When Volkswagen put the first VR6 12v motor in the Corrado SLC in '92, car shopping got a lot more exciting for the enthusiast. With that engine, the Corrado offered better performance than the E36 BMW 325is introduced the same year, and for thousands less. The 172hp VR6 soon found favor with the VW diehards, and later saw its way into the Golf, Jetta and Passat. In '02, VW switched to a 24v head, helping to produce 15 more ponies and creating the basis for future developments like the R32.
With transverse installation, the VR6 fits small engine bays, and - thanks to a firing order like that of an inline-six - offers smooth performance with a generous 177 lb/ft of mid-range torque. Today there are plenty of affordable cars on the market and companies able to take this engine to the next level. So if you own, or plan to own, a stock VR6 12v and want a few extra ponies - or perhaps want to embarrass the chump in the R32, M3 or S4 next to you - here are some tuning options to consider.
Keep in mind, prices don't include installation, and each firm's horsepower estimates take into account a 150hp baseline at the front wheels. Of course different dynos will spit out different baseline and test figures, as will individual cars.
If you're going to dyno test, always test before and after your upgrades using the same dyno, preferably with a short time between tests. Additionally, and especially on a turbo engine, it's best to test in similar weather, and with good spark plugs each time. Lastly, try and make each pass with similar engine fluid temps if you can monitor them.
For the VR6 enthusiast without deep pockets, there's a lot of bang for your buck in this category. Autobahn Designs (ABD) offers a quick-flow intake system for $160 to start you off, and it's a simple install. But if you want to maximize performance for under a grand, look into its $230 cold-air intake (CAI) system - it won et's cold-air intake shoot-out (11/04). Also check out ABD's $149 big-bore intake pipe that goes from the mass-air to the throttle body, and its tubular stainless steel headers that retail for $495. Altogether, ABD claims this $854 setup is good for 160-165whp at peak, with about 8-10 lb/ft gain down low thanks to the headers.
Advanced Motorsport Solutions (AMS) offers an air cleaner kit, a chip with a 7200rpm limit and 268 Schrick cams - all for exactly $1000 if you tell them et sent you. The three upgrades will wake up the mid-range and top end significantly, with peak power approaching 170whp. This package is CARB exempt, so is legal for California residents.
EIP Tuning suggests its 268 Schrick cams with 11.4mm lift and a stage 3 chip. This should give good mid-range and approach 170whp for $919 ($1119 for '99.5-02 cars).
For the Jetta and Golf VR6 only, Euro Sport Accessories sells an intake, exhaust, underdrive pulleys and GIAC software for $850. The software and pulleys will work on Passat and Corrado VR6s as well. The 2.25" stainless steel exhaust is 10 lb lighter than stock and isn't too loud. The pulleys will underdrive the accessories 13% to reduce drag. The GIAC software, like most VR6 chips, has a 7200rpm limit, which at this 165-170whp level should be good for 150mph.
Last in this budget range, Techtonics Tuning's package includes its own chip ($100), aluminized exhaust ($350), 264 intake/260 exhaust cams ($450) and K&N drop-in filter ($50). The chip alone is good for 5whp up top and 10whp in the mid-range, with similar gains from the exhaust. With the addition of cams and exhaust, Techtonics claims 170whp for this $950 package.
More power means more heat, so Momentum Motor Parts sells a $99 phenolic spacer you can use with any of these combinations. It keeps cylinder head heat away from the intake. The barrier is said to reduce temps up to 50F, and at an average 1hp for every 11F - that could be a significant amount saved from heat soak.