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Volkswagen VR6 Motor - VR6 Tuning Guide

Thinking about tuning your VR6 12v for more power and torque? Check out our guide by Paul Piola with parts and conversions from $1000 to over $7000.

By Paul Piola

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.

If you've got $1615 you can contact Euro Sport Accessories who should be able to net you 175-180whp. This includes the pulleys, aluminized exhaust, GIAC software and intake mentioned previously, plus a set of 264 Kent cams. Should you decide to go with its regrind option you can shave $300 off that price by exchanging your factory shafts.

Neuspeed falls into this price category if you want everything they've got to offer. Its Race Series CAI retails for $230, and its power pulleys, which replace the power steering pump, alternator and crank pulleys, are 6061 aluminum and retail for $300. Add a chip ($129 for Mk3 and $229 for Mk4) and stainless exhaust for $700, and your total will be $1459 for about 170whp.

Techtonics Tuning moves into this category with its stainless steel exhaust ($550), 2" downpipe ($300) and 268 cams that retail for $495. Along with its corresponding chip ($100) and K&N ($50), you can expect 175whp for $1495. If you don't mind losing some mid-range, TT offers 276 cams for $550. Because the chip has a 7600rpm rev limit, TT recommends dual valve springs ($112), lightweight hydraulic lifters ($168) and titanium retainers ($175). The total comes to $2005 and should net 185whp. It also sells 288 cams but doesn't recommend them on the street.

Once you've done everything to your car without really getting into the motor, you could consider adding an EIP Tuning intake manifold to the upgrades in the previous category. It costs $700 ($850 polished) and should net 10hp, with torque gains around 400rpm. Greater gains are available if used with one of EIP's turbo kits.

Kinetic Motorsports offers a turbo kit for '95-99.5 VR6s starting at $2650. It uses a custom Rotomaster T3/T4 oil-cooled turbo and Kinetic manifold. There's also a 38mm TiAL wastegate, 2.5" stainless steel downpipe, 3" stainless steel intake, braided oil lines, oil pan with fittings, air filter, silicone hoses, 30 lb/hr injectors, and it's all controlled by C2 Motorsports software. At 6psi boost, your VR6 should give 245whp with a free-flow exhaust.

If you have the price of admission, this is where the real power begins. AMS has a $3775 supercharger kit that's CARB exempt. It features a Vortech V1 S-trim blower, Aeroequip hoses, aircraft-style couplings, Advanced PowerProm, CNC laser-cut brackets and an installation manual. Boost is 8psi, good for about 250whp.

C2 Motorsports has a supercharger kit for $3995. There's a choice between V1 or V2 Vortech superchargers, the latter being quieter. The brackets, pulley and dual idler are CNC-machined, and a billet 95mm MAF housing is included. Some 30 lb/hr injectors ensure enough fuel to gain 250whp through a stock exhaust.

VF-Engineering offers its stage 1 Vortech supercharger for the Mk3 and Mk4 for $3500 and $3750, respectively. With boost set to 6psi, it was designed as a bolt-on conversion. It runs off GIAC software and is CARB pending. The piping is polypropylene plastic and the bracket is CNC-machined from 6061 aluminum. The rev limit is set to 7000rpm, and the system is OBD1 and OBD2 compliant. Power can be expected to be in excess of 220whp at 6400rpm.

While not a power gain, it's worth mentioning the Bahn Brenner short block if you plan on the bigger horsepower setups shown below. For $3485 they'll build a short block for any '92-99 VR6 car with 8.5:1 low compression forged pistons, forged connecting rods and OEM bearings and gaskets.

While EIP Tuning and Kinetic Motorsports turbo kits can run with the factory exhaust, both companies achieved their advertised horsepower using at least a 2.5" free-flow system. EIP sells a 2.5 and 3" exhaust for Mk4 cars at $650 and $850, respectively; and both companies will build 3" cat-back exhausts to order for local customers. However, we've found that Boost Engineering and GHL Motorsports sell such systems off the shelf for $800-1000. Because they need an exhaust and sometimes a clutch upgrade, each turbo kit will fall into the pricing category that reflects the true cost in order to achieve that power level.

EIP Tuning is known for its turbo tuning, and starts with its Series B kit for $3500. Since it's not intercooled, boost is set to 6psi, which is good for 245whp at 6400rpm with a 2.5 or 3" exhaust. Full boost happens by 3500rpm, and the 238 lb/ft of peak torque arrives at 4500rpm. The large T4 Turbonetics turbo rests on a stainless steel exhaust manifold with a 2.5" downpipe, and is regulated by a Turbonetics wastegate. Mandrel-bent intake piping, complete mounting hardware and even an integrated engine management system for fuel and ignition are included in the kit. EIP claims it takes 6-9 hours to install, fitting '92-98.5 VR6 Corrado, Golf and Jetta, and even VR6-converted '85-92 Golf and Jetta.

Kinetic Motorsports falls into this category with its stage 2 turbo kit for the '95-99.5 VR6. At $3650, it uses the same turbo as stage 1 but with the addition of a front-mount intercooler, allowing boost at 9-10psi. This is good for around 280whp with a cat-back exhaust. Now that we're getting into Porsche 996 Carrera territory, Kinetic reports an upgraded clutch disc is recommended for use with the stock pressure plate for an extra $225.

VF's stage 2 supercharger for Mk3s and Mk4s is $4000 and $4500, respectively. You get stage 1 plus some Bosch injectors, new software and an 8psi pulley. This should give 250whp at 6400rpm, with a flat torque curve exceeding 200 lb/ft from 4000-6500rpm on the Mk3, and 3200-6500rpm on the Mk4.

The EIP Tuning stage 1 turbo includes everything in the Series B kit, but adds an intercooler to run 10psi for $4999 plus a cat-back exhaust. The end result is 275whp at 5700rpm. The torquey setup provides 283 lb/ft by 4700rpm.

The VF stage 3 blower for Mk3 and Mk4 is the same as its stage 2 plus a side-mount intercooler (cutting the front bumper is not necessary), new software and more boost from a smaller pulley. The price for stage 3 is $5500 for early cars, $5900 for the Mk4, and will net you around 270whp at 6400rpm on 91 octane.

Upgrading from Kinetic's stage 2 turbo to stage 3 adds 42 lb/hr injectors, with C2 Motorsports software and a head gasket spacer lowering compression to 9:1. Since the kit retails for $3950 it represents serious horsepower for your dollar when it pushes a whopping 350whp on pump gas. But the kit falls into this price bracket because Kinetic claims you'll need its $575 clutch to make use of the torque, bringing the total to $4525 plus a cat-back exhaust. Additionally, as with any kit using a head spacer to lower compression, don't forget extra hours of labor for the head removal.

Boost Engineering sells a kit that uses a Garrett GT35 turbocharger. There's also a cast iron manifold, front-mount intercooler, 42 lb/hr injectors, Bosch plugs, BOV, 2.5" charge piping, oil pan with adapter, tranny stiffener, K&N filter, heatshield, 3" downpipe and 8.97:1 head gasket. The kit alone is $5280 for Mk2 and Mk3 cars, $5445 for '92-95 Corrados or $5580 for Mk4s because of the necessary catalytic converter. The internally-wasted boost is set to about 14psi. Boost Engineering offers a ceramic clutch for an additional $175, but claims the stock clutch will work on the street. To accompany the 3" downpipe, Boost Engineering has a 3" exhaust, allowing the kit to make 308whp at 6400rpm and 308 lb/ft at 4200rpm.

Take EIP's Series B turbo kit and add the stage 1 intercooler before stage 2 lowers the compression with a head spacer so 15psi is safe on pump gas. When you throw in the clutch upgrade from EIP the total comes to $5880 plus the price of a cat-back exhaust system, but now we're talking 364whp at 6000rpm with 377 lb/ft of torque at 4650rpm on pump fuel - or enough power to keep up with your average Porsche 993 or 996 twin-turbo!

By the time you read this, VF should have its stage 4 supercharger for the Mk4 VR6. In addition to stage 3, it runs lower compression and comes with a power-steering cooling kit, high boost bracket kit with eight-rib drivebelt, bypass valve, high-flow MAF, engine mounts, and is CARB pending. The blower is the bigger V9 F-trim with heavy-duty bearings. VF has tuned the stage 4 with Dyno Spot 256 cams and stock exhaust to a healthy 340whp at 15psi. Fitting a sports exhaust has yielded a further 15-20 horsepower at peak. The kit, including stages 1-3, will be about $8600 plus $425 for exchanged cams. These figures may change on release of the kit.

If you want to crack the 400whp mark you're going to have spend real money. EIP's stage 3 turbo goes well beyond stage 2 with low-compression forged pistons, Electromotive Tec3 stand-alone engine management and high flow injectors for $9180. With this setup you'll be laughing at triple-digit speeds with 440whp on pump fuel!

At this point, we're already swapping pistons, so why not do forged connecting rods with no extra labor charge? Shell out another $1200 with EIP and your safe, allowable power on the T4 turbo will be a reported 470whp for a scant $10,000 total worth of parts. The engine is now set up to get to big, no, stupid power with EIP's stage 4-6 kits, which use bigger turbos and better fuel systems to easily exceed 500whp. That's supercar territory.

The cost of serious power can be astronomical if achieved with normal aspiration compared to the horsepower-per-dollar costs of forced induction. For instance, you can pick up a built 3.0 long block with forged pistons and rods from EIP for $7895, which includes the E-PROM to run it and the labor to build it. But even with 11:1 compression (a 2.9 liter 8.8:1 compression long block is also available) you're not going to reach 250whp without adding 268 cams, an intake and exhaust, and perhaps even EIP's intake manifold, putting you well over nine big ones. Don't get us wrong, it would be cool to have 250 normally-aspirated horsepower but you can exceed that power with a turbo or supercharger for less than half the price.

With the forced induction kits in particular, you must remember things are going to break faster the more you abuse the car, especially with 350 lb/ft or more. Fortunately, EIP and Kinetic sell beefier differentials and half shafts to withstand the shock. With prices ranging from $600-900, the cost of high performance can add up.

Bahn Brenner
Techtonics Tuning Boost Engineering
Advanced Motorsport Solutions
850 W. 18th St.
Costa Mesa
CA  92627
C2 Motorsports
EIP Tuning
GHL Motorsports
Kinetic Motorsport Euro Sport Accessories
Autobahn Racing
Momentum Motor Parts
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By Paul Piola
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