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MK8 GTI Modification Guide

The Mk7 Golf/GTI/R platform had a long run from 2015-2021 (in North America) and set a new standard for build quality and out-of-the-box performance in the hot hatch/hatchback segment. The aftermarket support for the EA888 Gen 3 engine is robust, and it’s proven to be potent and fairly reliable as a performance platform. 

For the 2022 model year, Volkswagen axed the regular Golf from its North American lineup. Add to that the end of the Golf Alltrack in 2019, and it seems like the era of the North American VW hatchback and wagon is coming to an end. 

All is not lost, however. Volkswagen continues its hot hatch flagbearer, the GTI, for its eighth generation. All new interior, a redesigned exterior, a manual transmission option, and a more potent engine mean the future is bright for GTI enthusiasts. 

The MK8 is becoming more readily available now, and that means more aftermarket manufacturers are starting product development. Although we are still early in the MK8’s life cycle, here are some of the best modifications you can do right now to scratch that performance itch. 

ECU Tune

If you’re familiar with modifying turbocharged vehicles, ESPECIALLY Volkswagens and Audis, you know the best bang for your buck modification you can do is a reflash. Volkswagen leaves lots of power on the table from the factory, and this engine platform has a lot of headroom. 

A Stage 1 ECU tune can yield gains in the neighborhood of 90-130 horsepower and nearly as much torque, depending on the tuning company and fuel used. No other modification on this list will lead to such a massive increase in power and performance. Software is currently (May 2023) available from Unitronic, APR, Burger Motorsport (piggyback), and 034Motorsport.

Intake

Intakes allow more air to enter the turbocharger, improving throttle response and adding modest power gains. Additionally, an intake opens up the engine’s induction noise, creating a more thrilling driving experience.

Depending on the brand, some intake systems are made of carbon fiber and serve as an aesthetic upgrade when you pop the hood of your car. 

Exhaust System

A cat-back exhaust will let you hear the sound of your car and improve exhaust flow. Cat-back exhausts typically offer modest increases in power. The real benefit of an upgraded exhaust is hearing the engine scream when you hit the throttle.

Intercooler Upgrade

The intercooler sits between the turbocharger and the intake manifold, helping reduce intake air temperatures (IATs). Denser air contains more oxygen, and more oxygen equals more power. 

Once you’ve tuned your vehicle, you can start to run into higher and inconsistent IATs, which will impact performance. This condition is known as heat soak. Turbocharged engines produce a lot of heat, and throwing more boost at the system only exacerbates this problem. In stock configuration, the OEM intercooler does a fine job keeping IATs under control, but once the car is making more power, upgraded cooling is needed. 

A larger intercooler core will keep intake temps consistent, meaning your car will pull hard from every stoplight, even in the heat of summer. 

Bonus: Charge Pipe Upgrade

While installing an upgraded intercooler, you’ll have easier access to the charge pipes. Charge pipes direct pressurized air from the turbo, through the intercooler, and into the engine. Upgrading to more durable and better-flowing metal charge pipes can improve reliability and performance. 

TCU Tune

If your GTI has a DSG. upgrading the software powering it can further improve our vehicle’s performance with optimized shift points, more aggressive gear changes, and the ability to hold a gear all the way to redline without an auto upshift. In fact, many tuning companies recommend a TCU tune in conjunction with an ECU reflash to get the best performance. 

Suspension and Chasis Upgrades

Lowering springs or coil overs will not only give you Mk8 GTI a more aggressive stance, but they will also make it handle better too. If you want flexibility, upgrading to an airbag system will allow you to go low at the push of a button.

Additional upgrades include front and rear sway bars, sway bar end links, and motor mounts. 

Wheels and Tires

Upgrading your wheels is a good way to make your GTI unique to you, and stickier, more aggressive rubber will improve traction and handling. There are virtually limitless styles and options to consider for upgrading wheels. Just make sure you talk to an expert to ensure you get the proper fitment and avoid wheel rub. 

Future Options for the MK8 GTI

At the time of writing, the MK8 platform is so new all big/hybrid/upgraded turbo options are still in development. Based on the gains seen from the software alone, we expect some pretty incredible power figures out of the EA888 Evo 4. Until then, standard bolt-ons, tunes, suspension, and wheel upgrades will have to suffice!

Upgrade your MK8 GTI at Alex’s Autohaus!

We’ve already seen several MK8s come in for tunes, and we want yours to be next! Give us a call or schedule an appointment online today and come visit us at our Midvale facility!

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