keep them around.

gsw-tdi-wheels

Our ideal answer came from our friends at BFGoodrich, whose new G-Force Comp-2 A/S is a performance all-season with enough siping to not give rainy days a sphincter factor of 8.5. The BFGs provide a huge increase in grip over the factory Pirellis, enough that gamboling around on them starts to show the limits of the factory suspension – the body will heel over like a schooner in a storm before the rubber gets close to its limits of adhesion. At the same time, they’re just as quiet as the outgoing Cinturatos, and their 400 treadwear rating ensures that, unlike dedicated performance summer tires, we can actually drive out to shows on both coasts without them cupping, scuffing, and wearing down to the bars before seasons’ end.

The best feature of the Comp-2 A/S is also one of its more controversial: Part of its great at-the-limit grip is because the A/S is a round-shouldered tire; its tread blocks and sipes curve gently into the sidewall rather than end abruptly at the end of the tread caps. In tight corners, this lets the tire ease over into tread rather than break free suddenly. It also means that tread is visible from the side, which is a polarizing proposition for most, on the order of debating 2dr vs 4dr on a GTI, or squares vs rounds on a mk2.

gsw-tdi-side

Wouldn’t you agree that an easy fix would be to lower the car so that the sidewall isn’t as noticeable? And have you noticed that this is now two mentions of things that a better-than-stock suspension would fix on our Project SportWagen?

It’s all a bit foreshadowing, isn’t it?

Until next time…

If you’re shopping for new tires, be sure to do your research at TireReviewsandMore.com