After five years, three months, and 12 days, Project GTI is officially no longer a thing.
That sounds unnecessarily ominous, as it still exists, just in someone else’s ownership. I had listed it for sale earlier in the year, but I didn’t have as much as a single view or enquiry on the car in months. I had actually taken the adverts down and was pretty happy to hold onto it for another year, when I received an offer completely out of the blue. An offer, as it happened, that I couldn’t refuse.
So, just over a week ago I watched my Mk6 Golf GTI drive away for the final time.
It’s been an incredible journey with the car, and it exceeded every expectation I had of it. From a completely stock car when I bought it, to its ultimate form which lapped the Nordschleife and clipped 170mph on the Autobahn last year.
There was always a simple idea behind the car. It was never built to win shows or be the fastest car in the world; I wanted to build myself the ultimate daily driver that suited my needs to a tee. It was to become a car for no one else, except me. Which probably explains why I found it so hard to find a buyer, truth be told.
Everything was incremental with the car, and bit by bit it all came together. It was a gradual and very considered process, where I would add something and see what difference it made before adding the next piece of the puzzle.
There wasn’t an end goal as such, or a target to hit. Realistically, as my only car, I was trying to extract as much as I could from the GTI with regards to performance and driving dynamics as I could without taking away from its abilities as a reasonably practical daily driver.
There was also the consideration of the realities of owning and running a car in Ireland. Fuel, insurance, taxes etc. all needed to be taken into account along with everything else. I still maintain that a GTI is probably the best all rounder you can buy in this country, and probably in a lot of others, too.
Some evolutions were a lot more significant than others. Putting the GTI on Air Lift Performance 3H was a huge moment, as it improved handling and practicality at the same time, along with bringing the car much closer to the tarmac.
The addition of a Wavetrac limited slip differential all but eliminated the ‘problem’ of FWD. Another massive performance leap for the car, without taking anything away from it.
For all of the comprehensive Kenwood audio additions we made, it was the simple feature of CarPlay which had the car feeling so much more modern.
Naturally, increasing its power output with a complete Integrated Engineering K04 upgrade kit elevated the car to another level again, and still didn’t take away from its usability.
In the end, the result was a 335hp bagged track car which could comfortably cross countries without breaking a sweat (or my wallet).
It was as comfortable on track, as it was in start-stop traffic. It was as comfortable at Players Classic, as it was bringing furniture home from IKEA. It was an absolutely remarkable car.
For over the last year, since I documented that trip to the Nürburgring and back, it had been a reliable part of my life. There was no real progression or changes made, which is why the updates stopped. Truth be told, it was a project car that actually got finished. While I didn’t set out with a goal in mind, I had realised that I had reached it.
There was nothing really left for me to do except drive it, and that’s what I did. There were aimless drives, random track days, and daily commutes in the car. It always felt special, right until the end.
But in the back of my head, I always knew it would eventually have to make way.
Ironically, the biggest drawback with the car was something which couldn’t be fixed; its three-door shape.
A three-door GTI is the only real GTI, in my opinion, and I could never have owned a five-door, so this was entirely self inflicted. However, as my work evolved, I needed more space in the car and dropping the rear seats every time was becoming a chore.
When that e-mail came through just a couple of weeks ago with an enquiry and subsequent offer, I knew it was the right time to move on. I had more than got my joy from the car, and had done everything I had ever planned to do with it. However, any car that could realistically replace Project GTI, had to be more in every way. More powerful, more practical, more refined, more spacious, and, er, more-wheel drive.
To find a car that could do all of these things isn’t that hard, but to be able to do them all and still offer similar running costs was the really tricky part. This ruled out RS4 and RS6 Avants, Mercedes-AMG estates, and the likes of BMW’s 340i Touring. I didn’t want to go back to diesel, so that eliminated the 335D and 535D.
Naturally then, I’ve bought a Golf R.
However, I don’t like the five-door hatch, and the three-door was too close in size to my GTI, so I’d ultimately end up having the same issues with load capacity.
This isn’t an issue with my Golf R, because it’s actually a Golf R Variant. That’s a ‘wagon’ or ‘estate’ in plain English. Curiously, the definition of ‘Variant’ is ‘a form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard’ which I guess is entirely accurate, if not a little bit literal.
The Variant is practically identical to its less practical brethren. It’s still a 300hp, AWD car from the factory, just with a much bigger boot. Interestingly, it’s not that much heavier either with just an 80kg (176lb) penalty for what is a considerable increase in size.
A first for me is that I’ve also bought a modified Golf R, which can be a potential minefield at the best of times, particular with floods of ex-lease cars on the market from the United Kingdom. Thankfully, this wasn’t a lease car. It was a cherished, low-owner example with some very nice option boxes ticked from factory, along with choice modifications. Service history was exemplary, along with it being a pretty low-mileage car for its late-2015 vintage.
The paint is the pearlescent Oryx White, and the car has Dynamic Chassis Control (adaptive dampers to you and I), Active Cruise Control, navigation, heated seats, Bi-Xenons, genuine Borbet ‘Pretoria’ 19-inch wheels, and lots of other nice factory bits.
The aftermarket has supplied Racing Line 4-piston monoblock front brakes with 345mm discs, VWR lowering springs, an APR intake, Forge turbo elbow, Racing Line intercooler, and a catted Milltek Sport down-pipe along with APR ‘Stage 2′ software for both the engine and DSG transmission.
As it’s a car of UK origins (the R Variant was never sold in Ireland, so any examples are all UK imports) I wanted to have it verified and logged on the dyno to see how it was coping with our 95RON fuel (US 91 equivalent). Quite well as it turned out, making 363hp and 500Nm, which is pretty much what most ‘Stage 2′ Golf Rs make in Ireland.
With 300mls of NF Race fuel additive added to the tank, it made 382hp and 525Nm from 2,000rpm. It was pretty wild to see the NF working so quickly, as the car self-adjusted to the improved fuel quality you could see it making more power everywhere on the graph.
Naturally, with the guts of 400hp, AWD and DSG, it’s ballistic on the road. 0-62mph is sub-four seconds, and the torque from down low makes it so much faster in day-to-day driving than my GTI.
The various driving modes all seem to serve a purpose as they change the dampers, steering, throttle response and shift speed. My current customised ‘Individual’ mode has everything set to ‘Race’ with the exception of DCC, which is set to ‘Comfort’. Because Ireland.
While some will bemoan the DSG, the Variant was never offered with a manual anyways. I do love a good DSG, provided the software has been updated to suit the car (which it has), and it offers a true manual mode without kick-down or auto-upshifts.
Launch control with this gearbox and AWD is comical, and probably a bit anti-social to boot.
I had a lot of ideas in my head before I collected the car last week, but most of them have gone straight out the window (for the time being, at least). I will likely replace the Pretoria wheels for my TE37 Sagas which I’ve held onto, but otherwise I’m going to just drive it while I figure out what it really needs.
All the servicing is up to date including engine oil and filter, DSG and Haldex. Brake pads are good, there’s no knocks or squeaks from anywhere, and the underside of the car is as dry as a bone.
There’s a couple of small stone chips on the bonnet, which I’ll take care of myself, along with installing similar paddle extensions from Project GTI. Otherwise, the only other big ticket item is to register it here in Ireland and put it on our plates.
It’s a relatively straightforward, albeit extortionate, process. The current estimate to have it legally registered here is around €6,500 (approx US$7,670) along with another €600 (approx US$710) in annual motor tax. The latter of these fees will be paid every year as long as I own the car…
October started out with planning the next 12 months with Project GTI, and is going to end with a Golf R parked in the garage. As Ferris said, “life can come at you pretty fast.”
With a mandatory six-week lockdown having just kicked in here, there likely won’t be much progress made on this for some time, but that’s okay. What’s the rush?
I would love to extend my sincerest appreciation to everyone who helped out with Project GTI. I won’t name names, but know that I appreciate your support, advice and guidance more than you will ever know.