Project SportWagen: Setting the Stage(s) with AWE Tuning

With suspension from Air Lift Performance, wheels from Rotiform, and roof candy courtesy of Volkswagen Accessories, you might just say that Project SportWagen is starting to look the part of a proper show car within today’s Volkswagen scene, while retaining the ability to be driven daily.  But although the looks are very much in-line with what we see at Waterfest and H20 International, sadly the performance is not.  Not to knock the extremely capable and surprisingly efficient 1.8 TSI, but it isn’t the kind of motor that is going to set anyone’s hair on fire when it comes to outright acceleration.  Fortunately, we’ve got an extremely vast aftermarket industry which caters to just that sort of thing.

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Founded back in 1991, Philadelphia-based AWE Tuning has been churning out high quality performance products for Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche (along with new additions BMW, McLaren and even Bentley) for quite some time.  In fact, if loud pipes really do save lives, then they’ve probably kept more hearts beating than the entire cast of Scrubs.  Even more importantly, they are quite close to our East Coast offices- meaning that our relatively new Golf SportWagen could be used to develop their entire 1.8 TSI line.  A few phone calls were made, some hands were shook, and a deal was made.

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Flash forward a few weeks, and I found myself sitting in the reception area of their brand-new facility in Horsham, Pennsylvania, while our Golf SportWagen made its way inside.  As the development process is a fairly in-depth (and extremely intriguing) one, my time seated next to a new 911 Turbo in their lobby was short lived. Curiosity had got the best of me, so I decided to position myself as close as possible to their engineers without being completely in the way.

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With the car already lifted overhead, a team of engineers and fabricators began to probe the underside of our Golf, taking pictures and making notes of the exhaust path and tolerances that would need to be accounted for.  They seemed to talk in code as they moved towards the back of the car, and a plan was struck.  From there, one of the engineers went to work scanning the bottom of the car, and I headed back to the lobby.  Unfortunately, that was really it for day one.  No new exhaust.  These things take time, I’m told.

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My next visit would come about a week later, which saw me leave the SportWagen in AWE’s care for a few days so they could get a system built on the car.  For my troubles, they gave me a loaner- an F30 BMW 328i with some stuff – to use until my car was completed.  Not a bad trade off, but I missed the wagon.  While the car stayed at AWE, an exhaust, a downpipe and an intake would all be fitted, meaning that when I picked the car up again, it would have a prototype system installed, and most importantly for AWE Tuning, their fixtures and build instructions would be completed.  This made leaving the car behind a bit easier.

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A few not-so-painful days later, I got the call that work on our Golf SportWagen had completed, and that the results were “promising”.  The reality was that AWE Tuning had built, evaluated, tested and set in place all the pieces to mass produce the system in just a few short days.  It’s an impressive feat, and one that they do quite often.  Even better, I was given the opportunity to follow the production pieces through AWE Tuning’s fabrication department.  Each cut, each bend, and every bead of weld, right before my eyes.  It’s a process which many of us likely take for granted, but one that AWE takes quite seriously.

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Whenever you’re working with raw materials, it’s imperative to do things properly the first time.  Any and all waste translates into a direct loss of time and money, so AWE Tuning goes to great lengths to ensure that all cuts and bends are done without error.  This means that before any welds are performed, additional time is spent simply preparing each section of tubing and the machinery which modifies it.

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Once each piece has been obsessively prepared, they’re sent off to one of AWE Tuning’s team of welders.  Working off of cloud-based instructions displayed on iPads and an impressive system of fixtures, each piece is fitted, clamped and welded into place.  By creating the systems on these fixtures, AWE can ensure perfect fitment each time, and that’s pretty important when you consider that about 99% of what they fabricate is shipped to customers all over the world.

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Since our car happened to be on-site, our exhaust skipped the shipping queue, and AWE’s technicians got to work fitting the production system to the SportWagen.  Using just the right combination of finesse, brute force and patience, the Downpipe and Cat-back slip-fit system quickly went into place.  For those wondering, AWE plans on offering multiple versions of this system, namely Track and Touring.  As this project is about standing out, we opted for Track, which has one less resonator than that Touring system.  Should we ever decide that it’s a bit too much, the system can easily be retrofitted to Touring spec, but from our initial impressions, we doubt that will be an issue.   So how does it sound?  Check out the video below to have a listen.

After a quick cruise, AWE checks all fitment one last time, as heat has a tendency to make these things expand.  With everything looking (and sounding) good, AWE moved underhood to fit their S-FLO Carbon intake, which is nearly identical for 2.0T and 1.8T applications, and replaces the factory intake without much effort.   We consider it the carbon fiber cherry on top of our Golf SportWagen’s hard-part performance upgrades, readying the car for a Stage 2 software file.  Based on the gains that we’ve seen tuners publish, saying that we’re excited about it would be an understatement.

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As this all happened on our drive to Waterfest, we were able to get immediate impressions of AWE Tuning’s Track Edition Exhaust with Downpipe and S-FLO Intake.  AWE is keeping tight-lipped about the power gain specifics from the upgrades fitted to our Golf SportWagen, and while that’s a bit of a bummer, we totally understand.  What we do know, is that the Golf SportWagen has a noticeable power increase across the midrange, and all the way to redline- right where you want it most.  As for sound, we’re quite pleased at the part throttle volume inside the car while cruising, and the loud bark at full chat.  We’re told that AWE Tuning still has a few more processes to go before the full release of their Golf SportWagen bits, so those interested should head here to sign up for additional information including pricing and availability.

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In the next chapter of Project SportWagen, we’ll take the plunge on Stage 2 with a little help from the minds at APR.  To see more of Project SportWagen, click here.