Project GTI: Living With Air
5 Months Later

I don’t intend this to be an in-depth update or even all that long of a post. Instead, it’s more of a review of the last five months since we installed the Air Lift Performance 3H setup.

It’s been a pretty huge part of the puzzle and something that I knew would draw a raised eyebrow or two, especially considering the fast road and track day usage that Project GTI is intended for. I do think we’ve reached a stage though that most are aware of the performance abilities of a proper air setup.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-1

It’s my intention to give you as honest feedback from my experiences so far as I can. From day one, the Air Lift Performance-equipped GTI has served me as my only car. It’s the car I do my groceries in, it’s the car I get stuck in traffic in, it’s the car I drive fast and most importantly, it’s the car I go to work in.

As such, the car has to be up to the task. It can’t be compromised in any area or else, to be blunt, it’s useless to me. I’m also not one who considers cars as something that need to be endured. If a car has a shortcoming that negatively affects the driver and even passenger experience, it should be resolved or removed.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-4

I’ve put up enough mileage in the past five months to be able to give an informed opinion now. I will say, that from the start, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Considering that the group of us who installed it had never installed an air setup before, and I’ve had no issues whatsoever, speaks volumes about the kit.

Before I made the plunge, I did have some reservations about converting the car to air. I was confident it would be good, people I know and trust told me it would be good, but you really just don’t know until you’ve experienced it for yourself.

The Hard Work

The obvious association with air is with the show scene. The ability to achieve desired wheel fitment and stance without running the risk of sacrificing body panels, lips or drivability of a car is quite obviously a huge asset in a car. I know some are still convinced that suffering on static is the only ‘true’ way, but really, that’s a bit silly in this day and age.

Ultimate low was never my goal. My number one priority was drivability, but as it happens I’m more than happy with how the car sits when aired down. It can go lower, particularly in the rear where the arches can comfortably swallow the rear wheels, but I choose not to. I like the ‘finger’s width’ of tyre between the arch and the rim. For those of you wondering, it will drive at this height, I just wouldn’t recommend it. It’s worth being aware how an air strut acts differently compared to a traditional coilover. When the car is aired down, there’s less air pressure in the air spring, which in turn makes them softer.

Since I’m running Air Lift’s Performance Series, the strut can be set to the desired length. This gives the option of additional lift, should you want more ground clearance, or a greater drop for those who desire a slammed position. The flexibility allows you to fine tune the suspension to match your desired goal without sacrificing damper stroke. Setting up, therefore, is a balancing act and this is something that’s almost entirely down to personal preference. I think I found the absolute perfect balance between low and lift when we installed the suspension by following Air Lift Performance’s recommendations.

When shooting at Players 10 last month, I noticed that a lot of people would walk over to the rear of my car when I was changing camera or lens out of the boot. I couldn’t figure out why for a while until I realised that any other car with their boot open was displaying a show-quality install. Nothing to see here folks, just a camera and my clothes bag.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-5

For me, this is where my car is most at home. There are few things I enjoy more than going for a drive up the mountains outside Dublin, roads which will test the character and capability of any car to its maximum. As the car is currently setup, this is my default driving height, which is just under stock GTI height. I’m running around 50psi in the front and 55psi in the rear, which has transformed how the car drives. There’s very little roll and the car feels far more assured than it did on standard suspension.

For my setup, 50psi is that sweet spot between performance and comfort; the ride is stiff but it’s never harsh. I can drop to 40psi – which will just about tuck the top of the tyres inside the arches – which provides even more comfort, but I’m then at risk of smashing my front lip. At the other side, 60psi is probably where I need to be for track but is too stiff for the road. 80psi is full lift and something I use just for clearing obstacles before returning back to 50psi. The car doesn’t rub at any of these pressures.

Also, if you notice my RAYS Volk Racing ZE40s changing colour, some of these photos are from before we repainted them, but all were taken when the car was on air.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-10

What separates my 3H setup from a regular 3P setup is the presence of height sensors and the car’s ability to maintain a preset height. This really does mean that you can install and forget the system if you wish. I actually ran the car without the height sensors activated for about a week so I could see the difference and appreciate what they do.

I’m going to use this as a good example. If I were to load that amount of baggage into the car without the height sensors, the rear would drop about an inch or so (the stuff is heavier than it looks.) That’s a normal characteristic of any car and something we would expect to see happen with most setups, air or otherwise.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-11

With the height sensors installed, the car remains at the precise same height that I’ve specified through the controller. The same is true if I load a few friends into the car – the management takes care of the maintaining the ride height for me. It removes the guess work from trying to figure out how much air I should add if it were not on 3H too. It also has the added bonus of keeping the car balanced from a driver’s point of view. The amount of weight added is automatically compensated for with the appropriate air spring pressure to maintain its height.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-12

When I ran the car without the height sensors, I found myself adjusting air pressures to allow for these sort of situations. Now, I barely touch the controller and let the management system do all the hard work.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-22

Speaking of the controller…

In the end, I decided that I liked having it free in the cabin and not mounted in one place. It means I can put it away when I don’t need it or can hold it freely when I do.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-23

There’s also the bonus of using the 3H smartphone app too. It’s proved to be tremendously reliable and connects very quickly anytime I’ve wanted to call upon it.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-24

I tend to use the app when I want to setup or modify the presets. I can walk around the car, make changes through the phone which instantly result in the car adjusting, make my measurements (or eyeball it) and save everything with a couple of button pushes. It just allows me to have the car sitting exactly how I want it to sit.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-26

The app allows you to do everything you can do with the hand controller, along with the ability to update the manifolds firmware over the air. These are all simple things, but they just make your life so much easier.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-21

I don’t tend to look at this very often, as I have no real need to. I keep telling myself that I’m going to do something fancier, but as it is now it works perfectly and doesn’t require any maintenance. It might be a nice project to tackle over the quieter winter months.

When it first arrived, the management setup scared the bejesus out of me as I have an allergy to anything that involves vehicle electronics. Once it was laid out, it became apparent that it has been simplified right down – there’s only one plug and everything is combined in a single harness – to the point where even I think I could comfortably troubleshoot any issues if they arose.

Maybe.

Life On Air
2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-13

From a day to day perspective, I really couldn’t be happier with everything about the car as it currently sits. There’s no planning your route around speed bumps or poor road surfaces, and multi-storey parking garages don’t require military levels of planning any more. I just get in the car and drive.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-19

I’m still enjoying others’ reactions to it, too. It’s not uncommon for people to want to have a chat with me about the car, nearly all of which is positive. The few who complain that it’s too low are quickly won over with a single turn of the key in the ignition as the car automatically raises to its preset driving height.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-18

If I had one complaint –  and it’s more of a nitpick – it’s that I wish I had the ability to adjust when the compressors kick on. As it stands, when the tanks use 15psi, the dual compressors automatically come on to top the tanks back up to 150psi. It only takes a couple of seconds to top them off, but it means that they run every time the car rises from its aired down position. They’re not particularly loud – they can’t even be heard at all over 30km/h – but it’s just one of those things I’d like to have control over, especially considering that I’m running two small tanks.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-34

In the grand scale of things, that’s a nothing issue, especially considering everything I’ve gained in the process of converting to 3H. I can run full size tyres and sit my car on the ground. I have properly tight fitment, but my arches and wheels are perfectly safe. I don’t have to worry about any ‘low car problems’ because I can lift the car higher than a stock GTI with a simple double tap of the requisite preset button.

2016 Project GTI 3H Tech by Paddy McGrath-35

As it sits right now, this is the best car I have ever owned. It does everything and it does it bloody well at the same time. There has been zero compromise on the car’s characteristics and only improvement since we started down the long road of making it my own. It’s not always been easy and it’s not been cheap, but at the same time it’s worth every single cent that’s been put into it. I still want to get out on track, but I’ve been limited on time with a hectic travel schedule this summer. Hopefully, we can rectify that in the coming months.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far and best of all, there’s still a way to go yet…

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos
paddy@speedhunters.com

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85 comments

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1

I had zero interest in air suspension until I rode in your car Paddy. Now I find myself weighing it up against coilovers. Literally the only downside I keep coming up with is that I'll lose a bit of boot space (kind of at a premium already).
If that's the best I can do for a counter argument then I guess it must be pretty darn good.

2

Jordan_Butters In fairness, an S2000 isn't the most practical car to start with. If you're inventive though, you can come up with a decent solution.

3

Jordan_Butters Can't you fit it in the spair wheel well beneath the softtop?

4

Jordan_Butters I was the same, until I went out in mk6R around donington fitted with air lift I had interest.. after that I was convinced by it.

5

Nice work Paddy, loving the red and gold too!

6

Great to hear your words Paddy, I did a similar post on my car about the same amount in (I can link it if you're interested) and recent grabbed 3H for my project to side step the minor fiddling I have to do now that I go back and forth with a car seat and child in the car.
Does your climate nessecetate air line anti freeze or water traps or is your set up pretty simple and you just have to keep up with draining the tank? (truth be told I should run a trap but just drain fairly often).
Car looks really good and this is a great honest review sadly "haters will say it's an advert"

7

DaveT Thanks, Dave.

Please do share your story too! 

I've a trap setup between the tanks and manifold, but I need to put the drains in next before winter gets here. There's a couple of things that I want to tidy and improve on the boot install, but put it on the long finger. I'll hopefully get around to it when silly season dies down after SEMA.

8

Paddy McGrath DaveT
Ah yeah, my drain isn't the most convenient thing to access (lucky I have pretty skinny hands) but it does the job
Here's mine, its actually my old car and old set up, that car was rear ended (lost all tank pressure but no bag pressure after a fitting broke)
http://www.stanceiseverything.com/2013/11/sixteen-thousand-kilometers-on-air/

And my new car (speed vs GT) has similar hatch set up with the same components but a different tank, but much like you cargo space > fancy show set up. I assure you there's an air set up down there some place :)

9

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10

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11

Paddy, nice in deep information on how the system works and solves many issues on having a floor dropped car. Question, how does it works with the battery? Does it still runs with the car shut down?

12

Andrei Rosas You can activate a 'Show Mode' where you can raise and lower the car with the ignition switched off. I've not used it, as I just use the app with the car running. 

You can also set a minimum voltage level where the compressors won't run if the battery level drops. I've mine set to a minimum of 11 Volts.

13

MadCatJasper Thanks! I'm currently trying to decide on new wheels so I can run a reverse stagger on the car.

14

Paddy McGrath ive noticed with my Autopilot V2 system if you set the minimum tank pressure to like 90-100 and max to 150, you can air out and air back up about 2 times before the compressors kick on. But I don't use rise on start so that might be an automatic thing to turn on the compressors.

15

KyleHausmann Paddy McGrath You can't specify a minimum tank pressure on 3P/3H, so the compressors kick on regardless once pressure drops below 135PSI in my case, or 15PSI below the maximum tank pressure.

I asked ALP about it and according to their engineers it's set this way so that the system can perform all functions to the desired standards. It's not really a big deal, but it would be nice to drop the limit by another 15PSI or so.

16

DaveT Paddy McGrath Hahaha, I believe you! People can be a little bit confused by mine as there's no sign it's on air once I put the controller away. I like that!

17

Great write up Paddy, good to know how versatile air can be on a daily, boring question but what phone holder is that?

18

Paddy McGrath that is awesome, I just love how the technology has advanced in the car universe, gives lots of opportunities to build some amazing cars.
By the way, have you thought in changing the color of your Golf? Not that is a bad color the one you have, it suits it pretty well, just a random question.

19

I dont really like VWs,I really dont,maybe cuz in my place for everybody is ultimate dream car,and yea,mostly driven by apes.
But your car,I like it,and I like mods you have done.
Take it to the track already man! :D

20

The itch for air is REAL. Thanks for sharing your experiences Paddy.

21

Andrei Rosas Paddy McGrath It's just been painted recently to freshen it up, but I've not considered a colour change. It'd be a wrap if I was going to at this point, though.

22

@Chaz It's a ProClip, comes in two parts. The first is the car specific side which the second part, the phone specific size, attaches to.

23

BozoMotosport I've been it was mostly stock, was hoping to get out this month but have been travelling pretty much non-stop. Hopefully get some time over the winter, think I might try and put a better seat in first though.

24

matthewyaa You're welcome, thanks for reading.

25

Great information, thank you for sharing. I've been considering eventually going the air suspension route and have been wondering if the extra money for all the sensors and programming is worth it. From your account here, it sounds like it definitely is.

26

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27

Great read, glad to hear you're enjoying the air ride. As far as the compressors go, I don't know how exactly the 3H system is set up, but on my old truck I had an adjustable pressure switch (a square D part, rather large) and additionally had a switch on the line that ran power to the switch. That way I had complete control of when my compressors were on or off. You can just leave the switch open and let the pressure switch do its thing, or only turn it on once you're rolling. Just a thought.

28

How much does the entire air system weight?

29

Davo1028 I don't think I'd be comfortable adding that to the 3H system as it's quite sophisticated and I'd wager it would know if the compressors were offline, so to speak.

30

@Sobabe Lincoln We never weighed it at the time as we were focused on installing it correctly. The ALP struts are far lighter than the standard ones, and the weight of the compressors and tanks will likely have been offset by removing the spare wheel and jack etc. 

I would guess that any weight loss or increase (if there even was any), would be negligible.

31

I think the only reason I haven't seriously looked at air suspension is that aftermarket air kits are illegal to have on road registered cars here in parts of Australia. Did you need any sort of road traffic authority check to put them in your Golf Paddy, or is it not an issue where you live?

32

Are the brake calipers painted red or ionized? I've heard from some qualified people that painted calipers attract dirt and dust. I want to go with red also, but have this reservations about it.

33

"When shooting at Players 10 last month, I noticed that a lot of people would walk over to the rear of my car when I was changing camera or lens out of the boot. I couldn’t figure out why for a while until I realised that any other car with their boot open was displaying a show-quality install. Nothing to see here folks, just a camera and my clothes bag."
I laughed really hard at this. You must have found it amusing! Hahaha!!!

34

currently on Tein coilovers and have been eyeing these products after reading your reviews and feedback.
However, one question is.. at different height settings i would assume that alignment settings won't be dialed in for each height presets, right?

you just align the suspension to one "drive height" and then the rest is kind of "dodging the speedbump" kind of situation and not really meant for long distance driving / spirited driving at different settings.

you mentioned at track you would set the pressure to be higher for stiffer ride then it would ultimately "raise" the car hence altering the alignment settings..

and for "drive mode" pressure the car would change height again and which one do you have your alignment set to?

thanks...

Peter

35

RollingGT35R  the previous owner of my car painted the calipers red, they are a pig to keep clean! they look black most of the time...

36

3nigm4 There's no issue, provided it's installed correctly.

38

jay8393 I was definitely more confused at first. 'Why are all these people looking at my stuff?'

39

PeterFRS Great question and something I've only touched on before.

You are absolutely right, your alignment settings will change as the car is raised or lowered. I spent a lot of time finding the perfect balance between height and pressure before I had it locked in and aligned which has become my default driving preset i.e. the height the car automatically rises to when it starts and where it spends 99% of its time moving at.

I haven't got to the track yet with the 3H setup, although I'm hoping to within the next month or two. It's stiffer than it was stock which is a good start, so I'm hoping that the 50PSI it's preset at should be a good number to start finding a track setting from. I'll play with the adjustable dampening (currently on 20 out of 30 clicks front & rear) before I start changing pressures at the track. 

It might be an interesting exercise to put it on an alignment rack and see how much the geometry changes by airing it up and down to other preset heights.

40

Hi Paddy 

One thing that wasn't mentioned to my knowledge was the difference in handling characteristics ( unless by "Zero compromise on the car's characteristics" you were addressing this ) Does the 3h setup handle as well when driven as opposed to a Coilover setup, I believe you went straight from the O/E struts so Impossible to tell the difference. 
But interested to hear the differences ?

41

JLWturbo You're correct in that I went from OE to air, but I do have the privilege of driving lots of cars and having pretty good experience with how a decent suspension setup should perform. 

If you were to drive my car or ride as a passenger and didn't know otherwise, you would assume the car was on coilovers. It's sharp, it's firm and turns-in and corners like you probably wouldn't expect. The only difference I can relay, is that there's no harshness to the ride. Where a regular coil-over setup might give a sharp jolt at a sudden impact, the air seems to be able to soften the blow without compromising any of its handling characteristics. 

It's been a very positive experience so far.

42

I hate to be a negative Nigel but this golf is literally no different from everything else in the VAG scene - a generic golf gti on airbags. The only positive is that it's done with more taste than the ones with stickers, intentional rust, audi front ends or bentley wheels.

43

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45

Adjustable what? Adjustable moistening? Don't you mean "damping"..? ;-)

46

MatthewScott1 Considering it's been three years since you last commented, I don't think you hate being a negative Nigel at all :)

I've never proclaimed it to be different or to be the best thing on earth, it's just my car which has to perform every kind of duty from exciting to humdrum. I like it and to be honest, that's all that really matters to me.

47

@Fabrik8 Can I claim that I'm using the ye olde English spelling? XD

48

@Paddy Mcgrath awesome answer!! Thank you for your kind explanation and reply. That would indeed be a cool experiment on an alignment rack
Have a good one and keep em coming !
Peter

49

MatthewScott1 A golf GTi is generic by
definition so that's hardly fair. Yes there are quite a lot on air now, but
also a heck of a lot on coilovers as is mine.. Air or Coil's it’s just a choice
of suspension. Given the choice again I would go air. I spend so much time
changing the ride height between functional and show worthy, for the 2-3 track
days a year it hardly seems worth it for the extra performance I may have on
the track. But I digress. My main point is this. The choice of modifications to
this car makes it stand not only out from the crowd but above the crowd. The scene moves quickly and the trends you mention have been
replaced with custom 3 piece wheels from the likes of Fifteen52 and Rotiform
which are tucked up high in the arch and have very impressive boot/trunk air
installations. But I agree with you, as with all trends after a while they all
look a bit samey and generic. But here the choice of the highest quality
Japanese motorsport wheels, the wider front arches the splitter, spoiler, valance
not to mention the trick diff and massive brakes, this really is not like
anything else in the VAG scene. Generic? Of course, to the untrained eye it’s
just a red VW Golf –which might have broken suspension.

50

So, when you say, "Doesn't require any maintenence." Does that really mean no maintenence? Or just the maintenence sessions are few and far inbetween?
P.S. Love the build.

51

@Eshrekticism It's been in five months now and I've not had to perform any sort of maintenance whatsoever. I would imagine it will stay that way too.

52

How will it hold up after a few years of road salt?

53

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54

Paddy McGrath yeah I remember your post with the paint refresh. Really nice Golf Paddy, keep it up!

55

Pretty decent. Actually since you don't have to adjust them much after the first install there's not much to worry about.

56

DaveT You can get protective socks just like coilovers right?

57

Paddy McGrath JLWturbo Seems like a big grip bonus on bumpy surface, no?

58

Paddy McGrath BozoMotosport They way you go about mods and practicality, that is going to be a massive decision lol. Best of luck!

59

What phone holder is that? Looks really quality built!

60

Paddy McGrath MatthewScott1 I've really only started coming back on here since my work relaxed its internet policy so that explains why I haven't commented for ages. 
If you enjoy the car and enjoy working on it that's fine and I respect that, also the work is done to a high quality which again deserves respect. Fair play to you for that.

The problem being that it seems a bit generic and this kind of car and work adorns front pages on every VW enthusiast magazine and site.

61

@PK ProClip, it's the only one I'd ever run in a car.

62

bluestreaksti DaveT I would presume so, but we don't get much salt on our roads here like the UK. I tend just to power wash the underside of the car regularly if there is a cold spell which sees salt being deployed.

63

bluestreaksti Paddy McGrath JLWturbo On a backroad, it's amazing. I want to do a POV video again, but I don't want to self incriminate.

64

Paddy McGrath BozoMotosport  I totally understand you man. I have not driven trackday yet too with my sierra.  First I told to myself that I need decent tires. After I got threm I told to my self that I should put springs too. Then the brake pads, then new brake lines...etc...etc....and track is an hour drive from my place. Im getting myself on nerves XD

65

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70

Another awesome article! One question about the wheels. 
In general, when anyone wants to change the set of rims (for functionality set up), how can we analyze in the available space in the car, what rim size can we purchase in order to avoid changes in the car metal work? In my case I'm just talking about the width and offset of the rim.
Thank you in advance.

71

Afonsoae82gt I use a website to help me make the right calculations: http://www.willtheyfit.com

72

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73

@PK Paddy McGrath The quality of it is insane. First thing I asked Paddy about when I saw the car!

74

Paddy McGrath bluestreaksti DaveT Paddy, you consistently remind me that you do not live in the UK lol

75

Ben Chandler Paddy McGrath bluestreaksti DaveT I would hate for anyone to think otherwise.

76

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81

Paddy McGrath my thought was to add a power cut-off relay on the power wires to the compressors.  I can't remember if the Air Lift wiring harness to the compressors has exposed power wires or if it's part of a larger harness.  If it's the former, you should be able to add it ok.

I had the preceding version, pressure-only controller.  It had an option to select what tank pressure would trigger the compressors.  However in practice I found that when the valves opened to add air to the bags, the tank pressure dropped momentarily below that trigger point (say, 100psi) before rising again, as the air rushed out.  That was always enough to trigger the compressors.

82

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83

Paddy McGrath bluestreaksti JLWturbo Thanks for the reply Paddy, very interesting. 
Currently trying to get my Mesiter R zeta R's perfect for road setup. They have been aligned by Abbey Motorsport and I have tweaked the dampening to what I believe to be the perfect balance ( with Meister's support ) 

However I still experience some hopping at speed on undulated and bumpy roads, 
I believe the springs may be to firm ?

84

Paddy McGrath Davo1028 We set the controller to run the compressors when tank pressure drops 15psi below max for two reasons. The system is calibrated at the max tank pressure. By running the compressors more often and for less time, we are not only reducing compressor wear by not allowing them to generate more heat than necessary, but we are also allowing the system to be as accurate as possible while making adjustments. If the tank were to be at say 100psi before allowing the compressors to run, the system would take longer to get to your desired ride height and would run the risk of undershooting your target as tank pressure may drop below your desired ride pressures. Hope this clears up why this is a hard coded setting :)

85

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