ECU Tune

2017-03-14 Brink Motorsports
APR logo
I hired Brink Motorsports to install an APR Stage 2 High Torque tune. Mike Brink and his people are great to work with.

With the downpipe, intake and intercooler on the required 93 octane fuel it's advertised to provide 387 bhp and 409 lb-ft at the crankshaft. Assuming the typical 15% driveline losses with a manual transmission, that's ~325 bhp to the wheels. Less without the quoted intake and intercooler I don't have. Pretty similar to other Stage 2 tunes. So probably about 100 bhp shy of the Evo, but without all the boost curve, cam, injector, clutch and noise compromises that lovely beast had. Compared to stock at 245 bhp at the wheels, that's power you can feel. And it's well into the torque curve by 2500 rpm which makes it very usable in traffic.

APR downpipe installedDownpipe
2017-03-14 This is required by most Stage 2 tunes. I had Brink install an APR downpipe at the same time 'cause I'm getting too old for messing with this kind of stuff on jack stands.

2017-03-25 South Bend Stage 2 Kit The factory Golf R clutch, like all VW clutches I've driven, is very light, smooth and encouragingly easy for the beginner. And while it holds the factory torque just fine, it's not up to an extra 100 lb-ft. Mine spun almost immediately in third gear and beyond which kinda leads me to believe it had a hard life in the 5,000 miles before I had it. I ordered a South Bend Clutch Stage 2 Endurance kit through Brink and had them install it.

I wanted the most streetable clutch possible. Since I don't plan on adding power beyond the APR Stage 2 tune above, SBC's Stage 2 Endurance model, rated at 450 lb-ft, seemed like a good match. The clutch disc itself is dual-damped (the springs) with a full, 360° coverage of friction material. The super-grippy 4-puck clutch on the Evo behaved like an on/off switch which wasn't fun commuting in rush hour up Tumbleweed Hill and one of the reasons my wife really didn't like driving it. I don't want that for this car. The spring in the pressure plate is noticeably stiffer than the OEM unit, but again, not quite as difficult as the Evo's and VW's longer pedal travel means better leverage at the cost of some speed. The only annoyance is the chatter coming from the single-mass flywheel.

The maximum potential of the tune can be realized with a larger, aftermarket intercooler. But anything to help cool the car in Texas is a good thing. I'm considering the Integrated Engineering (IE), Unitronic or APR coolers that mount in the factory location between the A/C condenser and the radiator — easy-in without any fabrication.
As it turns out, the stock Mk7 intake and plumbing is pretty efficient. The most significant change here would be additional noise. Many Mk7 intakes are >$400 and my goal is for this car to remain somewhat stealthy. So even though it makes fun, zoomy sounds, I'm going to skip it on the Golf.


Clutch Bleeder Block
2016-05-28 ECS clutch bleeder block The stock clutch pedal action is awful owing to a bizarre restriction in the hydraulic line to the throw out bearing. The result is a delay in clutch engagement leading to awkward and clumsy double-clutching making heel-and-toe downshifting difficult. Fortunately the restriction was in the bleeder block between the hydraulic hose and the slave cylinder. I chose to replace the factory part with the aluminum clutch bleeder block developed by ECS Tuning. It was a tad expensive but installation was easy with my youngest daughter to help bleed the system. The problem can be solved by simply removing the plastic ring in the OEM bleeder that creates the restriction, but I wanted to keep the stock part intact in case I screwed up. Also, the ECS part does have a slightly larger inner diameter. Not sure I buy into the aluminum-is-always-better-than-plastic rationalization since they both plug into a flexy, plastic-bodied slave cylinder, but whatever.
Shifter Bracket and Solid Bushings
2016-06-23 The stock Mk7 Golf shift linkage is fairly crisp from the factory, but I feel any little bit improves the feel of precision. The Volkswagen stamped steel bracket replaces the stock plastic part that holds the transmission end of the shifter cable sleeves. The cables move relative to this mount point to actuage the shift lever sticking out of the transmission. Tyrolsport brass bushings replace the stock rubber bushings, holding the bracket onto the transmission case. Neither addition noticeably increases cabin noise.

Chassis and Suspension

Spare Tire Kit
2016-06-25 Mk7 Golf Rs don't come with a spare tire. Many other new cars don't either, possibly to save expense or weight or something like that. But this is wrong. So I fixed it.
Audi Wheels
2017-05-17 The stock 19" VW Cadiz wheels are acceptably attractive, but the short sidewall of the 235/35/19 tires lends a harsh ride without significantly improved handling. I've always liked the Audi TTR wheels, so I added a set of Hartmann replicas from Achtuning to my Golf.
Chassis Bracing
2018-09-11UnibraceI really miss the unparalleled chassis rigidity of the Evo. You even notice it in the Golf's body creaks slowly rolling into my driveway at a slight angle. I added the Unibrace UBQ Unibrace UBQ to replace the two stamped VW braces across the drivetrain tunnel. This reduces my ground clearance slightly at the center of the body so I don't recommend it for lowered cars. (I've already had to apply a protective spray of flat black to a couple low-speed scrapes.) Eventualy I may also add an XBQ to rigidly join the rear shock towers. Apparently the XBQ is built-to-order which incurs a long lead time. It also requires installing Nutserts for mounting and easing removal. I'll add the XBQ eventually as I'm confident it will make a greater impact than strengthening an already somewhat braced powertrain tunnel.
Rear Anti-Roll Bar
2018-12-17Compared to the Turbo S and the Evo, this car plows like a Deere. (I'm not sure why people add stiffer front anti-roll bars to these cars — that would increase understeer.) I had decent results adjusting tire pressures but I ended up adding an H&R 25mm rear sway bar. It definitely makes it easier to induce oversteer (especially on my current, worn tires) and rotate the car in a controlled manner.
Performance Brake Pads
Once the factory consumables wear out I'll upgrade the brakes to a good street/autocross pad and rotor combo. The factory calipers are plenty adequate for any kind of driving on the street and, doubtless, anything I could manage on a road course.


Jack Pads
2017-05-27 I'm a lot more comfortable bracing my floor jacks against these rubber and plastic pads than I am the potentially bendable pinch welds.
LED Taillights
2017-12-30 I added the 2018 Mk7.5 Golf LED taillights with their dynamic amber turn signals and rear fog light.
Euro Mirror Caps
The factory Golf R mirrors have a black cap on them above the turn signal light regardless of body color. I'd prefer if they were just blue like the rest of the body, so I supposed I could have them painted. I'm considering replacing them with the aluminum-look Euro caps, but hesitant as to how that might look with anthracite wheels. I suppose carbon fiber caps look similar enough to the stock black and don't stand out too much from the dark blue paint that they could be an option, but that's not me.
Power Folding Mirrors
I rather like the power folding mirrors on our Passat VR6. They're easy to get around in the garage and tight parking spaces and provide a helpful visual clue from far away that the doors are locked.
Remove Dealer-Installed Stripes
Seems like I hardly notice those pinstripes on the sides anymore. Hopefully a little heat, polish and patience will get them off for me at home.

Interior and Comfort

Armrest Storage Bin

2016-05-28 Vehicles in the US are required to have a latch on an opening compartment. Mexican-built Golfs and GTIs have a latch on their armrest lid enclosing a handy compartment. German-built Golf R armest lids have no such latch. In the rest of the world (RoW) they open. In the US they are clamped shut.

Fortunately there is a solution. VW/Audi armrests normaly lock into several heights. This is accomplished with a set of ratcheting gear teeth on the hinge. The hack VW used to federalize the Golf R armrest involves screwing down fixed gear teeth that lock into this hinge. The workaround to get into the armrest compartment on US cars is the removal of the fixed gear. Be careful with the 4mm allen screw heads because they are soft and easy to strip and probably held in with Loctite. (I ended up drilling out one because…stupid. Or careless.) Make certain to get the hex bit fully seated in the head. Consider using a small impact driver if you can get the tool in the tight space.

Software Tweaks
One of the nice things about owning a VW or Audi is VCDS, a.k.a. VAG-COM. If there is a feature implemented in any world-wide market and the associated hardware is installed on your car, you have access to enable it in software.
LED Footlights
2017-06-18 I updated the single, yellowish LED footlights in the front with LEDs matching the rest of the interior lighting.
LED Interior Lights
I'm considering changing any incandescent or weak/yellowish interior bulbs with low energy, bright and consistently colored LEDs. The German-built Golf R, for the most part, already has LEDs in every socket I've checked, though I did upgrade the hatch light with a brighter, whiter array.
Frameless Mirror
2017-08-04 I liked the look of the frameless rear view mirror in our 2017 Passat so I put one in the Golf too. It also adds a convenient HomeLink® transmitter and a primitive 8-point compass. I bought a kit that works with the R's rain-sensor. (Be sure to get the right one if your car doesn't come with rain-sensing wipers.)
Boost Gauge
Not exactly critical to the task of driving (fast), but it's nice to help diagnose if the power seems low. I have a Bluetooth OBDII scanner I connect to my phone using the Torque Pro application which I can use as a boost gauge with a variety of display formats, peak, min/max and graph over time. But it's not always convenient to have my phone or a tablet mounted in the car and there is a perceptible lag even with the fastest scanners. So I might like a mechanical or even one of those expensive stepper motor electronic boost gauges one of these days. Many VW vendors make it easy to match the R's uniquely difficult-to-read blue gauge lighting.
Dash Cam
2017-11-03Dash cams are getting quite popular. They're great for recording evidence in the unfortunate event of a traffic mishap, if that ever happens. I managed to capture a number of amusing and infuriating antics of my fellow drivers with the dash cam I had in the Evo. I picked up an Ampulla Cruiser 1080p/720p front/rear camera on a great "Black Friday" sale. Unfortunately the rear camera has not been the most reliable. I would have rather had my current favorite, a BlackVue DR470-2CH, for its features and stealth.


2018-12-09Just about any German car seems to require specialized tools, but this is such a great general purpose, labor-saving device I decided to add it here. A QuickJack is a portable hydraulic lift not too dissimilar in functionality to a two- or four-post lift you would find in a professional garage, but without the expense, install complications or space requirements. You slide the two lifting frames underneath your car's frame rails (typically where your factory jack points are), align the rubber blocks with your jack points, activate the hydraulic pump to lift the car and then lower it slightly onto the lock bars. Et voilà! your car is in the air and secured firmer than any jack stand I've seen. (Often I flip the frames front-to-back so my car moves forward slightly rather than backward into the closed garage door, an effect of the geometry.)