Project SportWagen: Air Suspension

Over the years we’ve become somewhat famous (or infamous if you happen to be whoever is Editor-In-Chief of Jalopnik this week) for our community’s love affair with lowering their car.  Starting with springs and cup kits, then moving to coilovers and eventually full-blown air suspension, the Volkswagen crowd has been into the ‘stance’ scene before it had a name, or a connotation.  So with that in mind and possessing the perfect car for such a setup, we thought this might be a good time to finally take the plunge on air.  A few phone calls and a short wait later, Air Lift Performance’s Digital Combo Kit with V2 Management was sitting in our office, waiting anxiously for a weekend when we could bolt it onto our Golf SportWagen.

sportwagen-strut

On the morning of July 3rd, we headed to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, home of Orchid Euro where Jamie Orr and a few fellow enthusiasts would provide tools, a lift, and a few hours of sweat equity. Besides being the go-to for rare European used parts, Orchid Euro is also an Air Lift Distributor and we figured that’d prove invaluable in trying to tackle our first attempt with an air suspension.

Like any team installation, we spent the first hour or so simply visualizing our attack. I’d never done anything like this before, but luckily everyone else had and they seemed quite confident.  As the rear compartment came apart, a sufficient power source revealed itself that promised to make getting voltage to our compressor a non-issue.  It was our first victory of the day, and an early one at that.

As the day wore on, we began to remove the OEM suspension components, bolting Air Lift’s kit in their place.  Since the Golf SportWagen is a very new car, its suspension came free without much struggle, which was certainly a perk for those of us manning the wrenches.  The rear kit was the first to be installed, complete with Air Lift’s replacement rear control arms.  Once the first side was finished, we sort of stood back in amazement.  The new control arm didn’t hang quite as much as the old, meaning that our new ride height would be nowhere near stock.

sportwagen-rearassembly

As we moved to the front, the installation wasn’t quite as straightforward, as the front struts were stubborn to say the least, and we needed to remove much more than we anticipated to get them out.  Adding to this challenge is that Air Lift technically doesn’t have a kit for the Mk7 Golf SportWagen just yet due to a 50mm front strut diameter, as opposed to the 55mm struts found on all other Mk7 Golf and GTI models.  Luckily it was a challenge that we were fully aware of, and compensated for ahead of time. Regardless, the struts still needed to come out, and the front sway bar had to go in order to work with our solution.  Our choice was to either drop the front subframe, or test out our angle grinder’s new cutting disk.  We decided to take the path of least resistance.

sportwagen-grind

Fast forward a bit, and the front suspension was reassembled using pieces from Air Lift’s Mk4 kit, which worked with minor modification to the stock mounting points. This left only the air lines and trunk install between our crew and the checkered flag.  Air lines were run tight to the car’s frame, and mated to our trunk setup through a small hole in the spare tire well.  Back inside the car, the compressor was wired into the power source mentioned earlier, everything was bolted down, and we pressurized the system.  Admittedly there was one leak, but it was quickly located and rectified.  From there, we picked a team member to put in the driver’s seat, and let V2 management do its thing.

gsw-v2-controllerWith the management system’s initial calibration completed, it was time to set height presets and pressure preferences.  Obviously we wanted the car to look great when parked, so the first presets knocked out would put the car completely on the ground (0psi in all bags), and sitting level on the wheels (0psi front/18psi rear).  We then created a low cruising height (33psi front/44psi rear), normal cruising height (44psi front/50psi rear). As it can get a bit long winded explaining how exactly all of these presets are created, we’ll let Air Lift do the talking.

While the car was still a bit too low for our taste even when air’ed all the way up, we were able to raise it up a bit thanks to the generous thread count on the rear struts.  As it sits on the OEM wheels at our desired ride height, we’re at a ground-to-fender measurement of 24.5″ front/25.75″ rear- down 3″ from stock and just over 4″ from our week of ruggedness on R8 GT wheels.  Before heading home after the install, we took the opportunity to adjust the front strut’s 30-position dampening adjuster to full stiff, preventing any unwanted scrapes or rubs at our new ride height, while leaving the rear at it’s middle-of-the-road setting.  The result is a car which while admittedly stiff, is still surprisingly complaint over larger bumps.  The opposite is generally true for traditional systems, so admittedly it’s something we’re still getting used to.

gsw-dumped-front

In the week since our install, we’ve taken full advantage of air’s ability to raise and lower the car on command.  Each time we raise the car back to driving height, people react in some sort of way, and that’s completely understandable.  The experience is a bit like having a pet Greyhound- it’s not a terribly odd breed to have, but unless you’re surrounded by others at the local dog park, you’re guaranteed to get a lot of looks.  For that reason, we only air’ed out on special occasions before bolting up our final wheel choice.

gsw-dumped-rear

Now that suspension’s been knocked out, it’s time for wheels.  We’re just a few days away from Waterfest, and our fresh set of rollers are currently getting tires mounted and balanced.  Between now and Friday, they’ll be bolted to the car which will be displayed prominently with our long-term Mk7 GTI and Fourtitude’s Project allroad at this year’s event.  If you’re heading to New Jersey this weekend, be sure to swing by and check it out.  If not, keep tabs on our Instagram account and the site for updates throughout the event and a project update early next week.

See more of Project SportWagen, here.

-Thanks to Matty, Jamie and Andrew for the help!