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Motor Trend - 2000 Volkswagen Golf
During the Build - Phase Three

Motor Trend Project R28: Suspension/Brake/Wheel/Tire Upgrades

Our 2000 Volkswagen Golf was optioned with the more sporty GTi package, however for our project goal (and the 10-team shoot-out), the GTi package wasn't quite up to the task. The previously installed Audi TT all-wheel-drive system added to our Golf afforded radically improved traction, but much improved suspension actuation and damping was needed. Scouting eBay Motors turned up lots of new/used aftermarket suspension pieces for VW's, but we really wanted something radical for our project. And then there it was. After lots of eBay searching we came across a set of used KW Suspension "Variant 2" adjustable coil-over struts/shocks/springs. Bingo, just what we needed.

Although GTi disc brakes do a decent job halting a stock Golf, we needed some throw-out-the-anchor performance to reign in our R28 with its 400-plus horsepower turbocharged VR6 engine. We initially searched eBay for aftermarket wares from noted brake manufacturers like Brembo and Alcon, but such hardware proved to be difficult to find as well as ridiculously expensive. Then luck shined on us as we came across a chap selling a used set of R32 brakes with slotted rotors and aftermarket PBR Metalmaster sport brake pads. We presume that the R32 owner upgraded to aftermarket binders, but it really didn't matter as we quickly bought up his brakes from eBay using our Pay Pal account.

Next up were wheels and tires for our R28. In the pictures on eBay, our Golf was shown with four safety spare—but according to the seller, part of the deal included a set of nearly new 18-inch "factory" wheels and tires. Upon taking delivery of the car, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Golf came with a set of used R32 wheels with decent shape tires. We seriously considered installing the rolling stock on our R28 project, but after thinking about it we wanted wider wheels with even grippier tires—not to mention a more custom look. We asked our pals at HPA Motorsports if they knew of anybody who would want to buy the R32 wheels/tires, and within a few days we had multiple offers for the wares. Stories were abound about such R32 rolling stock selling for $1,200 or more, yet we were too busy to spend time marketing them so we just settled for an easy $800 sale. We were strongly considering buying a set of used Porsche Turbo wheels for our R28 as well as there were many aftermarket wheels that interested us, but HPA informed us of a deal that we couldn't pass up. RH wheels (a company that HPA has worked with on many project vehicles) recently had a set of its 18-inch Alurad ET56 wheels returned by a customer. RH didn't want to sell used wheels to a customer so effectively they were stuck with the goods—until our phone call. The wheels were in decent shape (only a few minor scuffs) and dirty, but we convinced RH to offer the used alloys to us as our first manufacturer sponsored product (Note: the rules of the build-up allow for up to $2,500 of sponsorship). The deal was struck and soon we picked up the wheels for our project. Next up were tires. Frankly, we needed some serious grip for the fewest dollars spent, which led us to Kumho Tires. Recently Kumho has been making big noise in racing as it's Ecsta line of street-legal radials have won numerous SCCA national events at the tracks, and Kumho is the rage amongst many cars in the Southern California street scene. After seeing the tires firsthand (they're pretty sticky to the touch when hot) and learning of their low price, we decided to go with Kumho. Some fancy wording with the Kumho P.R. department landed us our second "sponsorship" within our $2,500 worth of freebees.

After the KW suspension was installed, we had the tires mounted and balanced ($72) in Canada at a shop near HPA. Later on, the R28 received a 4-wheel alignment ($95) that employed specific alignment specs that were secret to HPA.


Our eBay sourced suspension included a used set of KW Suspensions Variant 2 coil-overs. The setup is KW's older galvanized steel design (new KW's are stainless steel), but was in top condition and well worth the $750 eBay price.

Although $1,200 may seem steep for a used set of factory disc brakes, we knew the amazing ability of VW's R32 brake system and thought the cost to be fair. Plus, the seller had the front rotors machined with slots (to relieve gas pressures that build up between the pads and rotors during hard braking) and fit with upgraded brake pads.

Although our GTi shell came with factory R28 18x7.5-inch wheels/tires (shown at back), we sold the used setup as we wanted even more grip. Answering the call for extreme traction was a set of Kumho Ecsta V700 225/40R18 tires. We'd track tested a set of V700's before and were very impressed, but the real draw are the Kumho's amazingly low price (www.tirerack.com).

Our suspension upgrade started with the removal of the stock "safety spare" tires that the Golf was delivered with.

Stock GTi brakes are decent, but not up to the task of R28 duty. The Golf 11-inch (vented) rotors clamped by 1-piston calipers are meant for daily driving, not repeated high speed blasts.

We began our suspension swap by first removing the stock brake calipers and pads.

Next, we removed the retaining screw that holds the 11-inch rotor in place and then removed the rotor.

We loosened the point on the front knuckle where the bottom edge of the strut attaches.

Next, we removed the retaining nut that holds the top of the front strut to the main body structure.

With a bit of wiggling, the front strut and spring assembly can be pulled down and removed from the vehicle.

Notice the difference between the stock strut/spring and the KW setup. Not only does the KW strut/spring offer radically improved dampening, but it also offers adjustable rebound settings and over 2-inches of ride height adjustability. Furthermore, the KW coil-over setup is 4.25 lbs lighter per corner than the stock unit.

Installation of the KW coil-over is simple. Align the strut's top mounting shaft in the body hole, then thread-on and tighten the retaining nut. Then, fit the lower edge of the strut into the front knuckle and then tighten the mount. KW coil-overs are available with a wide variety of spring rate choices, but ours came with a twin-spring setup that delivers a 450 lb-in rate that equates to being about 30-percent stiffer that GTi spec springs.

Notice the size difference between the stock 11-inch diameter front brake rotor (right) and the stock R32 13.2-inch rotor. The larger rotor allows for bigger pads as well as more surface area to absorb heat. Note how the R32 rotor also incorporates an aluminum center "hat" to reduce overall rotating mass.

The R32 rotors install on the GTi hub just as the stock rotors do. Simply align the rotor and then thread-in and tighten the single retaining screw.

The stock Golf front caliper (left) is a light duty, single piston design whereas the R32 caliper is a much larger, more beefy two-piston design.

We installed the new R32 calipers on the rotors, and then bolted them to the front knuckle. Afterwards, we reconnected the brake lines.

Here's the final look of the KW coil-overs and R32 disc brakes at the front of our car.

At the rear of the car is a major element to its handling prowess—an Audi TT all-wheel-drive system that was retrofit to the Golf by the previous owner. Previous to the limited edition 2004 R32 model, AWD was not available in any Mark III or IV Golf in North America. HPA has been doing such AWD conversions for years (including an earlier AWD conversion on this very car), but the cost of such is a healthy $12,000-$14,000. Thus, the $10,000 price of this car illustrates the real value of our purchase. Moreover, although the owner stated "low miles" on the eBay listing, the car turned out to only have 4,200 original miles despite being a 2000 model.

Out back, we began by removing the stock rear shocks.

Next, we removed the stock GTi rear coil springs. The springs can be removed by having a buddy pull down on the rear suspension (with rear shock removed) while you carefully remove the old spring.

The new KW heavy-duty rear shock was positioned and fastened in the body structure, but the lower portion of the shock wasn't bolted into place until after the new rear springs were in place.

The KW rear coil springs include machined aluminum adjusters (shown at top of spring) that allow for quick and easy ride height adjustments. The KW springs are shorter than stock and are about 25-percent stiffer. In addition, the KW rear spring combo is 2.05 lbs. lighter per corner as compared to stock.

Notice the difference between the stock Golf rear disc brakes versus the R32 brakes. The stock GTi rotor is a 9-inch diameter non-vented design whereas the factory R32 rotor is a 10-inch design with full venting.

Start the rear brake swap by removing the stock rear caliper.

Remove the rotor retaining screw, and then pull off the rear brake rotor.

Install the R32 rear brake rotor, then thread-in and tighten the retaining screw.

Install the larger R32 brake caliper onto the rotor, then install and tighten the retaining bolts.

Here's the final look of our upgraded KW suspension and R32 brake setup at the rear of the car.

We had the new Kumho Ecsta V700 225/40R18 tires professionally mounted on the nearly new RH Alurad ET56 18x8.5-inch cast aluminum 5-spoke wheels. Afterwards, the combo was computer spin-balanced with the weights put on the inside to deliver a nicer outer appearance.

The offset of the RH wheels was likely designed for a sports car such as a Porsche Carrera, so the spacing was a bit off for our VW application. Thus, we installed 3/4-inch aluminum wheel adapters (that come with the RH wheels) to generate proper wheel spacing.

Darren Scharfenberg of HPA Motorsports installed the new wheel/tire combo, torqued the lugnuts to spec, and then lowered the car to the ground.

Here's the final look of our chassis and wheel/tire setup. We opted to set the KW adjustable suspension to it's nearly lowest setting for better handling and improved looks, but if you live where roads aren't that good, the KW setup can be easily raised up.