Volkswagen is leaving the Mk7 generation of vehicles behind for the Mk8 lineup, but that doesn’t mean the story of the Mk7 instantly stops. If you just grabbed yourself an Mk7 Golf GTI from a local VW car dealership—and are already itching to turn it into a performance beast, there are some basic performance mods you might want to check out.
Obviously, you may want to talk to your dealer before making any modifications to your Golf; that way, you’ll confirm which alterations maintain or void your warranty. And, obviously, you’ll need to be mindful of local vehicle ordinances as well—so you’re not making any changes that put you in hot water with the law.
This article will cover some of the basic mods you can consider adding to your GTI—so you can get the most performance out of it (without turning it into a Stage 3+ motorsports beast). Even still, the list gives you plenty of ideas on how to improve your GTI without overspending or overdoing it. Here are my 8 favorite performance mods to improve an Mk7 Golf GTI.
No. 8: Performance Tires
Every upgrade on this list is important, but none more important than being able to actually drive your Golf GTI with steady handling and stable traction control. While stability management systems play a big part in keeping your GTI on the road and in its lane, tires are an even bigger piece of the puzzle. For the GTI, you’re probably going to want to go with performance tires to help maximize your grip on the road—especially in preparation for some of the other upgrades/mods you plan to install. If you’re rocking the 18-in. wheels, then it might be wise to go with Bridgestone Potenza sport tires, the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ tires, or the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tires—the latter of which are quite popular among GTI enthusiasts.
No. 7: Cat-Back Downpipe
Another big performance upgrade you can opt for is the catalytic converter downpipe, also known as a cat-back downpipe. This mod opens up the amount of exhaust into the turbocharger and gives you a nice performance boost for your…well, boost. The downpipe is a great way to boost your GTI without altering the vehicle excessively.
Now, if you go with a catless downpipe (which is a downpipe without a catalytic converter or filter), you’re going to be running into emissions issues, more noise, odor, and even long-term engine problems unless you get it tuned properly. Cat-back downpipes may not produce as much flow-through as a catless downpipe, but with the proper tuning, they’re a much safer and more reliable way to go.
No. 6: Cold Air Intake
Improving the intake aspiration improves the fuel/air mixture so you can get the most out of your GTI’s turbocharged engine. A cold air intake can also help improve the sound of the engine, giving you a more performance-oriented aura when you’re running the engine. A cold air intake isn’t the biggest performance upgrade you can make to the vehicle, but it does work with a certain synergy with other performance mods on this list, which is why it’s an important upgrade to make if you’re planning on doing more than just modifying the downpipe. Working in league with the intercooler and tuner, you get more stability and upper-end performance out of your engine with a cold air intake.
No. 5: Performance Intercooler
The intercooler is what helps reduce core engine temperatures; it also helps draw the most power out of your engine by allowing cooler, cleaner air to pass through the induction system. A proper intercooler isn’t going to give your engine a supercharged boost, so much as work to increase the efficiency of an already turbocharged engine, which is why it works so well as a tag-team partner with an upgraded cold air intake. A performance intercooler will ultimately help get more life out of your engine—and reduce potential overheating. There are sites themed around tuning the Golf GTI that actually have a nice breakdown and comparison of the size, depth, and core air volume of the intercooler, which can help give you an idea of what might best suit your Mk7 GTI for the kind of setup you plan to run.
No. 4: Exhaust Upgrade
The exhaust is just as important as the intake, as it can determine the amount of power you get out of the vehicle. A properly upgraded exhaust can help expel emitted gasses from the engine. Some people opt to completely delete their muffler on the Golf GTI, but that can just end up throwing a lot of particulate matter and emissions back into the air—all just to improve the way the GTI sounds. However, there are some upgrades that improve performance without being an emissions hog.
Some people may simply want a cool-looking exhaust aesthetic, which is the cheaper way to go. You can get exhaust tips for under $50 that look awesome from either Different Trend or MBRP. Alternatively, you can go with a complete exhaust overhaul for nearly $5,000 from Awe Tuning, Remus, or Xforce. You can also select a good middle-ground muffler system that offers good performance, great sound, and an amazing look from MagnaFlow or Borla.
No. 3: Accessport/ECU tuner
An accessport or ECU tuner is what will help regulate your Mk7 Golf GTI to generate the most performance out of the vehicle. In fact, you don’t even need any physical mods or aftermarket parts to make use of an accessport or an ECU tuner. If you don’t plan on doing much to your GTI on the hardware front, but still want to get the most gains out of the stock setup, then you can go with something like COBB Tuning’s accessport. This will allow you to modify and change calibration map settings for your GTI, easily gauge performance and vehicle health, as well as log performance data.
You can fine-tune the ECU with an accessport, making it a great pick for newbie aftermarket modders. However, if you want peak performance tuning to unlock the true capabilities of an upgraded GTI, most enthusiasts recommend the higher-profile tuning kits like the JB4 Tuner for the Mk7 GTI, to unlock the maximum potential and performance capabilities from the hatchback—especially if you have a modded intercooler, intake, and downpipe installed.
No. 2: Transmission Mount Upgrade
All these upgrades to your GTI’s performance mean more rumble, grumble, and noise. With all of those come more vibrations, and with more vibrations comes more rattling and shaking within the engine bay housing and undercarriage. Typically, this isn’t a big issue for anyone who gets a stock GTI from a car dealership, but it’s absolutely an issue once your GTI starts generating more power with aftermarket upgrades.
It’s not uncommon for the transmission housing mounts to shake, rattle, and eventually break. So if you’re planning on upgrading any aspect of the GTI that improves overall performance, be sure to keep the powertrain locked down. Deutsche Auto Parts actually has a pretty good tutorial on how to efficiently install upgraded transmission mounts—so you’ll never have to worry about it wiggling free from regular or extended use.
No. 1: Engine Mount Upgrade
Last, but certainly not least, is an engine mount. It’s probably one of the most important upgrades or mods you can make for your Mk7 Golf GTI once you start performance-tuning it. Why? Because just like the transmission mount, you want to reduce vibrations from the engine to the bay, and instead lock the engine to the frame so that the force of vibrations isn’t causing the mounts undue stress.
Now, the downside to upgrading the engine and transmission mounts to a more stable housing is that all the vibrations the mount would absorb will instead be absorbed by the frame, which in turn will make your ride a little more…jittery. However, this pays dividends in the long run for improved engine performance, stable engine housing, and less potential damage done to the mounts and the entire powertrain. There is a very quick video showcasing how you can install sturdier engine mounts for performance Volkswagens thanks to ECS Tuning. This is essential if you want to increase the longevity of your performance-modded Golf GTI.