I think one of the most common questions that pops up on Facebook groups is, "What should my next mod be?" Now, there's no universal answer to this question, as it varies so much on what you want to do with the car, your budget, and just personal preferences. Adding a tune isn't going to win you any scene points on your bone stock Mk7, but it might net you 60whp. Likewise your 19s with stretched tires might look great, but they aren't helping you go any faster. I wanted to take a crack at answering this question, but not without the help of fellow enthusiasts. So today we tackle the subject: Mod Order.
If you don't know what you're trying to accomplish with your car, you're going to end up doing a lot of back stepping as you try one mod, then find a better replacement, then a different one. You've replaced the same part three times now. The point is, the more often you adjust your goals, the more you're having to swap parts to meet that new goal. If you're doing all the work yourself, this might not be a huge issue-- especially if you're able to resell those parts. But if you're relying on a shop for labor (which for many parts can outweigh the cost of the part), you probably want to get it right the first time. This particular article is pretty general about what mods to do, but hopefully I can convince you that there's some kind of method to our madness.
When I started with my GTI I defined it as a budget street car build that could do some work on track. When I mean budget, I literally mean a sub $1500 mod list. Springs, Rear Sway Bar, front brake pads and fluid and most importantly -- tires. No tune. Nothing for power. And it turns out that wasn't a bad recipe. Check out this video of that exact setup with my first time on this track and first time in this car:
Now I can honestly tell you that SpecZ with 285 Toyo Proxes RR's was a faster car-- after all, the intermediate group is a mixed bag of tricks. But! I can also tell you that "going stage 2" wouldn't have helped me put up a fight like this on track.
The point is this: think about your build. How far do you want to take it, at least initially. How much do you want to spend? Do you want a fun street car or something that will surprise people at HPDE events? How much are you willing to sacrifice comfort for performance? It's worth thinking about before you end up with some mangled car that has almost nothing in common with the car you started with. When you get to that point you want to love it, not question it.
The *Performance* Order
I'm fully prepared for a lot of disagreement here, but, I come in guns loaded. I formally consulted with three different people on this list who each have "built" multiple cars, attend regular track days, and have at least 10 years experience modding and tuning their cars. Not only that, each of us come from different backgrounds. Interestingly, we all came up with nearly the exact same order. Most of what you read is actually going to be word for word from Andy, who so elegantly articulated the rationale for this order: "This list can be explained as cost effective dollar to performance."
1. SUSPENSION is going to be the biggest hindrance to performance. Essentially, the suspension on the car isn't capable of getting the maximum performance at the power output of the stock motor. When choosing suspension, I try to find something mid tier/upper tier. I came across a saying, "A tire has less grip in the air than on the ground." I think that explains most of the performance part of this. The other reason suspension is first on the list is because not only does this part impact performance, but it also improves aesthetics. Who doesn't like a tastefully lowered car? This might be one of the only times we get to kill two birds with one stone when putting together a car. (I've got two articles on suspension setup, feel free to check those out!)
For those wanting this on a budget -- springs and a rear sway bar are an amazing combo. For those ready to invest, get some coils!
An upgraded rear sway bar is one of my favorite mods even after everything I've done. Pairs amazingly with a set of springs, too.
2. TIRES AND WHEELS are a bit interchangeable in order on the list because of how dependent the performances are on each other. Tires are the only part of your car that touch the ground and they're the only way the car interacts with the tarmac. They're not just for cornering, but also help to improve acceleration and braking performance. I can't tell you how many times I've thought my brake pads were crap on a car just to find out the tires were garbage. It's a big difference.
There are so many great options out there, but I currently like Konig's selection of flow formed wheels (light, look good, and are cheap!). I also am still an advocate of Michelin PSS, but have been impressed by the new Continental Sport Contact's, too. The 200TW game is really where it's at though, so if you live in a warmer climate some Hankook RS4 or Bridgestone RE71R's are awesome. (RS4's offer about 50% more tread life than RE71's, but have about 10% less grip on a street or autoX setting).
You performance pack people are lucky! I had to upgrade to these! (For those that don't know, PP brakes and R brakes are identical except for the paint.
3. BRAKES ... Got to go slow to go fast. I'm honestly still a bit up in the air about big brake upgrades since there are many ways of going about it. At this time, I really just mean upgrading brake pads from stock. Good brake pads improve brake feel, stopping distance, and consistency/resilience under heat. Those braking characteristics improve driver confidence and, in turn, make you a faster driver. And it doesn't hurt your wallet nearly as bad since those big brake kits can go for a pretty penny.
If you're not really into tracking, EBC pads are hard to overlook. But realistically, I hate them and they are complete trash. I've actually gotten to the point where I can only get one - yes, ONE- single track day out of a set of EBC yellow's. Hawk now makes Street-Race pads for our car, and iSweep has a variety of offerings. Both of which have awesome character. I've also heard great things about Porterfield. I know ALL of these alternatives are big jump in price compared to EBC, but keep in mind that since they last so much longer, the price is kind of a wash long term. Stock rotors are great, to be honest. I've tracked them and had pad failure before they warped!
4. DIFFERENTIAL TUNING is something that I think is very underrated and misunderstood. It's hard to grasp how a diff impacts the car's performance as a whole. A well tuned diff can give you more grip off the line and more grip through a corner while making the car easier to drive. For a non-performance pack owner, this can be the difference between washing out a corner under half throttle to being able to accelerate out and have the car remain perfectly composed through corner exit. For general differential information check out this recent article we did drivetribe.com/p/performance-pack-vs-wavetrac-direct-e0AcZJ6eRp6PFFXavEqvHw?iid=PXKYc2kER9KKjs0XXBIPag OR if you have performance pack, check out these tweaks: drivetribe.com/p/performance-vcds-tweaks-Dky7b-PTQpqIwVFrasMoeA?iid=Spn2ORVRSD2M47iz2mXBiQ
OTS Stage 1 maps throw down massive gains, I can't blame people for wanting to do it early. Eurodyne top, APR bottom.
5. POWER ... yup. Dead last. Why? If the driver and car can't get the most out of the stock motor, why add more? Now, I will say this, if you're building a street oriented car, I don't see anything wrong with adding a stage 1 tune or JB1/4 early on. It's an awesome way to make the car more fun in a daily driving scenario. But this first list is really about maximizing performance.
6. RACE PREP is the final area. Things aren't so categorized anymore. It's things like weight reduction. Aero kits. Safety equipment. Chassis bracing. You're no longer in the game of generality, you're building to race. If you've made it here, this article isn't for you.
Choosing The Right Parts
Obviously everyone has a budget, so we have to make a decision when buying parts. A lot of times we talk about a "sweet spot". Getting 80% of the performance for maybe half, or even a quarter, of the cost of top-of-the-line stuff. So does it make sense to go straight to end game parts? Well, depends on what kind of parts we're talking about, what the owner wants, where the car is in the build, and of course, BUDGET. For people like Andy who compete in time attack, that last 20% always matters. But, even he admits 80% of "the best" is probably enough.
"For example, power mods? 80% is probably enough because I don't think I'm getting the most out of what I already have. But suspension parts? I think that 20% becomes less debatable. 80% of the performance is really just 80% of the performance with suspension. Trying to make up the last 20% on an 80% setup might take me risking it all to keep up. On the 100% setup, though, I might not have had to put my life and money on the line to put down that fast lap. However, I believe every car guy/gal should experience a well built car before putting together their own car to understand just what they're missing. Once you see what you're missing out on in that last 20%, you can be the judge as to whether that last bit matters to you or not. "
My opinion in a nutshell:
My thoughts? Well, you might not know what you want with your Mk7. Start by throwing some springs and a rear sway bar on it. Those are easy because at the end of the day, doesn't really matter which brand you go with. Starting to really like it? Invest in a tune, and some good wheels and tires. Damn, now your car looks good, is quick, AND is performance oriented. Ready to hit the track? Get some brake pads and performance brake fluid and go. At this point hopefully you're either hooked or done. So it's time to either tap out or go all the way. Good luck out there, and happy modding.
Special thanks to Ryan Johnson, Andy Hsiao and Ravi Maraj for helping with this article.