Is our improved, do-it-all GTI really capable of doing it all?

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Update by Tom Suddard to the Volkswagen Golf GTI project car
Apr 10, 2023 | Volkswagen, VW, gridlife, GTI, Carolina Motorsports Park, CMP, Mk7 GTI

Lots of things look great on paper, but there’s a reason the idiom is famous. We’ve written plenty about why we think our Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI is the perfect solution to the question “What if you only had one car but still wanted to go on track?”

Now, however, it was time to see if paper matched reality.

It was time for a real test, and what better test than 800 miles of driving, a weekend of camping, and a track day in the middle of it all? The Gridlife Festival Tour was coming to Carolina Motorsports Park, so we took our GTI to experience it.

What’s a Gridlife Festival Tour? Gridlife pitches the events as somewhere in-between the biggest club-race weekend you’ve ever seen and the full-on festivals it's best known for hosting a few times per year. And what’s a Carolina Motorsports Park? The track–more commonly known as CMP–is about a six-hour drive from our Florida home, and we think it’s an underrated South Carolina gem of a circuit.

Before we left, though, we made some upgrades. We’ll explore the impact of the upgrades in a future update from our official test track, but you can learn more about the brakes, camber plates, springs, wheels and tires we installed in the video below. (We should note that the car was in the garage for just 24 hours, too, staying true to our rule that our only car can’t be down for extended periods.)

Car finished, it was time to load it up. And no, we don’t mean onto a trailer—this experiment is all about owning one car, remember? Instead, we crammed a weekend’s worth of camping gear, photography gear, two bicycles, drinks and helmets into the GTI. And it completely devoured all of our crap with room for more. Most modern cars are huge, but we have to give the GTI props for at least translating its large exterior dimensions to an equally large interior.

All that was left was to set off into the night, in an out-of-warranty Volkswagen, that we’d just finished major surgery on. Hey, nobody ever accused us of not getting our money’s worth from that AAA membership.

Four hundred miles later we arrived at CMP with a new appreciation for our VW. We averaged 31.5 mpg cruising at highway speeds with our fully loaded GTI. We’d say the slightly stiffer springs are nearly perfect for the street—if you said these were factory springs from the M division or something like that, we’d believe you.

We also quickly realized we weren’t the only ones with a similar idea: CMP, a club track in the middle of nowhere, was somehow chock full of spectators. And they weren’t the grizzled racers we’re used to seeing in the paddock: Somehow thousands of car enthusiasts our own age—Gridlife said at least 3000—had made the same trek we had. We’d thought we were coming for HPDE, but accidentally crashed a giant motorsports party. Sweet!

So we set up camp and started wandering the paddock. Gridlife’s weekend format meant we wouldn’t be on track until Sunday, so we spent all day Saturday watching racing, checking out the paddock, and generally having a great time. There was even a concert on Saturday night, with rapper Xavier Wulf performing from a stage that looked like it would be more at home at Coachella. Then it was time for a few hours of sleep, and the Volkswagen’s next test: Track time!

Instead of signing up for time trials (dubbed Track Battle in Gridlife), our GTI was entered in an advanced group HPDE, or High Performance Driver Education. HPDE is focused on hassle-free track time, so there are no classes, no rules, and no timing—just take your car out and enjoy the track. HPDE’s safety requirements are also much more modest than other forms of motorsports, as most organizations only require a car with no major issues and a somewhat modern helmet. Our goals were similarly modest: Run a few sessions and don’t break the car. That’s far from a sure thing at CMP, though, as the track is famously hard on brakes.

Luckily, aside from nursing the occasional brake fade, we still managed two full sessions in the GTI before it was time to pack up and head home­.

So how does the car drive with the upgrades? Again, we’ll do a deeper dive once we’re back at our home track, but initial impressions were good: The GTI is finally capable of a reasonable corner entry thanks to that extra front camber, and this single upgrade completely changes the character of the car.

We were chasing down some much faster cars with a giant smile on our face (sorry Lotus) and were shocked that we were having this much fun on track without a truck and trailer waiting for us in the paddock. Our best time? A 1:50.51, which we’d call perfectly respectable for a car on 340tw tires that we’d comfortably driven 400 highway miles on.

We’re positive the car has a 1:49 in it with some cooler weather and/or some more aggressive driving, but we were focused on making sure we’d be able to get home at the end of the session.

After our final cooldown lap, it was time to head home: We broke down our camp, packed everything back into the VW, said our goodbyes and headed home. Four hundred miles later and we declared the weekend a success. With one car, one set of tires, and one weekend we’d had an almost identical experience as anybody with a truck, trailer and race car would have had.

Does this mean the experiment is finished? Absolutely not—we’ve got plenty more to do to our GTI, so we’ll put the car back under the knife in our next update.

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irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/10/23 4:31 p.m.

guys, there's this thing called a roof rack you could try ;)

also lol at you calling a GTI "huge." I DD a Mk7 and have never once considered it to be a large car.  That said, a Gen1 Montero hood fits inside by millimeters (along with four wheels/tires)


AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/10/23 6:26 p.m.

Can it rallycross?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
4/11/23 9:30 a.m.

Idk, this thing is gigantic compared to a Miata--definitely a significantly larger size than a Mk1 Rabbit.

Here's an interesting comparison, and the reason we refer to it as a minivan:

1984 Dodge Caravan Dimensions:

175.9" L x 69.6" W x 64.2" H


Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos)
Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/11/23 11:41 a.m.
Tom Suddard said:

1984 Dodge Caravan Dimensions:

175.9" L x 69.6" W x 64.2" H


Comparing it to a vehicle 33 years older doesn't seem fair, and the length is the biggest factor there. 

With the seats down, there is a good bit of room. The hatch area isn't exactly cavernous with the seats up, I can't really say it compares to a minivan.

CAinCA GRM+ Memberand Dork
4/11/23 2:32 p.m.

I think you're on the right track with your mods. The #1 handling improvement that I did to my Mk6 was a set of camber plates. They were also the worst thing I did to the car as far as NVH goes. That style of camber plate shouldn't be as noisy as most of the others though. 


I would highly recommend that if you're going to go with aftermarket sway bars that you replace them in pairs. 034 is really fond of their 25.4mm RSBs but in my experience they make the car handle strangely.  


Honestly, I would stop where you are now as far as the suspension goes. Any further gains are going to came at a high cost to daily drivability. I'd concentrate on better front brakes. Is this a PP car with the 345mm rotors? If not, that's a fairly cheap upgrade and is actually beneficial. 

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/11/23 9:56 p.m.
Tom Suddard said:

Idk, this thing is gigantic compared to a Miata--definitely a significantly larger size than a Mk1 Rabbit.

Here's an interesting comparison, and the reason we refer to it as a minivan:

1984 Dodge Caravan Dimensions:

175.9" L x 69.6" W x 64.2" H


I mean, sure. But then again a 154" x 68" current-generation Miata is gigantic compared to a....... 

MG Midget: 137" x 54"


BTW;  1st gen Golf GTI: 156" x 65" 

So if the current Miata is the size of a GTI, is the current Miata just a convertible old minivan? :D


irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/11/23 10:05 p.m.

incidentally, while reading this I was standing out front and my huge GTI is parked next to my other vehicle lol...

Nathan JansenvanDoorn
Nathan JansenvanDoorn Dork
4/11/23 10:09 p.m.

In reply to Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos) :

But the article references modern car size (compared to not modern cars). Seems relevant.

It's not likely to be a surprise to anyone on this forum that cars have, indeed become much larger than they used to be. (Exception - current MX5!) 

chaparral Dork
4/11/23 11:27 p.m.

Mine got 5th at Adams Motorsports Park's time-attack last Friday.

The brakes were good for about a lap and a half on a green-white-checker run. The intercooler was good for about two and a half laps.

It really didn't like banked corners, kept skipping and hopping.

Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos)
Brett_Murphy (Agent of Chaos) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/12/23 10:16 a.m.

In reply to Nathan JansenvanDoorn :

I said fair, not relevant. As you noted, everybody here knows cars have generally gotten bigger, but I guess that I sometimes forget that the article or magazine may not be read by huge nerds like us.


docwyte PowerDork
4/12/23 4:11 p.m.

While it's obviously a lot larger car, it's still quite small.  My son and I totally filled the hatch of my '19 R with our ski stuff for a 2 day trip.  My wife could fit in the car, but not her stuff.  For what it is, it's a great street car that's very usable.  But it takes a lot of work to make it a decent track car, which then detracts from its street car qualities.  Plus it's not a hauler. 

Since I have a fun car, that fills in the fun car duties, I sold my '19 R and picked up a Land Cruiser.  It does stuff the R couldn't do, hauls way more stuff, people and the dog, etc. 

For an only car, it's really hard to beat a hot hatch like the GTi tho...

flatlander937 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/12/23 4:59 p.m.


My GTI has been a great do it all car. It's modded pretty minimally (still on stock shocks and springs) and can still do a sub 2:15 at VIR with relative ease. My stuff on it is documented in the builds forum.

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