Why the Driver Who Set a FWD Record at the Nurburgring in a Mk7, Believes the Mk8 GTI is Better

It’s all well and good to hire the best engineers, but unless you have a driver who can set a car up properly, the result may never matter. And with Benny Leuchter, Volkswagen has a driving ace up its sleeve.

The touring car racer has been racing Golfs for a while now and that may be why VW chose him when it wanted to set the front-wheel-drive record at the Nurburgring. The Golf GTI Clubsport S, as you may recall stole the record from Honda back in 2016.

But despite setting a convincing record, Leuchter’s time with the Mk8 GTI still leads him to believe that it’s the superior car. With only about ten more horsepower to play around with than last generation’s car, the carryover engine isn’t what makes it better. Another carryover part, though, is.

The front-subframe on the GTI will be heavily revised for the Mk8. But at its base, the aluminum construction is borrowed directly from the Mk7 Clubsport S. That means that not only will the front end be stiffer and sharper, it will also be nearly 7 lbs lighter.

The suspension setup will remain MacPherson struts up front with a multilink rear axle, but there have been plenty of revisions, according to Karsten Schebsdat, VW’s manager of Vehicle Dynamics and Chassis Control Systems. The front wishbone bushings have been revised, as have the springs and bumps stops, while the dampers have been revised.

The VAQ diff helps the front end power out of corners without understeer, while more toe-in at the back helps the back rotate correctly.

It’s all in pursuit of better balance through corners. So dogged was their pursuit, that they’ve even tuned the car’s front end to produce more lift than the back end at high speeds. That, Schebsdat assures us, is done to promote balance through high-speed corners by ensuring that front end of the car doesn’t have more grip than the back. It also means that you aren’t dragging wings around during highway driving.

But Volkswagen hasn’t put neutrality above fun. Although the rear end is designed to be super stable at high speeds, Leuchter says that it will play at lower speeds. Using the ISO lane change test (think of it like a less dramatic Moose Test), Leuchter shared a video showing how the back rotates more at lower speeds than it does at higher speeds, where stability is more important than lunacy. It also means that the front end can be razor sharp and medium speeds and can safely tend to understeer at higher speeds.

When pitted against a Mk7.5 GTI Performance (making the same amount of power and shod with the same tires), the Mk8 GTI was nearly 4 seconds a lap faster around Volkswagen’s handling test track. It was also about 2 mph faster through the slalom and the ISO lane change.

But as with all modern vehicles, the chassis development doesn’t stop at the strictly mechanical. Volkswagen has been improving its active chassis controls, too.

Along with the VAQ differential, VW has improved Dynamic Chassis Control and its electronic differential lock. All three have had their controls centralized to a single computer that allows them to react faster. Basing reactions on the 200 pieces of information they collect per second, the systems can now better act in concert.

That means that the dampers can be adjusted on either side of the car in real-time and inside wheel braking can take place to simulate torque vectoring. Volkswagen says that it all means that the steering feels quicker, there’s less understeer, and the car will feel like its responding more quickly to throttle inputs since the information doesn’t all have to be relayed through an elasticky system.

Naturally, VW also claims that you’ll be able to tune the chassis so that it floats as softly over the road as a late ’70s Cadillac. What it means for certain is that the car will be able to soften its springs even more than it does in comfort mode. A chassis slider will allow you to go over and above what it’s set at in the official sport and comfort modes.

We’ll have to wait until we drive to be sure that this is a fun party trick rather than a frustratingly bureaucratic feature, but one thing we do appreciate is that you’ll be able to turn stability control all the way off with the Mk8. The system will turn back on if the crash avoidance sensors are tripped, but otherwise, it won’t get in the way of your stupid fun.

Ultimately, Leuchter believes that VW’s engineers have “significantly increased the performance of the car. It’s a big step forward.”