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Beginner’s Guide / Tips for Buying a Street-Based Suspension

Hammersticks

Drag Race Newbie
Location
Bay Area, CA
Car(s)
'16 GTI, '18 e-Golf
Hey all,
This post isn’t intended to be the be-all-end-all. It's merely my attempt to help those who are new to the suspension game in need of guidance....and if you're looking for DIY info, please review this reference guide.

A little about me for context: I'm my 40's with a family. My GTI is my daily. I do a lot of city driving on marginal roads, push the car when I can, and working on getting more track time. Overall I've wanted a well-controlled daily without making significant compromises. I've gone through a number of setups based on being picky and changing needs over time. Documentation available in my build thread.

Overall:

1.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” If you like the stock suspension, simply leave it alone. Some drawbacks of modifying your suspension early:
a.Added expense, especially if you’re paying for labor ($200-$600 based on location). If you're lowering, add another $100 for an alignment (yes you need one).
b.Those creaks and rattles? Well, they’re yours now. Dealers will blame anything they can on that suspension.

2. If you have space, KEEP YOUR STOCK PARTS! Selling a car with aftermarket parts cuts down the market considerably and you won't get much money for your used stock parts.

3. Pairing springs and dampers...this is the unfortunate difficulty, trying to find the "Goldilocks" / perfect pair for YOU. Don't just blindly buy parts based on isolated input. A soft spring (VWR, DG) and a softer damper (Bilstein) can result in a ride that is too soft overall (either crashy due to being too low and soft (VWR) or too floaty/imprecise (DG)). Conversely, a moderately stiff spring combined with Koni Yellows could be too firm around town for some. In my experience, softer springs benefit from a more supportive damper (Koni yellows), and stiffer springs are made more comfortable with Bilsteins. PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH, AND GET FEEDBACK FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE COMBINATION YOU'RE INTERESTED IN.

4.
Plan. Think about what is most important to you. Handling? Ride quality? Aesthetics? Cost? There's a compromise somewhere.
a. Don’t want to modify your driving style? Don't get a 1” drop.
b. Don’t have a lot of money right now? Save up for what you really want and do it right the first time. It will cost more time and money otherwise.
c. Review #1 again

5. Once you have it, give it a chance! I rushed through a couple of my setups, which I regretted, particularly the B8/Neuspeed combo. You’ll find that your attitude can change quite a bit, and you need to experience a wide range of driving scenarios to do that. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight.

Springs: (Control ride height and amount of travel)
DO YOUR RESEARCH, but DON’T believe the marketing hype (“Our springs drop your ride by an inch and engineered to work perfectly with the OEM dampers.”) In general, it's BS. The stock dampers aren't built for it. Just ask the guys who thought they were fine and are now looking for replacements.

Be wary of spring ride height claims. Several that are just flat out wrong. E.g., APR who claimed for years their drop was .5-.75” on a GTI but is over 1.1” in reality, or even my H&R OE Sports which claim a .75” drop all around but is 1.25” in the back. Do your research.

A 1" drop doesn't seem like much, but can result in a loud “BANG!” in the front of the car when hitting a steel plate or any type of uneven pavement at speed. Again, be honest with what you think you can handle. If you’re young and single, then okay. If you’re toting a family or clients around, then that’s another story.

Take your measurements based on center hub to fender as a baseline. Don’t use fender to ground as it’s impacted by the wheel and tire size and tire inflation.

Progressive vs. Linear. In my experience, I've found progressive springs to behave consistently in cornering without abrupt handling changes. That said, I also haven't experienced an ultra-smooth ride around town. They have all been pretty firm, so don't let marketing claims rule your decision. Linear springs are the same rate throughout, so you could have an experience that is fine around town but too soft when pushed hard (DGs).

6. When researching springs, realize that DSG cars are heavier than manuals, which can impact the drop in front (e.g., DG springs by .25" / 6mm).

Dampers/Shocks: (control spring oscillation)
Unless you have DCC, resist the urge to re-use the stock dampers. Those who say you don’t need aftermarket dampers haven’t had them before. Simply, they perform better and are more supportive. They will also last MUCH longer than the stock units. These apply to name brands such as Koni and Bilstein. Not sure about the others, but I really can't stress this point enough. Quality dampers/shocks will transform the ride.

The most common names are Bilstein and Koni. Both offer lifetime warranties to the original purchaser and are great options, but for different reasons.

The Golf uses a 50mm front strut while the GTI and R use a 55mm front strut. Golf owners cannot use the 55mm parts without replacing the strut knuckles. All three* use the same rear dampers (*with independent suspension).

a.Bilstein:
i.
B6 (stock springs), B8 (lowering springs)
ii. I found the Bilsteins to be smooth and did an excellent job with the Neuspeed sports (handling and ride) as well as with the DGs (for ride quality and convenience). Excellent choice for street and generally respected for quality. There is nothing to set so they're just plug and play. If there's one critique, it would be that they may be too soft for those who want a more aggressive/controlled setup for track or otherwise. The rebound and compression rates are the same for both the B6 and B8 and I experienced some floatiness at high speed. There have also been reports of issues with lower, softer springs such as VWR/RacingLine and EMD. I would recommend pairing these with a stiffer spring. Overall, they are solid street dampers and likely best suited for those who are okay with sacrificing some handling characteristics in order to improve ride quality.

Lasly, the Bilsteins use an internal bump stop on the front (only) so you will NOT reuse the stock front bump stops, only on the rears.

b.Koni:
i.FSD
(originals were gold but were recently replaced with Koni Special Active (red)). These are not designed for lowering springs but Koni technical sales says they can support them, provided they are not too low and riding on the bump stops. When this happens the FSDs (not sure about the special actives) go into a blow-off mode and essentially go un-damped. Not good. The Neuspeed sports worked fine with them, but the general consensus is that they likely work much better when paired with the stock springs and full travel.

ii.Sports/Yellows: These allow for a wide range of adjustability (rebound only), but the rears must be taken off the car to be adjusted. Each quarter-turn is noticeable. It’s not a marketing gimmick and they allow you to really fine-tune the feel based on the spring.

The Koni sports are a bit firmer and react more quickly than the Bilsteins (at least at 1/2 turn from full soft). Not to say that they are harsh, but they are edgier, and also a bit firmer on rougher roads.

If you are looking to have the most precise feel, and don't mind having to adjust the rears to get them dialed in, go with the Koni sports.

Regardless, all of these options are great and are MUCH improved over stock. You just need to decide what is most important to you.

Coilovers:
There are numerous brands which have been discussed at great length in various threads so I won't go into them all here. Coils offer height adjustability and some have damping adjustability as well. If you choose to go this route, DON'T CHEAP OUT! Plan on spending at least $1K or more for a good set.

Tires:
The right tires can make a MONUMENTAL difference in handling and ride quality, so read up! They can be expensive and don't have the same visual impact, but the general order of operations is to do tires FIRST. You will then be able to determine if there's anything else you need.

Sway Bars
These cars have a general tendency to understeer, so you will hear most (myself included) starting with a REAR sway bar ("RSB") as stiffening the rear bar will increase oversteer. The RSBs are also much easier to install than the front sway bars "FSB". There are various threads on hollow vs. solid and what's best (I prefer solid). Most companies offer a 24-25mm rear bar and most seem happy with whatever they choose. You will also see bigger, more aggressive bars, but for street purposes, something in the 24-25mm range is probably all you will want/need.

As for upgraded FSBs, again, those who say you don't need them probably haven't had them, or at least the right one. They do balance out the car if you already have a rear bar, but, definitely do your research as you are now adding more understeer back into the equation. Many people choose not to add a front bar because the install is much more difficult and involves lowering the subframe. As such, if you are going to put a new FSB on, do your research and DEFINITELY get something adjustable. Installation costs (or DIY labor) can also be high so you want to get it right the first time.

Lastly, I’d highly encourage you to ask forum members specific questions, or even check out in person if possible. Don’t just hear what you want to hear and ignore the rest. Suspension is challenging because it’s subjective, but it’s also very rewarding when done right. You can completely transform the feel of your car so it's capable of supporting your power mods, track days, or simply making the drive to the grocery store that much more enjoyable.
 

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demi9od

Go Kart Champion
Location
NC
Great write up. I am surprised to hear the B8s are as soft or softer than the Koni Sports on full soft. I felt super floaty with my Koni's on full soft, especially in the rear. Going to and beyond 1.25 turns from soft on the Koni's, again especially in the rear, felt like riding on 19's with rubberband tires, way too stiff. So the adjust-ability is certainly no gimmick.

I think my ideal setup will be the Koni's around 1/1 turns from soft with 17" wheels and 235/45/17 tires to soak up some of the bumps. We'll see next summer when I ditch my 18's.
 

CDM MK7

Ready to race!
Location
Canada
^ Tires definitely do make a big impact on the overall ride quality. I run 225/40/18 Conti ECS during the summer, and 225/45/18 WS80's in winter and the extra height and softer sidewall make it feel like a big Audi (and I run my rear Koni's at 50% which is plenty stiff) Something to factor in when researching a suspension setup.

Great write-up, Hammersticks. I agree with your observations on the Koni Sport shocks, but just want to make sure that people don't take that as them being harsh (not that you're saying they are at all!). Set up correctly, in no way are they harsh. Firm and controlled, heck yes. But they do need some attention to get them just right. Also depending on whether you're running a linear or progressive spring is going to factor in to your adjustment settings. For example, Demi9od and I both run Eibach Pro Kits on Koni Sport shocks, but his are linear and mine are progressive. From posts I've seen, he is able to run a little more dampening on the linear springs than me, which makes sense if you think of the physics behind the two setups. For street, I run 50% on the rear shocks, and 0% in the front. This way when I arrive at the track, I can true up the fronts to match the rears. On my setup, 50% in the front was way too stiff.

Anyways, thanks for putting this together.
 

YoYoCome

Passed Driver's Ed
Location
Taipei, Taiwan
Awesome info! Thanks for sharing!

My personal experience was:

I went with H&R Sport Springs (stock shocks) on my MK7.5 GTI and the handling improved a lot. However, the ride was more bumpy and more harsh so I had to change back to stock after 2 weeks since I drive my mom quite often. She wasn't comfortable while riding in the car with the H&R.
 

Hammersticks

Drag Race Newbie
Location
Bay Area, CA
Car(s)
'16 GTI, '18 e-Golf
Agreed and good call out that wheels and tires can make a huge impact. You definitely suffer a bit with 18’s and a good lightweight 17 would be ideal for ride quality, no doubt.

I had 17” Goal wheels with 225/45/17’s on for a little while. Of course the overall movement of the suspension didn’t change but the road vibration was dulled, similar to my experience moving from coils to the Koni’s.

As for the B8/Koni comparison, keep in mind I had the B8 Neuspeed combo two years ago...and obviously different springs (but what I have now should have a lower spring rate as well); however, I remember how it behaved on certain sections of road vs what I have now. I am at 1/2 turn from full soft now and I remember the Bilstein ride being smoother but with more float at high speed.

Readthebook and I have been trying to meet up again now that we have the same setup (even the same tires) but B8 vs Koni. That will be the true test. Agreed that the Koni’s aren’t harsh but they do feel more edgy to me.



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flipflp

Drag Racing Champion
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Car(s)
'16 Golf R DSG
Great info here.

I can 100% agree on the Bilsteins. Amazing shocks that require no adjustments, but even with the higher rate ED/Emmotion RS3 springs I'm running now the car is down right comfy on the street and isn't stiff enough on the track. I was getting A LOT of compression in the AutoX I did. Great control, just not as "sporty" as what the Koni Yellows sound like, so definitely something to consider depending on your needs.
 

Visceral

Ready to race!
Location
Northbrook, IL
Daily Driver

Hello and thanks for this post...

I'm new here but have been poking around this site for awhile. I am looking to make the dive into upgrading my suspension and you nailed the discussion criteria. My question is this: is there a daily driver setup that is plug & play and otherwise not something I need to think about constantly once installed?

I'm steering away from coilovers for the (to my understanding) high maintenance and have gravitated towards upgraded dampers and springs. That said, I want to accomplish two things: reduce wheel gap ~1" or less (aesthetics) and improve handling. The priority is in the order above.

My research leads me to believe that the Bilstein B8's are what I want and then I get to springs and I get lost. I literally thought I had settled on the H&R OE Sports until I read your post here... What spring matches well with the B8's? Emmanuel Design's website would have me believe their springs are a good option but haven't read of any who have B8's and ED springs...

Am I missing any additional points to consider?

Thanks to anyone who read all of my rambling above and appreciate any insight you can provide.
 

MK7 AP2

Ready to race!
Location
Tucson, AZ
Thanks for taking the time to write this up, good information in here.

I am impatiently waiting for B8's, seems to be exactly what I am looking for and I don't want to compromise. I have had a set of linear Eibach Pro Kit springs waiting in the garage for 6 months. Really leaning toward the H&R OE Sport now mainly because of aesthetics, should drop the rear a little more than Eibach (advertised 25mm front, 20mm rear). ED would be a fine option as well IMO.
 

flipflp

Drag Racing Champion
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Car(s)
'16 Golf R DSG
Visceral, looks like flipflp has EDs.

Neuspeed Sports work really well with B8’s. You just have to accept you are going to take big hits in the front at times.

I also wouldn’t throw out the OE sports. I just added a lengthy review on my build thread here:
https://r.tapatalk.com/shareLink?sh...m/forums/showthread.php?p=697889&share_type=t


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Hammersticks, did you ever hit front bumpstops on any Koni Sport setup? I know they aren't internal like the Bilsteins but I'm not sure how short the factory ones can go before they are worthless.

I agree, the B8s are a very good shock for a comfy daily driver setup that doesn't disappoint in the handling department. However with Golf R ED springs I would hit front bump stops pretty frequently. It's pretty jarring but it is what it is.

PS The stance on the ED Golf R springs was pretty solid:

rosebowl2 by Jon Collier, on Flickr

I just wonder if the trading some comfort going to Koni Sports over B8s with something like a Neuspeed or ED spring would avoid the front bottoming out. Not from personal experience, but from your experience it seems that Koni's on full soft are still a bit more "sporty" than the B8s. Sort of stealing from Paul to pay Peter if COMFORT is priority one.
 

Hammersticks

Drag Race Newbie
Location
Bay Area, CA
Car(s)
'16 GTI, '18 e-Golf
Jay, Awesome!!! Thank you!!!

Flipflp, the front bump stops are pretty short. I forget how long exactly but roughly a couple inches.

I wouldn’t count on the Koni’s preventing you from experiencing those jarring front end situations without changing the springs though. The compression is preset and you can only adjust rebound. I also can’t imagine the compression rate is radically higher than the B8’s.

Also, to be clear I have only had the Koni sports paired with the H&R OE sports on this car and no front end jarring incidents. However, I did have them with the Neuspeed Sports on both the B8’s and FSDs (which were supposed to be about the same as the yellows on full soft). I did not have that experience with the B8/DG combo.

Not sure how some of the other sport springs fare such as 034 etc.


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flipflp

Drag Racing Champion
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Car(s)
'16 Golf R DSG
I'd venture to guess the ride height on the H&R OE sports is a bit higher than Neuspeed/ED then. A little more spring rate or a little less low and you can avoid the front end slams but the shocks might not have anything to do with that like you said.

Right now I'm at the same ~25" FTG that I was with the previous R springs but the rates one the RS3 springs are higher (a bit more than Neuspeed Sports, but not by much).
 
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