Tuning the Golf.

"The original hot hatch gets even hotter!"

The Volkswagen Golf has been one of the most successful cars from Volkswagen.

The Golf is loved as a project car by many of our members and there is a large array of parts and tuning options for them.

Lets get a quick overview of the many revisions over the years to this popular car.

Then we shall look at the tuning options and best performance parts for your project and direct you to our detailed engine tuning guides.

First generation (Mk1/A1, Typ 17 1974–1983)

The original mk1 Golf was very responsive and still has a dedicated following today despite it's age. (Many owners say these cars improve with age as the 8v engines bed in and loosen up.) The GTi spawned a new generation of hot hatchback still very actively sought today.


Second generation (Mk2/A2, Typ 19E/1G 1983–1992)

Then came the mk2 Golf  which was where the tuning scene started taking off and now we see 1.8T mk2 engine conversions and also the VR6 going in as well as owners capture the original essence of a mk1 GTi.

Third generation (Mk3/A3, Typ 1H/1E/1V 1991–1998)

mk3 Golfs were not fantastic cars, the GTi had lost it's magic so thankfully to address this there were plenty of aftermarket Golf tuning parts created allowing you to achieve the "GTi ideal" on your mk3 model.

Fourth generation (Mk4/A4, Typ 1J 1997–2005)

The MK4 (mkIV) and mk5 (mkV) Golfs shows VW dedication to the platform and a lot of criticisms leveled at the previous models were addressed.

Fifth generation (Mk5/A5, Typ 1K; 2006–2009)

The 5th generation won quite a few awards and we see a reappearance of the Rabbit moniker.


Sixth generation (Mk6/A6, Typ 5K 2008–2012)

The mk6 & mk7 Golfs are a major leap forward and VW have once again come up with a stunningly fun car to drive and modify.

Seventh generation (Mk7/MQB, Typ 5G 2012–2019

The Mk7 is based on the tnew MQB platform and engine options are back to top quality units, including a nice 1.5TFSi and 1.8TFSi unit.

Eighth generation (Mk8/MQB 2019-

A new Golf, on the previous platform, offers an evolution rather than revolution, but why change a working concept.

Tuning tips and articles

Engine tuning Transmission tuning Care care Intake & exhaust mods Improve handling Forums

We now have many different revisions to the platform and the Golf remains a superb base for a tuning project thanks to all of the aftermarket tuning suppliers.

Golf Engines

We have detailed tuning guides for the following VAG group engines. (More will be added soon.)

The engines pull well and the small relatively light body make it a fun car to drive. VW have continued to improve on the winning formula over the years with some fantastic engine and chassis set ups.

The early eighties 8 and 16 valve GTI engines were excellent and many remark that 8 valve engine actually improves with age. (A fact the Dyno seems to bear out!)

The Mk1 Golf Gti defined the hot hatch but with our tips any Golf can be turned into a scorching hatch!

We have plenty of members in our forum with Golf tuning projects underway from engine swaps to the VR6 to 8 and 16 valve head conversions.

By the time the Mk3 and Mk4 were released there was something magical missing from the GTI. The handling was no longer as sharp and responsive as the early models.

It had become a run of the mill family car as VW looked to their profit margins rather than creating great cars. It was more of a lukewarm hatch than a hot hatch.

This didn't stop many of our members from improving it though. With an anti roll bar, a set of adjustable coil overs and low profile tyres along with a few other suspension tweaks you get a mk III/IV Golf every bit as much fun as the original.

Engine swaps are very popular with our members and we have seen everything from the recent 2.0Tfsi and the older 1.8T engines going into early golfs to VR6 engine conversions. You'll certainly get plenty of helpful advice and pointers on modified golfs in our forum.

Dropping in more powerful engines seemed the logical next step and we have seen successful conversions to the 1.8T and VR6 blocks. We have even heard of some Japanese engines being fitted with great success (much to the chagrin of Golf tuning enthusiasts).

The 2.0 TFSi is one of the best engines we've worked with and we've written a guide to this engine.

Engine modifications for the Golf

On the larger engines (1.8 and above) and those with turbos we recommend a full induction kit with a cold air feed. For smaller engines and the Diesel variants we would recommend a panel air filter made from a high flow material such as cotton gauze.

A fast road cam would raise the peak power band in most engines and after a remap on a turbo model is one of the best tuning options out there for you.

The 2000 VAG 1.8T engine is one of the most tunable engines around and can be fairly easily tweaked to push out in excess of 300 BHP with no need for internal strengthening (but a larger turbo/injector upgrade and remap would be essential to achieve this).

The later 2.0 TFSi is a real stormer of an engine and a worthy successor to the 1.8T and has a wide range of options for it. With just  a remap and modest other mods can put out significant amounts of power.

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Panel air filter, Sports exhaust, Alloy wheels, Lighter flywheel, Remap, Suspension upgrade (drop 30-40mm).

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Power/Sport clutch, fuel pump upgrades, Fast road cam, high flow fuel injector, Ported and polished head.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Engine balancing, Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Sports gearbox, Competition cam.

You really need to keep as much low end torque as you can and aim to achieve a wide power band across the rev range rather than a narrow top end power hike.Many of our members have got power figures in excess of 200bhp with a straightforward ECU remap with no detrimental effects.

Golf Tuning

Other particularly notable engines in the golf range was the the V6 4motion and the V6 R32 which produced 204 and 240 BHP respectively.

The Golf has a reputation for being a reliable car, and certainly holds its resale value well.

Check for a full service history when buying one though as the oil changes must be adhered to, especially on the turbo models.

There are many reports of sludge problems in the 1.8 models if oil changes are not carried out or the wrong grade is used see our 1.8T article for a comprehensive guide to this engine.

The TDI engines have improved considerably over the years, and the Golf 2.0 TDI engines represent one of the best economy to power ratios for an engine in current production.

Many consider the 1.9 TDi as the best diesel engine VW produced but the later 2.0TDi engines and modern fuel injection technology have raised the bar (sorry for that terrible pun!) and make superb projects to work on.

With a remap, power can reach 220 BHP (depending on the base spec), and you can still expect 50 plus MPG. Throw in a turbo upgrade and you can reach power figures of around 300bhp but you'll find traction an issue at these levels.

The mk5 Golf actually looks smaller than the previous model, but in actual fact has a slightly larger wheelbase. The wider hips seem to make the car seem smaller but dramatically improve the handling. Much of the handling criticisms leveled at its predecessor, the mk IV, have been redressed and the golf GTI is once again regarded as a driver's car.

Thankfull the Mk6 & 7 Golfs are another major leap forward and make a stunningly fun car to drive and modify.

Handling modifications

The body panels in the Golf are very substantial and solid so if you were going to perform weight reduction you could make a substantial saving with a carbon fibre bonnet and front wings.

The first Golf modification to perform is generally to sort the suspension. Lowering the car 30-40 millimetres and fitting stiffer springs will sharpen up the ride and your driver enjoyment of the car.

Many Golf owners uprate the handling of their cars with suspension upgrades as a priority, this will certainly increase your enjoyment of the car.

We found that most Golf factory suspension setups need tweaking, a few degrees of toe out for cornering or toe in for stability, -0.8 to 1.3, and a bit of negative camber will dramatically improve your cornering and handling.

Drop the car by as much as 26mm - 39 mm and fit performance stiffer dampers, bigger drops will need other modifications in most instances.

Sourcing brakes from the VR, Audi RS3 and Porsche give an OEM solution to your braking deficiencies. Large discs and pads really do help add to the braking response of the Golf.

The front wheel drive versions will perform better if you fit a limited slip differential, or a semi locking diff as found on the A3 T Sport. Lower gear ratios will also improve acceleration.

Alloy wheel upgrades.

As alloys are lighter they improve performance and they will help to cool the brake disks.

We'd like to point out although they can look cool on the Golf large alloy wheels will actually decrease your performance. The larger you go the lower your acceleration will be - this to the change in your effective final drive ratio.

With this in mind we would advise sticking to a maximum wheel size of 17 (or on the Mk5 onwards, 18 inches), although we know some of our members have gone larger than this with no problems it does compromise the handling.

Pay extra attention to the weight of the Rim and tyre, as this unsprung weight affects the handling considerably.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below. We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which mods work best for them on each model of car. Your feedback and comments are used to keep this page up to date, and help improve the accuracy of these articles which are continually updated.

Join our friendly chat forum to meet our resident VAG enthusiasts, where you will have access to 1000's of car specific articles and will be able to get your tuning questions answered.

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Your Constructive comments on this article

One Response to “Golf tuning guide”

  1. iain nicholls says:

    can you change air filter to a k and n,on a vw 4motoin golf 2004 v6.lot of smoke out tail pipes even though just sailed mot.also condensacion inside car,is it just age or door rubbers need changing, thanks any help would be gratefull

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