Veedub refiner APR has produced two of the finest tuned Golfs we’ve ever driven but with over 1100bhp on tap from these two hyper hatches, which would you chose: GTI or R?
I’m smiling as I type this as split almost evenly between these two late model Golfs from tuner APR is an incredible 1170BHP. I’ll be honest; at first I passed these two over as tuner demonstrators with a host of bolt-on parts and some graphics designed to lure you in. Whereas I need soul. Where is the essence of a modified VW that we all crave? These appear to be computer-designed, clean sheet builds that haven’t earned my respect through being built in a small garage somewhere, or having skinned a bunch of knuckles, or emptied wallets along the way. Yes, there’s all that power and comfort combined in the subtly tweaked yet recognizable Mk6 body shapes but for me there has to be that extra something. So where’s the soul?
Well, talking to Guy Harding, head man at Harding Performance, home of ARP Australia, I realize the soul can be found in him and his team. As he talks, his passion for VW becomes obvious. He’s instilled decades of experience in the builds, and that’s what I’m looking for.
Thinking laterally, for me, these two are the modern interpretation of the traditional air-cooled Cal-look Beetle - which makes a lot more sense when you talk to Guy because that’s his background. They’re not retro styled with recreated wheels or faux aged stickers designed to ape a look from decades ago. Instead they’ve been made with the same ethos as those giant-slaying Beetles. Subtle, everyday cars made to destroy and embarrass more expensive and supposedly capable machinery. Your Porsche GT3 just got whipped by a Golf R?
That just happened. Guy shows me photo albums of foreign travel laden with rare and obscure air-cooled VWs going back to the mid-80s. this Wolfsburg thing has been in his blood for a long time.
For the last 15 years the water pumpers have come to his attention and under the APR banner this is the core business, working out of an immaculate and well-equipped workshop in Brisbane. If the sanitary feel is not something you really ‘get’ then imagine this is the clinical operating table that Guy and team use to bring these incredible machines to life.
That’s what they are you know, incredible. Both are the second incarnations for APR, as Guy explains: ‘This is our second Mk6 GTI. We previously built a 400bhp manual transmission vehicle. Once again, the never-ending search for speed made us move to a DSG car and extract more power.”
So what were the priorities when you started the project with a new car? “This vehicle has been made as a real sleeper (decals aside). Driveability and comfort are the number one priority. No vibration, no extra cabin noise, civility throughout,” Guy replies.
To achieve the 570BHP that the GTi does is no mean feat, especially when you consider on race fuel that also equates to a sledge hammer-like 700Nm. All the figures I’m going to be quoting are dyno hub proven too, so put the doubt away.
We know from talking to other builders that the newer gen engines aren’t the easiest to work on. Guy agrees: “Building these engines is a much bigger task than those of the engine family of the Golf R, and sourcing parts is not as easy. But the stock cylinder head is capable of this big horsepower.”
Upgraded rods and pistons go into the package as well as the usual attention-to-detail a build like this demands. Now in street-legal trim and running on treaded tyres the GTi can run an 11.5-second quarter-mile with a 124mph terminal speed.
“These engines, whilst comparatively making more power than their Golf R brothers have an issue pulling Gs around corners,” Guy continues. “To allow for the deficiencies in the oiling system we run a drain to sump catch can and an ‘Accusump’ which is secondary pressurised oil system.
To fit in a three-quart system, the easiest way we could do this was relocate the battery to a secure box located in the boot.”
Look inside and it’s all very factory. Again I’m looking for the personal touches and the discreet digital gauge on the steering column hints at its ability to monitor boost and trans temperatures. I’m starting to feel like that really is enough, the massive potential hidden beneath really will more than satisfy. This kind of approach is indicative of the new-skool approach: less is more.
Back outside if you forget the graphics, which are there for obvious reasons, there really are very few clues as to how potent the GTi is. One thing kind of stands out though. “Putting all this power down through the front wheels is a challenge – that’s why we stepped up to wider front wings to allow larger tyres and a wider track,” explains Guy. To see how this all comes together please check the video link over the page.
The Golf R programme has developed into something very different and the more time I spend with these two the more I notice how they server seemingly similar yet specific purpose whereas the GTi is almost the hooligan machine, the R seems like the dedicated weapon. I might be splitting hairs here but I have to discern between the two, otherwise I’m simply going to want both.
The cabin is almost stock. I say almost because those are Japanese spec Recaro SR-6 seats in there along with an AIM data logger display to inform you what’s going on. But swap the original sat nav/headunit back in and you’d never know the power was there. Guy runs us through how it’s all come together: “This is also our second Golf R, we previously built a 430bhp manual transmission vehicle. And again our search for all out speed made us move to a DSC car and up the ante a little!”
A little? That’s another 170bhp Guy is referring to there! “The car is circuit-focused, and spends a lot of its time upsetting GT3s at Porsche club events and is no slouch in a straight line,” Guy grins. “It still holds the record as the world’s fastest Golf R by quite a margin.” Guy also runs a 550bhp, turbo converted Porsche Cayman, so he knows what he’s talking about.
However hard it is, and we’re not about to say it’s easy, straight line handling is simpler than going around corners, which is why we need to know just how Guy makes the most of the R’s insane power? “Getting the transmission to handle the power and torque was no easy task,” he replies. “A careful combination of software and hardware took quite some time to work out. The temperatures are controlled with an additional SSP oil cooler.”
Guy is rightly a little guarded about just how it all works but the team at APR work closely with suspension specialist Fulcrum who produce the globally-known SuperPro brand of bushes. Along with its Custom arms, these go a long way to helping the pair put the power down.
Unlike the GTI, the R’s head has been swapped for an off-the-shelf APR item, again the engine build taking place in-house to exacting standards needed.
So what are they like to drive? “Perfectly mannered on the street with the damping wound off a touch,” says Guy. “Even grandma could go for a run to shops in them.”
I can’t think of a situation where these two cars wouldn’t shine, or equally blend in to the background if you so desired and I think that’s the key here. Have we all become too hungry for the extremes of the show car scene when sometimes you just want to drive really fast- literally to disappear in all possible ways.
Maybe when you buy an APR kit, you get a little bit of soul food with it, two. An attitude upgrade that makes this inanimate object around you come alive, the added power and attention needed waking up sense so that you respond to the car on a deeper level than normal. If you pit the soul in yourself, you get so much more back out.