Last time we briefly touched on the brakes and then more on the chassis weaknesses in the MK4 Volkswagen platform, but now we are going to start getting into the meat of things that make the MK4 a dream to drive, the suspension. What vehicle uses the same or close to the same geometry as the MK4? Very similar in design to the point where this stuff is literally bolt on is the MK1 Audi TT. From 1998 to 2006, Audi put this car out and there are enough parts still being produced to fit any of your upgrading needs. The Audi version solved a lot of the issues that VW had on their side of the house and much was adopted by the VW R32, a four-wheel drive performance driven Golf with a 3.2L VR6 engine that was released first in 2004.
So, the goal is to replace all the stock bushings up front with Audi TT OEM bushings (because they are solid rubber vs floppy open cavity bushings), aluminum front control arms, ball joints, aluminum spindles, 19mm front sway bar, sway bar end links, and tie rods. Not only will you notice that the TT version of equipment and wheel bearings are heavier duty, but the sway bar links tie into the suspension at the strut instead of the control arm. The spindles are different as well, allowing the correct geometry in the car while cornering and to remain neutral while in the straights. Additionally, the reduction of unsprung weight is a huge positive that changes how the car acts completely. You are stiffening and reducing the weight with the solid aluminum arms and spindles while also gaining camber adjustment of up to -2.5 degrees without even using camber plates. That is much needed in the front of any MK4 based car that will be performance driven.
That’s a lot of messing with the front section of the car with all those bushings and stuff, but not to worry, the rear is pretty easy! It consists of two trailing arms that are pressed into the rear beam axle. That is it, but I can almost guarantee that if you have never removed a trailing arm bushing on a German car, that you have no idea what you are in for. Make sure that you have access to a torch, sawzall, a chisel, a heck of a mini sledge (VW fixing tool), and one determined attitude. It will take a while but is worth getting them out to exchange for stiffer poly, or even just new stock ones, which will still be a world of a difference without the requirement of annual lubricating. Installation will require a press, if you don’t have one you can drop the parts off at a local shop and have them press in new bushings.
Once you have decided to get into it this far, I’m assuming you have put serious thoughts into what struts and springs to use. Don’t forget t0 replace your strut mount bushings as well! You can use the Audi TT or R32 upper strut mount bushings for a bit of a stiffer and more connected to the road feel which is what I opted for. Let me go into something at this point. The MK4 platform was never meant to be dumped to the ground. I know that this is the generation of VWs that low was the “way to go”, but two common sense things will prove otherwise.
Number one – Just look at the oil pan on the car! You lower it 2” or more and you have issues hitting it on raised manhole covers!
Number two – You want the control arms and tie rods to be level to the ground in this car. This provides the greatest amount if traction and handling in the MK4 chassis. One of the guys that really got it right was Dick Shine with his suspension in these, but sadly the MK4 was the last chassis to be tuned by this legend before his company closed its doors. That’s OK, we will get there with a bit of work and my wild playing with too many car parts and VWs lying around. They really are “Rabbits” and will multiply!
Some will look at this combination and think I’m nuts…and I am, but it worked for me. We used some sport tuned struts with the front for an Audi TT (which is important due to the TT swaybar endlinks we are using) and the rear for a FWD platform version. Here’s the kicker and the weird part…the front springs were H&R Sports for an R32 and the rear springs OEM GLI from a 2004.5 Jetta! WHAT THE HECK! Hold on…bear with me. So, this works for the 4-cylinder version of the car as far as spring rates. The ride height will be extremely close to OEM sport (which is where these where really designed to handle) and it will feel like a dream on the road, Auto-X, and some light track days. Your spring rates are sitting at around 280 ft. lbs. in the front and 180 ft. lbs. in the rear. I could have used a little more in the rear but I compensated with a more aggressive solid rear torsion sway bar to complement the axle beam style rear setup and not lose any rear clearances that the other bars will rob you of.
You are also using a smaller front sway bar in the front (remember the 19mm OEM Audi TT swaybar?) which will help with the turn in as well as the load going to the individual corners instead of to the sway bar to distribute. You are also gaining an advantage of that Audi swaybar because it sits in a different location than the VW one and you will no experience any axle bind issues. I am not an advocate of no front sway bar, as some have done in the past, or the larger “upgraded” bars front and rear which makes the car handle like a hockey puck being slapshot. However, it is also all up to interpretation of your own personal driving preference.
So what did this do to the handling? It was a dream to drive on the street. Smooth but with that solid reassurance behind the wheel that was perfect on the road and from time to time, good to bring to an Auto-X meet. I actually miss that car from time to time, but that probably also had to do with the amount of sweat and frustration I put into it as well. We are talking about a full 02M 6-speed swap as well as an entire interior from a GLI but with stock GL seats. More on that in the next time when I wrap up the building of this car.
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