Level Up Your Daily Driver: Installing ST XTA Coilovers & Rear Sway Bar on Our Project GTI
Choosing the first modification you do to your car is never easy. Whether you are looking to increase horsepower, improve handling or alter the look of your car, your choice will depend on your specific model, your budget and your overall goals. There is really no one size fits all answer.
The decision gets even more difficult if the car in question happens to be a your daily driver. Unlike a weekend toy or purpose-built track car, you have to be much more selective and make sure whatever modifications you make are still going to be livable through the daily commute, road trips or any other situation we put our everyday cars through.
I thought about this question when it came time to start modifying my 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI. After my experience owning and modifying various different types of cars, the decision wasn’t too hard. It had to be the suspension—namely an adjustable coilover kit.
Why We Chose Coilovers
Not only can high quality suspension parts have a huge impact on handling, they can greatly improve a car’s aesthetics. There aren’t many other parts that will change the personality of your car more. So with this in mind we got in touch with the folks at ST Suspensions and selected a set of XTA coilovers along with an ST rear sway bar.
One of the best things about a coilover setup like the XTAs is that they allow adjustment of both the ride height and the dampers themselves, which makes them perfect for a car that sees daily use as well as the occasional track event.
Engineered and built by KW in Germany, the XTAs represent one of the best bang for the buck coilover kits available. The build quality is excellent and not only do they allow for ride height and damper adjustment, they also include top mounts with adjustable camber.
So after one autocross event and one track day on the car in stock form, I got together with a couple friends on a recent Saturday to finally install the parts that had been so patiently waiting in my garage.
After researching the installation procedure, it was recommended that I purchase a set of inexpensive "triple square" sockets and a strut spreader tool that would make the process easier. With the new tools and parts in hand, we got to work.
Installing the Suspension
In terms of difficulty, the install procedure was pretty smooth. With so much information available online these days, DIY installs like this have become that much easier to do in your garage. However I'd certainly recommend an extra set of hands or two while doing the install.
As with most modern front-wheel drive cars, the front coilovers were the most time consuming part of the install, particularly on a new car that's never been taken apart before. Once the factory struts were clear of the spindle, the XTAs went right in without issue.
After the fronts were in, we moved to the rears, which were less time consuming. Once the lower control arm is loose, you simply remove and replace the OEM springs with the XTA springs and collars, along with unbolting the factory shocks and replacing them with the adjustable dampers.
When it comes to the Mk7 platform, one of the most recommended modifications is a larger rear sway bar, so while we were installing the ST coilovers it was a no-brainer to fit one of their rear sway bars as well.
The ST rear sway bar measures 25mm in diameter compared to 20mm for the stock rear bar. On a front-drive car like the GTI, a larger rear bar can make a world of difference when it comes to improving turn in, balancing the handling and overall making the car more lively. Removing and replacing the rear sway bar didn't take long at all, and combined with the low price it's easy to see why it's such a popular upgrade for this platform. For the money and time and invested, it's a very worthwhile modification.
With the coilovers fitted and the rear sway bar installed it was time to put the wheels back on to see how she looked. For the time being we just left all of the settings as they were out of the box.
As you can see, the difference in ride height is quite dramatic. If you are looking for a coilover setup that can give you a very aggressive ride height without ruining ride quality, the XTAs certainly deliver.
I took the car for a a test drive and immediately found that body roll was greatly reduced, the car felt much more planted and even at moderate speeds the car was much more neutral thanks to the rear sway bar. I'll have to wait until the next autocross or track day to really feel the the difference—but I can tell it's going to be huge.
As for the ride quality, it's definitely firmer than before and there's a bit less isolation from road imperfections. However, I didn't find them to be overly harsh or bouncy by many means—and they can still be set softer if desired.
That's the great thing about a high quality coilover. If you find the ride height to be too low or the dampers to be too stiff, you can simply use the included tools to adjust things to your preferences. That's why coilovers like the XTAs are such an easy upgrade to recommend for a daily driver. Combined with a larger sway bar, these modifications have completely changed the GTI's personality without hurting drivability.
If you'd like to see a little more on the install process, my friend put together a little video that chronicles our day in the garage.
I couldn't be more happy with the ST XTA coilover and rear sway bar upgrade, but now I have problem. After driving my GTI stock for the better part of the year, modification fever has set in—and I'm really looking forward to complimenting the new suspension setup with with a wheel and tire upgrade. Stay tuned for more adventures with our do-it-all hatchback.