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Volkswagen GTI Tuner Challenge - eurotuner magazine

Two Weeks Before SEMA, Volkswagen Only Had One Space In Its Booth And Four Tuners Vying For The Position. So We Organized A Track Day To Help Them Select A Winner.

By: , , Photography by ,

By now you know VW is taking the aftermarket very seriously. The company has identified the importance of enthusiasts like us to its marketing plans and is hoping to appeal to both our sense of adventure and desire for performance. It's doing this by building a series of concept cars to highlight the tuning potential of its cars in the hope we might find them even more appealing.

Obviously, it's preaching to the choir. We already know how much fun can be had with these cars, but we aren't about to rain on the parade. After all, it's nice to see the OE having a go.

As we've reported countless times, VW broke its SEMA cherry last year with the R GT cars - a Jetta, Passat and Touareg, each with a twin-turbo VR6, 4WD and DSG. This year they returned with the R GTI - a car we exclusively revealed last month and can be found on this month's poster.

In addition to building their concept car, VW handed out some GTIs to a number of tuners. Among them were ABD, APR, H&R and WRD, while Neuspeed got a Rabbit and attempted to recreate its original Thunder Bunny concept.

Getting the tuners involved was a masterstroke. It would legitimize what we do and expose VW to a variety of opinions and approaches. The only problem was that limited space in VW's SEMA booth meant only one tuner could fit alongside the R GTI and the Bunny.

So how could we narrow down the field and select the strongest car for the VW booth? Ooh, how about a track day? We could time laps, 0-60 acceleration and 60-0 braking. Oh, and let's take them to the dyno. And how about a show 'n shine to look for the best prepared? We'd award points, tally the scores and the winner goes to SEMA.

We were joined by obscure sister publications, European Car and Sport Compact Car, while Motor Trend and Automobile helped with the timing - creating a Primedia orgy of speed and ego.

As you'll read over the next few pages, the tuners turned up with their A-game, keen to capture the coveted SEMA prize. It was a hard fought battle and our eventual winner had the narrowest one-point lead, just as in etGP on p46.

So turn the page and find out how everybody fared on the track, dyno and in our show 'n shine. We were also lucky enough to compare the tuner cars against VW's own R GTI and Thunder Bunny. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and we grasped it with both hands.

VW also provided stock GTIs to provide a benchmark to judge the improvements wrought by the tuners.

Streets Of Willow Track DayIt was dj vu, returning to Streets of Willow one week after etGP06 but in mid-October track temperatures were down and it was a pleasant place to be, especially when surrounded by such mouth-watering machinery.

The track session would last all morning, with the teams having an hour to practice before their designated drivers took to the asphalt for three flying laps against the clock. You can see the times in the table opposite.

Each team then returned to the pits to regroup and buff the paintwork so we could conduct our visual inspection and get some driving impressions of our own. Some editors took to the open road, but we stuck to the track because... we don't really need to explain, do we?

While on the track we scored the cars on overall handling, braking, acceleration and noise. These were subjective awards designed to complement the test data gathered earlier in the day. We basically scored the stock GTI with a five across the board and then scored the tuner cars against that. So a score over five means we felt there was an improvement, under five means it was a mess.

The acceleration and braking tests were conducted on the main straight where there's a slight incline. Therefore, these numbers don't represent what each car is ultimately capable of, but serves for comparison purposes.

You'll notice that the braking tests reveal the uprated equipment is no better than stock. However, our experience on the track proved the aftermarket kit was far superior in terms of consistency. This suggests the tests should have involved more stops and from higher speed.

Dyno ShootoutAfter the time trials at Streets of Willow, the gang of GTIs were dyno-tested at Zero-1000 USA in City of Industry, CA. It has a DynoJet dyno and will be installing a 4WD dyno in the near future. We wanted to determine which tuner was able to create the most power over stock, so each team was granted 30min to attempt up to three runs. During this time they could tune, fiddle or drink coffee. Unfortunately, WRD and Neuspeed were still out of commission from the previous day, so only three cars competed.

ABD Racing

Engine: 2.0 liter turbo FSI with VF-Engineering GT28RS upgrade, JE pistons, Carrillo rods, 8.5:1 compression from thick head gasket, tubular turbo manifold, GIAC software, air-bypass valve, ABD front-mount intercooler, stage 2 LAN pipe intake system, turbo outlet housing, carbon fiber engine covers, Techtonics Tuning 2.5" downpipe and exhaust, custom dual-exit exhaust

The fully-built motor with upgraded pistons, rodsand lowered compression featured a prototype of VF-Engineering's latest GT28RS turbo upgrade - one of the first Mk5 2.0T's to produce high horsepower.The motor has improved substantially from its state in Street Tuner Challenge (et 11/06) since the new internals and re-tuned software increased power from 282hp to 349.29hp.

H&R Special Springs

Engine: 2.0 liter turbo FSI with GIAC software, Supersprint turbo-back exhaust including high flow cat

As the only DSG-equipped GTI, H&R Special Springs encountered technical difficulties running the car on the dyno. The transmission wouldn't allow proper acceleration because it would shift before maximum power. However, our experience with this software on our own Project Dub suggests the power is about right, but the torque should be slightly higher.

APR

Engine: 2.0 liter turbo FSI with APR stage 3 turbo kit on inconel cast exhaust manifold, GT2871R Garrett turbo, cast aluminum piping, silicone hoses, front-mount intercooler, 3" dual exhaust, software

APR was the dyno champion. With its production stage 3 turbo kit, the GTI made five more horsepower than ABD after its third and final run. Even though the competition was over, the tuner made another run after uploading new software that made 386.93hp and 405.33 lb/ft of torque. It didn't run cleanly but once APR refines this software, we suspect they might have the most powerful off-the-shelf turbo kit for the 2.0T

R GTI

Engine: 2.0 liter turbo FSI with APR GT2871R big-turbo upgrade, front-mount intercooler, bigger injectors, software, intake, exhaust with sports cats, single muffler, custom tail pipes

The R GTI put down the most power on the day (if you ignore APR's final run). It's only fractionally higher than APR's official run, but that shouldn't be a surprise since it basically has the same engine modifications - using APR's big turbo, software, injectors and FMIC.

Show 'N Shine

The GTI challenge was not solely judged on measured performance. We also scrutinized the aesthetics of each vehicle. Fortunately for us, each team chose a different route in both interior and exterior treatments. Some opted to remain close to factory appearance, while others stripped off every factory part and swapped it with either a custom or aftermarket replacement.

Our scoring here is the same system we used for the driving analysis. The stock car received a score of five and we rated each tuner from that standard. So a score over five means we saw an improvement, while less than five means they screwed up.

In the end, we believe ABD Racing's GTI was the most creative and custom concept of the group. The race-themed interior with aluminum flooring, rollcage, stereo and matching interior pieces put the car on top, but only by a hair. As you can see, it was neck and neck with APR throughout the scoring.

If the R GTI were in the competition, it would have received the highest ranking. Being the only widebody with a one-off carbon exterior and interior design definitely made it the star of the show in our eyes.

ABD Racing

Exterior: Caractere body kit, sport grille and rear hatch blend, painted head- and tail lights, West Coast Collision and Zeaks paint

Interior: ABD rollcage, aluminum paneling, boost gauge, aluminum pedals and floor mats, Little J's carbon-look silver upholstery, Momo seats, shift knob and leather boot, Schroth Rallye-3A harnesses, Sony audio components, two 8" subwoofers, 9" head unit monitor, integrated center console, iPod adapter, remote control

With an industrial theme in mind, ABD Racing transformed its GTI inside and out with a bare-metal look. From custom airbrushed paint, to raw-finished wheels and aluminum interior panels, this car possesses some of the most innovative ideas attempted by the aftermarket.

APR

Exterior: custom paint, Oettinger body kit

Interior :OE European R32 Recaro seats, alcantara inserts on door panels, rear side panels, front seats, center armrest, back seats, headliner, pillars and trunk, Streetdeck infotainment system including touchscreen operation, nav, voice activation, XM radio, backup camera, internet, MP3, data storage and Apple Mac hard-drive

APR's GTI displayed impressive power and balance on the track, and its exterior and interior exhibited show-stopping excellence as well - a tricky combination. As one of the first Mk5s with Oettinger aerodynamics, the body kit is complemented by APRs inventive paint job. The bold black and white with a red stripe create a hot rod appearance. Across the doors, a ghost rendering of the GTI crest added another unique artistic flourish.

The interior was luxurious with the addition of European R32 Recaro seats and alcantara upholstery throughout. Electronic upgrades provided a more urban experience with a Streetdeck infotainment system. The extravagant kit includes a touchscreen monitor, navigation, backup camera, internet capability and data storage, controlled by an Apple Mac mini hard-drive in the trunk. Very slick.

H&R Special Springs

Exterior: two-tone paint with VW Reflex silver top and Porsche GT silver bottom, Votex front spoiler, Euro VW rear bumper and diffuser

Interior: R32 aluminum interior trim with machined accents, silver two-tone GTI seats with piping and matching door panels, red accents on headrests, silver dash accents, AWE Tuning boost gauge in custom pod, Pioneer AVH-P6800DVD touchscreen head unit with TSD701P and TSD601P coaxial speakers, TS-SW841P compact subwoofer, GM03200T and GM06200T amplifiers, XM radio, iPod connectivity, custom trunk enclosure

The H&R GTI looked almost factory from afar, but on closer inspection you notice the two-tone silver paint.A Votex front spoiler and European rear bumper with diffuser made the GTI quite unique. The interior is what really surprised us. The dash, seats and panels were machined and decorated with silver. The stereo was also one of the more impressive systems in the group.

Neuspeed

Exterior: Thunder Bunny concept parts including front and rear bumpers, side skirts, custom grille inserts and dual exit exhausts, Candy white paint with pearl ghost graphics, tinted windows

Interior: black and white checkerboard upholstery, silver carbon on doors, dashboard and gear shift surround, OE GTI steering wheel and shift knob, white stitch accents, Bunny floor mats

VW's Design Studio didn't disappoint with its second project for SEMA '06. The '07 Rabbit was transformed into the retro-themed Thunder Bunny. The bumpers and skirts are custom pieces adding an aggressive look to the Rabbit and it's rumored these parts may soon be available through dealers. The white hatchback then received VW's signature ghost graphics.

The interior was more subdued, yet still chic. Going back in time, a black and white cloth gave the cockpit an old school feel. Silver carbon and white accents garnish the remaining interior parts.

R GTI

Exterior: custom carbon front and rear bumper/spoilers, grille, front fenders, side sills and mirrors, OSIR Design carbon hood, tailgate and roof spoiler, ghost graphics, R GTI badges

Interior: Recaro Pole Position front seats on custom tilt runners, reupholstered to match rear seat cushions in carbon rear seat pod, Schroth harnesses for all four seats, custom brace and support tower behind front seats, GTI steering wheel wrapped in suede with red piping, OSIR Design carbon trim, red stitching on door cards

No tuner could match the VW Design Studio's team in concept and quality. The wider carbon front fenders add a beefy stance to the car. The fine detail and function of carbon both lightens the car while enhancing its visual appeal. The new bumpers create an aggressive profile, which would frighten drivers on the road. The greatness of this car continues inside with Recaro Pole Position seats and carbon fiber rear seat pods. The carbon and red theme continues to flow throughout the cabin to the unique cross-brace, which rotates for access to the carbon rear seat pod. The Design Studio didn't let us down, and continues to inspire the minds of enthusiasts.

WRD

Exterior: VW Votex front spoiler, side skirts and rear apron

Interior: Momo Cup seats on WRD brackets, 3" harnesses and Mod 80 steering wheel, WRD four-point rollcage, Auto Meter gauges

Some tuners went for style; WRD went strictly for performance. The tuner tailored its GTI for Time Attack competition, so stripped the interior to reduce weight. Because the car looked untidy and unfinished, we were reluctant to give it higher points.

Conclusion

Having been around tuned cars our entire lives, we were still surprised at how good these cars were. We knew the contest pitted some of North America's best tuners against one another, but weren't expecting such all-round quality.

The R GTI was clearly the star, but so it should be. It was built using a generous manufacturer's R&D budget by some of the brightest thinkers around. It proves VW has a soul and there's real hope for its performance future.

As for the tuner cars, there were really only two contenders. With WRD and Neuspeed running into problems, and H&R retaining the stock turbo, it meant the battle for SEMA honors would be between ABD and APR.

As a magazine we felt ABD had built the better track car, while APR's would be preferable on the road. As it turned out, our convoluted scoring system kept the two cars neck and neck throughout the competition. But since there can only be one winner, the eurotuner award goes to ABD. It was very, very close and they won by a single point - let's hope we did our math correctly!

However, the story doesn't end there - all magazines got to vote for the SEMA booth space. Motor Trend/Automobile picked APR, as did SCC and European Car. So the booth space went to APR after all that!

We're not disappointed, though. APR built an outstanding car and deserves the accolade.

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