FWD Insanity: Driving A 360hp MK6 GTI
When Noe purchased his Mk6 Volkswagen GTI back in 2010, he set out to be the fastest GTI in Utah. I don’t know every GTI in the state, but after driving his car for the day, I can attest it’s one of the craziest Mk6s around. He loaned me his savage GTI unsupervised for 12 hours, as opposed to just 30 minutes to hoon up a canyon, which gave me a much better idea what it’s like to drive daily. As this is fall in Utah, I appreciated the chance for a blast up a favorite mountain road before it snows in until April. Winters here can try a car guy’s patience.
The first impressions of this car demand a discussion of the power. Multiple dyno runs of this build show 360 hp and 380 lb/ft of torque at the front wheels through a 6-speed DSG gearbox and an open-differential. Yes, you read that correctly, 360hp sent through an open diff., all while weighing in at 3300 lbs. Yet, when you put the car in Drive, it feels like a normal GTI with a little more urgency. Put it in Sport or Manual, however, and it will try to spin its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires right off the pavement.
The real downfall of having a GTI with this much power is getting the power to the ground. If you were to have the same output of this GTI in the Golf R, traction wouldn’t be as much of an issue. But overwhelming the front wheels is what gives this GTI a fun and somewhat crazy character. This is a subjective argument, but it feels as absurd as the Hellcat with the fun coming from different wheels.
When the car does hook up, it’s very, very quick. Accelerating through multiple gears of the DSG you almost don’t believe the number on your speedometer. The turbo fitted here is the Borg Warner K04 from the Mk6 Golf R, and is known for an on/off switch characteristic. Thankfully, boost happens fairly low in the powerband which makes canyon carving feel safer than having boost arrive in the midrange and throw off the balance of the car mid-corner. Like other cars with this 2.0T from VW, the power exists in the low and midrange. There is still some shove left if you wind it out to 7000rpm, but not like the pull it has from 4000 rpm
I prefer the DSG in a car like this due to the nature of the torque curve. I’ve never been a huge fan of the manual transmissions on the GTIs, especially in the Mk6. The DSG in this GTI is, as always, incredibly quick between gears and knows exactly what gear to kick down to when in Drive and Sport Modes. Since this car is all about going faster, the DSG is the way to go.
Keeping all of this madness in check is a Performance Tune specifically for the K04 from the good folks over at Integrated Engineering in Salt Lake City. They also installed their high flow cold air intake as well as their own hardware for the bigger K04.
Throwing 360 hp to the wheels of a front wheel drive car suggests insane amounts of torque steer. To my surprise, it’s just not there. I would even call it a non-issue. I’ve driven Dodge Calibers with substantially less power and more torque steer. Yes, the tires get overwhelmed, but I didn’t experience a tugging at the wheel as expected. Turn-in is sharp and the electric steering rack does not completely kill off all steering feel. Once loaded up in a corner there is a feeling of confidence provided by a combination of Koni struts, H&R lowering springs, and Pilot Super Sport tires.
The brakes did not tolerate the power increase as well as the rest of this build. They are fine in traffic and daily commuting, but not confidence inspiring on a fast canyon run. They would scrub off speed reliably, but it required advanced planning to leave enough room for the stock setup to cope with speeds possible in this car. So far the only upgrade here is the slotted and drilled rotors which did take abuse like champions, with clean repeated stops without vibration. The rest of the braking system struggles. I suspect the pads were are also nearing the end of their life, but at the moment this car's brake components aren't properly matched with this level of power.
In more normal driving, I was surprised at how usable this GTI remains. Despite the full 3” turbo back exhaust with 4” tips, freeways aren’t dreadful! While cruising on the freeway I realized my passenger was drifting to sleep. The factory sound insulation and the overall build quality of the car shine through here. This car maintains all the great things about the Mk6 GTI interior from Volkswagen. Material quality for the leather improved over prior GTI generations and use of brushed stainless on the spokes of the steering wheel feel great. The car comes complete with the famous plaid-themed seats that feel supportive, but for someone with a smaller stature like myself, I wouldn’t call it snug. In tighter corners, I move around a bit, but I may be an exception here at 5’10” and 160lbs.
As a whole, this car is very well put together and maintains a surprising amount of balance considering the huge power increase. The output has been well matched with tires and suspension components built to handle the added stress created by the additional power. It’s easy to drive for commuting or running errands and it’s still a practical hatchback. If you truly needed just one car to fit your needs of a daily driver to sit in traffic, cruise on the freeway, and blur up a canyon road with some of your best friends, look no further! But do consider upgrading the brakes. If you own a MK6 GTI, this K04 Turbo kit is available from Integrated Engineering. For that price, you end up with a very different GTI. You can’t have this one though. It’s already taken.