Project Habu: Versatility Is Everything

This is typically the part of the story where I apologise for leaving it so long between my SH Garage updates, but the only problem is I didn’t have any intentions of writing this one for at least another few months. It took a single, random WhatsApp message to change that.

Following the last round of upgrades and changes in December, I was quite happy to continue driving Habu as it was. It turned well, it stopped well, and it accelerated particularly well, too.

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A car for all occasions, my Golf R Variant has yet to feel out of place. It blends in amongst commuter traffic, has an impressive turn of pace on track, and even felt borderline respectable when arriving at a friend’s wedding. It’s engaging to drive, regardless of the weather, which is ideal considering I live on a rock in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Everything was going great then, but the WhatsApp message that came through was about to change things again, and for the better. It simply read: ‘You’re getting map switching’.

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The message came from long time friend and race engineer Joe Power, who happened to be looking for a guinea pig to try something out on. For the record, I’m always happy to be said test subject when I have wholehearted faith in those involved.

Joe along with Joe Fischetti, Brian Ledbetter and a small community of like-minded enthusiasts have been working on a few projects in order to advance the capabilities of the MQB/Simos18 platform vehicles.

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To quickly catch you up, when I purchased the car in late 2020, it was running APR Stage 2 software which was optimised for 99RON fuel. Although 99RON isn’t available in Ireland (our choices at the pump are 95RON or diesel), the factory ECU was able to adapt for 95RON.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, which is why I was happy to run 034 Motorsport’s Stage 2 software when it was offered for the car late last year. This software was suited to US 91 octane which is comparable to our 95RON, and the car was more than happy on it.

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Habu made 355hp and 370lb-ft (501Nm) with 034’s software installed. To be honest, I had no intentions of changing this as the car felt quick, the tune was safe with no timing pull, and it suited the nature of the car perfectly. It wasn’t a particularly aggressive tune, delivering power in an OEM+ manner. My experience with 034 Motorsport’s DSG software was similar – it felt like a natural part of the car.

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In order to apply the software changes he wanted to test, Joe would need to replace both the engine and transmission software with his own custom tune packages.

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Installed along with his own bespoke software changes is a new suite of tools which they have developed together. Once installed onto the car, these allow for high speed data-logging and rapid flashing of the vehicle’s ECU and TCU. If I’m totally honest, the exact specifics of how this all works are beyond my comprehension, but they’re also perhaps not something suitable for the public domain anyway.

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The process was entirely uneventful, as these tuning sessions usually are. The car was run on the dyno, the recorded data was studied, tweaks were made, and the car was run again until Joe was happy with the information he was getting back.

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Habu was making all the right noises, and the graphs were all tracking in the right direction. With his own tuning finalised, Joe then set about installing and fine tuning (other) Joe’s (Fischetti) map switching.

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Map switching isn’t anything new, but typically requires an aftermarket ECU or separate hardware to change the engine mapping. What’s impressive about this setup is that it works on the factory ECU and doesn’t require any further hardware. A sequence of button presses on the MFSW allow you to quickly and easily change the map, even while the car is moving.

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In literal seconds, the car can be instantly changed from a near stock setup to its own peak performance based on the installed ECU tune. There are multiple map options now available, ranging from 310hp to 377hp for 95RON, along with a separate setting for 99RON or octane booster. This high octane option should see the engine running close to 400hp.

That’s only fifth gear in the photography by the way, and ~500rpm short of the rev limiter. Not bad for a grocery getter.

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The data recorded was studied for each map to verify everything, and everything was behaving as expected and comfortably within tolerances. It’s always been my opinion that chasing outright numbers is an almost guaranteed recipe for disaster. That extra 10hp you want could be the tipping point for reliability and component failure. Keep everything within the green and enjoy worry-free motoring.

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A quick test drive showed that everything was working absolutely perfectly (impressive considering this was the first vehicle outside of the guys’ own stable to use the full map switching and high speed data logging setup).

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Following the test drive, Joe made some small changes to the TCU software which he felt was a little bit too aggressive on shifts. The resulting changes have made an overwhelmingly positive change to the transmission. This is strange, because it didn’t feel lacking before. Now the shifts are so sharp and crisp that if you told me someone had fitted a different gearbox to the car, I would believe them. That’s the difference. It’s remarkable what can be achieved by changing 1s and 0s.

Naturally, the new TCU mapping features fully manual upshifts, kick-down removal, launch control etc. whilst retaining the ‘softer’ comfort and eco modes for everyday driving.

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The map switching has added another layer of versatility to an already versatile car. Truth be told, I don’t need full boost when driving to the shops or commuting to a job. The more docile the car is in these situations the better. Stock map, dampers set to comfort and a good podcast playing over CarPlay is all that’s required.

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However, I don’t want the car to always be docile, far from it. When the mood or road takes me, I want the car to be an absolute Antichrist. Without even slowing, I can press a few buttons in the car and it completely transforms. It’s akin to inputting a cheat code in a video game. Now, the most aggressive map delivers power relentlessly. As it’s still a stock turbo car, the throttle response is really good and any lag is absolutely negligible.

Joe is constantly trying to get me to buy a bigger turbo, but I really don’t think the car needs it. A big turbo might deliver power numbers that impress on social media, but as it is now, it’s more than powerful enough for the roads I like to drive on and its throttle response is a big part of that.

Decisions, decisions…

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In slightly more aesthetic developments, I also got my RAYS Volk Racing ZE40s back from Flipsideauto, now painted in a fresh coat of bronze. They’ve been through a lot of colour changes over the years, but this has to be my favourite look for them.

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Bronze is such a tricky colour to get right and often ends up looking orange or brown, but I really think young Philip has the process nailed for getting the correct Volk Racing shade.

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Another (very) small upgrade which I forgot to mention previously is related to the taillights. For some reason, the Mk7 Golf R Variant didn’t get the fancy LED taillights like its hatchback brethren; instead it got the same taillights as every other Mk7 Golf estate. You can retrofit the slightly fancier LED taillights from the Mk7.5, but the cost is absurd. Instead, I’ve fitted the standard units with LED bulbs throughout. I feel that it gives them more definition, and the instant on/off is a bit more modern and cleaner.

Anyway, I don’t have to look at them very often and the cash saved will go towards a ‘Ring trip instead.

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I feel like I say this every time, but I don’t feel like there’s much on the horizon for this car save for some maintenance. It has been tremendous during my ownership, and I genuinely love it more everyday. What’s maybe strange for me is that this is the first car I’ve owned that has stopped me thinking about the next one. I can’t even fathom what I could replace it with. There are very few alternatives that can deliver this level of performance at the same price point and with similar running costs.

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While I did prefer my GTI from an aesthetic point of view, there’s a lot to be said for something which is so understated. Travelling (quickly) incognito is a vastly under appreciated quality in a car.

So, that’s pretty much it, and I expect it might be some time before I come back around to it again. Unless Joe sends me another WhatsApp message…

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos



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I'm a simple man. I see people say "stage 2" and "OEM+" and I immediately know said person has no idea how a car works LOL.

Jkjk guys...only not really.

StAgE 3 CaMs BrO1!! Joking aside I see this as a funny build because nothing you do actually matters. There's no real purpose with an all rounder so who caaaaaares.


Much ado about just making you happy with what should please the masses but somehow doesn't maybe because so many are voids looking to the external extremes to stand out. That's the thing about materialism... It's actually yet another avoidable "disease". At least this car and project seem to hold some sanity and have a life outside their ever shrinking car world. Cheers, Well done, drive safe, and enjoy... But then, why post this on Speedhunters? Last article was about what the Aussie time attack neets have brought to fight each other with, all bonkers turned past 11. Just wondering if this "old speedhunters" stuff like a VW/oem+ is somehow a "nostalgic throwback" or just unnecessary filler? There are 17 year old girls winning events like these in "oem+"bilsteins miatas and someone welded together a Chiron from scraps and a toy for reference... Lots to cover and spread! Show us the insanities!!!


Couldn't disagree more, if you want to see insane builds all day, go on Instagram. These are the articles I return to this site for. I would read 100 articles about small changes to average cars before reading about 5 different 1000 hp GTR's in a row.


Yeah, no. Some of us prefer reading articles about what we could realistically do with our daily drivers or project cars. These articles are not "unnecessary filler." Variety is the spice of life and everyone has different preferences, which is why all types of builds from extreme to simple are featured on Speedhunters.


I understand what you're saying, and I even addressed in the last post that it feels a bit odd writing about it when there are other far more impressive cars in the SH Garage. It's why I don't create anywhere near as many updates about it when compared to my GTI.

In saying that, I've always been about trying to bring as much variety to Speedhunters as possible. Not everything covered needs to be the greatest thing in the history of the world. Even the ordinary stuff is important, because it's what the majority of people can achieve. If anything, it makes the wild stuff look even more crazy.


This is for me the most appealing thing about this car in particular among the fleet. It's used not just often but daily, and as such, takes an already great all around car, and makes it that much better. This is so often lost when people modify. They chase one thing or another, instead of a balance which may make it better suited for what they actually use the car for most of the time


Although I do agree to some extent, everything here is to make the car faster, if not incremental. There's nothing here really worth bashing, even if it's not a 4 liter 4 cylinder capable of 3000 horsepower shoved into a formerly porsche body on a chassis equivalent to a roadgoing(?) F1 car


Good work fellas. I really enjoy seeing people tune their cars for a real purpose. The improvements are apparent and functional.
There's nothing better than seeing a volkswagen that hasn't been destroyed by the stancebro vape-in-the nose types these days.


Thank you, I appreciate that you can see what I'm going for.


Perfect Q-car, easily underestimated, absolute weapon when needed.


Cheers, mate. It's pretty much what I'm trying to achieve with it.


Nothing wrong with just going OEM+. I have simply done a filter change and tune-up and spent most of efforts reducing weight, unsprung and rotational. Just make the car easier to live with.


Agreed wholeheartedly, it's a very effective way of improving the feel of a car.

In my case, the front brakes (which the previous owner installed) saved 10kgs on the front axle, and the ZE40 / TE37s are around 5kgs per corner lighter than the factory 19" wheels (without even considering the slightly lighter 18" tyre, too)

That makes for a big difference.


You’ve hit the nail on the head Paddy

I’ve got a 7.5 GTI more door with a map (from a dyno run) and wheels. I genuinely struggle to think of what to replace it with without spending crazy money.

The only downside is that we now have E10 fuel which mine hates so I have to run it on 99 to get anything like the economy I used to get, but that’s not the cars fault.

It’s as happy nailing round backroads as it is on adaptive cruise with the heated seat on and a podcast playing. Genuinely a great car.

I had a drive in a Mk8 recently and they’re awful inside - I won’t be swapping any time soon..


I spent some time recently (actually it was last year now that I've checked) with the new Clubsport and I really, really liked it. They've fixed a lot of the bugs / issues with the in-car software since, but there's still some curiosities (like the climate / volume controls not being illuminated at night).

I think the 7 & 7.5 were probably peak Golf, and I've grown an awful soft spot for the more door as well!

If you're looking for further improvements without breaking the bank or ruining the refinement of the car, I would strongly recommend a stiffer rear anti-roll bar and a front subframe collar locking kit.

I'm not sure if camber top mounts are the way forward on a FWD GTI as -3 degrees might have an affect on forward traction. Hopefully someone else reading can advise on that one?


Golf R Wagon = best daily ever. I can see why you might not be lining up a replacement. So good.


I think it will always be a head over heart sort of car, but from a purely logical standpoint they're so difficult to beat, especially in a world which is determined to make car ownership more and more difficult.


Always my favorite car to see on SH and the inspiration for the long-term goal of my personal 1.8 Mk7 DSG 4motion wagon.


You can fit an IS38 to those 1.8 motors, right?


You can, yeah. Once my warranty is up though I'll be going IS20 with a tune which puts it right about 300whp. More than enough for me!


I'm not a big fan of the VW brand, but I really like the car you have created and I would genuinely love to see it in person. Like yourself, I've avoided the temptation of larger turbos, focusing on response, handling and reliability. Nice work Paddy


Thanks, Felix. I’m looking at some of Garrett’s new turbos for this platform and they’re very interesting if you’re looking for a balance of power / response.


I love this car. I am a weird guy from the usa. One of the last here that loves hatchbacks and wagons. Working on building up my daily MK7 TDI wagon to a handling dream. Those bronze Volks look great! I wish VW America offered the R wagon instead of all these Soccer Mom suv's. I suppose in 25 years I could just import one for a million dollars. Paddy Keep up the great articles and photos.


If you want, I’ll happily sell you mine in 25 years for a $999,955 (includes Speedhunters reader discount)


With the rate of inflation right now that's a screaming deal for me. Appreciate the heavy "SpeedHunter" discount. LOL!


TE37's obviously are an incredible wheel, but on this car, I think the Bronze look better, and I don't think it's close.


I think you might be right, Kyle. I’m considering swapping my summer tyres onto them and using them for longer and keeping the TE37s for the shorter winter period.

Vincent Conker Auger

Can't agree more. The TE37s are quite something but seeing bronze on white / understated colors is always a win.

I have a sporty all wheel drive wagon already as a daily (325xi E46 with a 6 speed swap) and I already have a hard time to see what I would replace it with. I guess it will only be a F31 3 series with a couple mods or a TSI Sportwagon (we don't have the R wagons in N-A) with a GTI turbo upgrade and mods.

Anyway, cheers for the content mate. We don't see you as often on this site so here's hoping that with the summer content and covid restriction free summer, we'll see more of your great work !


You can replace it with an LCI e61 ('08+, N54 and can be found with or swapped to 6MT). Huge aftermarket and very capable, while also being family/life-friendly.


I have a soft spot for the 3 Series & 5 Series Tourings, but ones with interesting engines are rare here.

Hoping to contribute more this year, but FE is eating up a lot of my time. I’ll still keep trying, though.

Vincent Conker Auger

Mine is half decent. Got everything from a 330 (not 330 Touring were sold in N-A) but the M54 3.0L. With the 6 speed and the 325xi read diff ratio, it's good to drive. Handles very well with the poly bushes, Bilstein HD shocks and staggered Type 68 wheels. It's almost gone through a restauration over the almost 5 years I've had it, but it was worth it.


Hey Paddy, Love the build... been following it for a while and recently picked up a MK7.5 GTI, so I relate to this build more than ever! Maybe you mentioned this before, but what steering wheel are you running?

Also, I feel you about the MK7.5 tails.... my car has the "North America" tails.... they're so boring compared to the MK7.5 Dynamic tails from Europe... but I can't for the life of me justify $900 for a purely cosmetic mod.


I think the NA tails are pretty much the same as what I have? Yeah, they’re so expensive to upgrade and are really only for the benefit of other road users.

It’s a stock steering wheel, re trimmed by Royal Steering Wheels in the UK.


Love the article. A solid daily, that's stupid fast that you can beat on all day is hard to beat. That's why I bought mine.


A man of exquisite taste, I see.


Only the best boost for this butt...

Tell me about the vinyl above your side skirts...?