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My Suspension Through the Years

Image of Ground Control coilover suspension...1998-2002: Factory suspension - It rode well and wasn't awful. It wallowed at high speeds, but was comfortable. It lasted 136,000 miles and could've gone farther. However, I wanted to try something new. Aftermarket suspension makers publish various claims regarding how much each kit lowers the car from stock. Being analytical and wanting to track results, I decided to take some measurements before and after each change. This image shows my measuring points from the center of the hub to the highest edge of the fender opening. Using these points eliminates the influence of different tire sizes and pressures. I took all measurements with the car unloaded and with all fluids/fuel topped-off. My stock measurements were 15.0"F and 14.0"R.

2002-2009: Shine Racing Service (SRS)  "Real Street Suspension" - This system came with Bilstein HD's and SRS's unique rear swaybar which was installed inside of the rear torsion beam (Read more about sway bars here).  The spring rates were 225#F and 160#R. This was a fantastic improvement which handled well and rode okay on smooth streets. It was a bit harsh on rough roads and railroad crossings. I liked the slightly-lowered stance and the handling. The car exhibited slight understeer when driven at its limit. The springs lowered the car approximately 1.25"F and 0.875"R, leaving the car at 13.75"F and 13.1"R. The Bilstein HD's lasted 172,000 miles and continued to work well despite obvious leaking.

2009-2010: KONI Coilovers - I tried these coilovers to see if my handling would improve on the autocross course. The spring rates were ~350#F and ~190#R. I adjusted the ride height to mimic Shine's, which sets the front control arms level for ideal handling. I retained the SRS rear swaybar. The handling improved, exhibiting slight oversteer at the limit when the rear dampening was set too high. Unfortunately, the KONI's lasted less than one year and 50,000 miles. As the mileage suggests, this was 99% normal driving and lots of highway miles. I hate to think how fast they would have failed with regular autocrossing or a season of road racing! I was diappointed with the endurance of the KONIs and unable to get another set of Shine springs (I wish I hadn't sold mine).

Image of body roll comparison... 2010-2013: Ground Control Coilovers - I ordered my Ground Control coilover kit with Bilstein HD shocks, Ground Control coilover sleeves and Eibach Spec Springs. The springs were 430#F and 320#R. Again, I adjusted the ride height to mimic the Shine ride height. The handling on the autocross course was fantastic, almost perfectly neutral! The highway ride was good while the surface street ride was only tolerable. Sometimes it was pretty rough. I didn't care because the perfomance handling was perfect! Overall, the ride was more harsh than on other setups. But cornering was precise and tight... well, for a Mk3. ;-) Pushing the car beyond its limits on the autocross course revealed slight oversteer.  But the handling is quite managable by adjusting the tire pressures and driving style.  The suspension and swaybar did a great job of managing body roll as shown in this photo which compares a stock-sprung Jetta to mine. This was my best setup for autocrossing and performance driving! Its only drawback with excessive wheelspin of the front inside wheel, epsecially on uneven driveways. I removed the front swaybar and saw minor improvement. Unfortunately, two things compelled me to make changes. First and foremost, I stopped autocrossing in 2010. Although I still enjoyed some spirited driving from time to time, I was mostly tired of the harsh ride on my local commute. Second, the rear Bilsteins were leaking after two years and 70,000 miles (but still worked far better than the KONIs).  Odds are fair that the HD's were not designed for such stiff springs; nor the lowered ride. If I had stayed with the GC setup, I might have considered replacing the HD's with Bilstein Sports. The dampening is the same; but the Sports are made for lowering springs. Anyone ordering this kit should use Bilstein Sports instead of the HD's.

Image of sleeves added to my KONI shocks... 2013-Present: H&R OE Sport with KONI STR.T - I considered keeping the GC sleeves and trying softer springs. But I didn't want to experiment with different spring rates. I'm a DRIVER and prefer cruising over wrenching and paying for additional alignments. I looked at returning to stock. But I can't stand the 4x4 look of the stock Mk3 stance. HAHA! Therefore, I decided to try H&R OE Sport springs and KONI STR.T shocks. The springs are only a little firmer than stock and are advertised to lower the car about 0.75"F and 0.25"R from stock. This was not the case. Short version: The car sits at 14.1"F and 13.25"R after using 32mm sleeves under the rear spring perches to raise the rear to my desired height (see photo).  The shocks are marketed as slightly stiffer than stock and designed for a lowered ride. They're also far less expensive than Bilstein Sports. So far, I'm pleased with the ride. It handles well on the road. I suspect this setup would be mediocre on the autocross course and might even overheat from excessive suspension movement if I ever go back. I still have the SRS rear swaybar and my front swaybar is still removed. So I think the handling may be neutral albeit a bit sloppy. My experience with the KONI coilovers has me wondering how long these shocks will last. Hopefully, I'll have something good to say about the STR.T's endurance in a few years. :-)

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