Andy Russell’s 700hp, 200mph, flame-belching family-hauler is a hypercar-hassling modified hot hatch born out of the one thing a Mk7 Golf R lacked – an extra cylinder.
Feature from Performance VW. Words: Alex Grant. Photos: Si Gray.
For most car enthusiasts, embarking on parenthood tends to coincide with an enforced slowing down. It’s a phase of life where practicality takes priority over performance, night feeds replace evenings in the garage, and weekends are more about soft play than shows and socialising. The end goal has always been worth the comprises (apparently…) but, these days, continuing the human race doesn’t always mean putting the brakes on automotive thrills.
Volkswagen had an influential part in that change. The Mk1 Golf GTI set out a stall for cars that could shrug off the school run then encourage you to take the long route home afterwards, but the Mk7 R is the peak evolution of that concept. It serves up a tuneable 300-plus horsepower with five doors, four-wheel drive and an estate option for anyone still struggling to make a case against an SUV-shaped alternative. Sure, the R badge wasn’t new to the Golf in 2013, but the Mk7 is where it really bedded in. Or, as far as Andy Russell is concerned, that’s where it became a good foundation for much, much more.
“In my family, you’re fed on petrol from birth,” he tells us. “My Dad and uncle were my main inspiration, but I was born into the Ayrton Senna era and brought up on Valentino Rossi and Colin McRae. Now I have two young boys, so my three-door days are long behind me, but this gave me exactly what I wanted; a family car I can drive 400 miles without the missus moaning, and a supercar killer on road or track at the push of a button. It’s perfect.”
With his automotive track record, no family-hauler was ever going to go untouched, but it might surprise you to find out that this sort of all-rounder could easily have been wrapped up behind a blue oval. Andy grew up around his Dad’s Fords – a habit only broken by a Mk2 Golf GTI in the early 1990s – and he lasted only a year after passing his test before following suit. At 18, he’d not only swapped a full Focus RS powertrain into a 2.0-litre body, but he’d pushed those mechanical parts a lot further than Tickford ever attempted.
It offered lessons in car control no instructor would throw at a new driver: “With 360hp and crazy torque steer, most people thought it wouldn’t last, or it would put me in a coffin,” he continues. “Instead, it survived psychotic driving, the street race era and scared lots of people into never getting into a car with me ever again, until I eventually sold it five years later. It’s crazy to think hatchbacks come with that power as standard now, and nobody bats an eyelid.”
The trouble was, having stepped up from a diesel Peugeot to a fast Ford on the ragged limits of its chassis, it had become impossible to continue that sort of upward trajectory in performance. Left cold by the Focus ST that replaced it, Andy briefly found the fix he was after by cycling through a few of the usual drift-worthy suspects before taking a breather to figure out a more permanent plan. That thinking time took his car history on an unexpected tangent.
“Ford had gone downhill, but the Volkswagen Group stuff had started to appeal,” he explains. “So I started with a 2005 Leon Cupra R, with a BAM 1.8T, and went Stage 2. That was fun, but the engine packed up while I was in West Midlands Safari Park – I wouldn’t have minded if I was hoofing it. So I replaced that with a Mk5 GTI, and Niki Gower at R-Tech made that into a complete street sleeper. That’s where I got my love of DSG, and it’s how the Mk7 came into the frame…”
Already impressed with the GTI’s tuning potential, the R felt like a no-brainer. The Mk7 (and Mk6 before it) lacked the cylinder count and soundtrack of an R32, but made up for in tunability; factory upgrades to the valvetrain, pistons, injection and internal cooling which meant extra power wouldn’t result in expensive failure. He also had plenty to choose from; this car had both the five-door practicality he needed, and the Oettinger spoiler and 19-inch Pretoria wheel upgrade he actually wanted. Anything else could be added later on.
“Seeing how easily people were tuning these cars over 500bhp, but still putting the power down easily, the EA888 engine looked like it was right up my street,” he says. “It bored me at first, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d have it ripped apart at a tuning company. I dropped it off at VRS Performance for a Stage 3 setup a few days later. Having seen their YouTube videos and spoken to the owner, Will, nobody else compared.”
That insight means there’s more to this than straight line speed. Stage 3 adds a bigger turbo, custom Scorpion exhaust and MRC software, and VRS dialled in a full package of chassis upgrades to make the most of it, including corner-weighted coilovers, camber-adjustable top mounts and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber. To keep it usable, that undiluted aggression was delivered with the help of a seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box from an RS3, using a Tiguan transfer case and flywheel to link it to the factory parts. An investment in reliability that Andy wasn’t shy about testing.
“It was an animal – the engine was still standard internally, but it had become a 600hp family hatchback that could do mid 10-second quarter miles on the street and 60mph in 2.9 seconds. I even bought a spare engine expecting it to blow up, but after all the abuse, the Santa Pod runs, and hundreds of launches, it was faultless. It’s testament to the VRS build, MRC’s software and that EA888 engine.”
Of course, everything has a limit. Beyond the need for ruinously expensive internal upgrades, pushing the four-cylinder engine to 700hp would have resulted in an unmanageable thirst for fuel at full boost. With the performance novelty wearing off, Andy started shopping for a replacement, and didn’t stray too far from what he was used to. The Audi RS3 took the same platform, added a cylinder, and offered proven tuning potential with a more appealing soundtrack than the Golf. Sensible money might have suggested selling up, but where’s the fun in that?
“By this point, Will at VRS was a close friend, so I texted him asking if he fancied the challenge of putting a new RS3 engine and drivetrain into the Golf. It had been done, but with the older 2.5 TFSI engine, and other tuners were getting 800hp and 800Nm on standard internals, transmission and diff. ‘Fuck yeah,’ was the reply from him – the bloke loves a challenge, so it was game on.”
There were good reasons to be selective with the donor. Audi refreshed the RS3 in 2017, and the 2.5-litre TFSI got a major overhaul in the process. The ‘DAZA’ engine has an aluminium block instead of compacted graphite iron, with a lighter crankshaft, plasma-coated cylinder barrels, integrated oil cooling and dual fuel injection (port and direct) ready for more power. It’s 26kg lighter than the early engines and 33hp more powerful, but also avoids the emissions-related hobbling that affects later examples of the RS3. In factory spec, the Audi is only 15kg heavier than a DSG-equipped Golf R.
Importantly, with similar bodyshells, there was no need for cutting or fabricating. The entire RS3 drivetrain and subframe slotted into the Golf as if it had been factory fitted, but unravelled a rat’s nest of electrical problems when it did so. VRS relocated the battery to the boot, just as Audi had done, but it took a lengthy session of tracing wires, soldering new connections and rewriting code – assisted by the team at MRC – to bring it all to life.
Not that you’d know. The inline five looks as if it’s always been there, albeit with some high-end performance parts layered on top; a motorsport grade TTE700 hybrid turbo tucked at the back, an APR RS3-spec intercooler up front, and an enlarged and aerodynamically optimised throttle body to help flow the boost into the cylinders. Running bespoke MRC software, AEM water/meth injection and a healthy supply of super unleaded, it’s a proven nine-second quarter-mile car – even with an (empty) baby seat on board.
Parts hunting kept Andy busy in the meantime. The stock Pretoria wheels offered enough space for eight-piston RS3 calipers and 370mm discs at the front, and a 354mm setup at the back – and they’re R-branded to look like factory parts. Having gone all in on the custom wiring, there’s a Mk7.5 digital instrument cluster inside to match the facelifted front end, while the Scorpion exhaust was swapped to RS3-style oval tips as a nod to what’s under the louvered carbon fibre bonnet. It’s a presence the Golf R never quite managed in factory spec.
Andy had this in mind from the start: “I like a naughty OEM look – I’ve never been one for big flared arches or large wheels. So the wingback seats are from a tatty old R32, and I got Optimus Automotive Trimmers in Scotland to match the material as closely as possible to the grey alcantara Volkswagen uses on the rear seats. My god, they didn’t disappoint – I got a beautiful set of seats back, 11 marks out of 10…”
To complicate things further, Andy had a Honda to shift by the time Will called him to say the Golf was running again. Within the few months it had taken to blend R and RS, he’d “scratched an itch” and bought an EP3 Civic Type R, then turbocharged it to 465hp with a screamer pipe through the bonnet. Impatient by nature, he says the main attraction had a big job on its hands if it was going to live up to expectations.
“It was on the dyno at VRS the first time I saw it,” he says. “It made 640hp on 99RON with meth for safety, so it’ll easily make over 700 when I put the loopy juice in, and it sounded unreal. No RS3 I’ve ever heard is like this – it’s more Lambo crossed with an R8, and the mini crowd watching it all said the same. I think the VRS guys were more excited than I was, and I thought they’d be happy to see the back of it after all that hard work.”
If it had looked and sounded impressive, nothing quite prepared Andy for the sensory assault it could deliver on the road. For obvious reasons, it hasn’t made it to the start line at Santa Pod just yet, but it’s put down a 10.5-second quarter mile in the damp and passes 60mph in 2.6 seconds without removing any weight. Once it’s prepped for the strip, Andy’s expecting ETs well into the nines, and we’ve got no reason to doubt that it can manage it.
His enthusiasm for the experience speaks volumes. “The car’s an animal,” he tells us, smiling broadly as he does. “The turbo spools almost instantly, all the way to the redline, and the driveability, from cruising to race, is fantastic. It’s much better than I expected, and it feels really solid. I’ve had 207mph on the digital speedo at a private event on an airstrip – I’m not sure how accurate the clocks are at those speeds, but I’m sure it’s got 200mph in it. The EA888 Golf engine was an incredible piece of kit, but this knocks spots off it.”
At least for now. With Andy’s track record, and the screaming five-cylinder’s potential for more power, it’s not hard to see where this might head next. A larger turbo should nudge the modified Mk7 Golf R over 800hp on pump fuel and, as that’ll put it firmly into track toy territory, he’s already eyeing up a twin-turbocharged R8 as a weekend toy. All in all, it’s not a bad way to sidestep the usual slowing down of early-days parenthood.
Tech Spec: Modified Mk7 Golf R
2480cc, five-cylinder, turbocharged petrol (DAZA), VRS Performance intake, TTE700 hybrid turbo, APR RS3 intercooler, SRM throttle body, Scorpion downpipe and exhaust system with RS3 oval tips, 980cc injectors, NGK spark plugs, AEM water/methanol injection with large nozzle, MRC Tuning engine and transmission maps, custom loom, oil catch can, uprated high and low pressure fuel pumps, RS3 ‘DQ500’ dual-clutch transmission, RS3 propshafts and driveshafts, RS3 subframe, uprated engine and gearbox mounts all round
8.5×19” Pretoria wheels, 235/35 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, Bilstein coilovers, H&R RS3 anti-roll bars, 034Motorsport camber-adjustable top mounts, RS3 eight-piston brakes with 370mm discs (front), 356mm big brake conversion (rear), brake calipers painted black with Volkswagen ‘R’ logo
PV400 carbon fibre bonnet, Oettinger roof spoiler, Mk7.5 Golf R headlights and bumper, carbon fibre mirror caps, black rear badge, air deflectors
R32 wingback seats re-trimmed in Mk7 Golf R alcantara and cloth, Mk7.5 Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and dashboard, Custom Steering Wheels carbon fibre wheel with blue 12 o’clock ring, NewSouth Performance boost gauge