Category Archives: Cars

Superchips Bluefin for my Golf GTI

Having owned my MkV Golf GTI for just over two years, I finally plucked up the courage to have it remapped for greater performance.

As I suggested in my original review of the car, the TFSi engine in the GTI is very impressive, but it does lack something above 5000rpm. A remap offered the opportunity to address this without spending a lot of money.

I’m a pretty cautious soul at heart, so when considering a remap, I had the following concerns:

  • The remap should have been sold for some time, and I should be able to find forum postings from people who’ve put some decent miles on their remapped cars without problems
  • Any remap should be conservative, and the shape of the power curve shouldn’t be significantly altered. If I wanted a car with monster turbo lag, I’d sell the GTI and buy an FQ400 Evo or equivalent
  • I’m too lazy to travel far
  • The ability to update and remove the remap myself would be a big plus
  • It would have to be insurable for a reasonable cost

Based on these criteria, I decided to give the Superchips Bluefin remap a go. It ticked all of the boxes above, and came with a 7 day money back guarantee if I didn’t like the result. It supposedly lifts the GTI to about 241bhp, from the original 197bhp.

Delivery was next day, and through a discount from the UK-MKIVS forum, I paid £509, instead of the usual £599. I switched my insurance to Greenlight (also via a UK MKIVS discount), and actually got my cover cheaper (post remap) than I was paying with my previous insurer (pre remap).

Installation was very easy, using the supplied Bluefin handset. The only issue was it takes about 20 minutes to load and unload engine maps from the car; I assume this is a limitation of the OBD-II port on the GTI.

Right, onto the fun stuff, the driving impressions:

Initially I was a little disappointed. Whilst I wanted a remap that preserved the character of the GTI, I was half hoping to be blown away by the car transforming into some sort of Impreza killer. It was definitely quicker, but just a GTI with the volume turned to 11, not some Group B monster.

Now I’ve had the remap for almost a month, I’m far more impressed:

  • Most importantly, I’ve had no issues with the remapped car. No pops, bangs, misfires etc.
  • Low down the rev range, the GTI is very little changed. It’s just as drivable before, and although it’s a little more responsive, it doesn’t spend its time exercising the traction control at every junction
  • Mid range the car feels more muscular. Half throttle is more enough for any occasion, and the tendency of the DSG gearbox to change into 6th at every opportunity in D, is less of an issue due to the extra torque. D has become more like the “brisk mode’ I wanted in my original review
  • The best bit is that 5000rpm to the red line is no longer a breathless zone of restricted performance. The car just keeps on pulling all the way to the redline. The harder you drive, the faster it goes.

Basically this is the GTI the way it should have been from the factory. The wide expanse of power, but minus the iffy top end, and with a new set of running shoes. And it’s still just as usable day to day.

In case you haven’t guessed, I never got round to asking Superchips for a refund.

Bargain Subaru Imprezas

In an idle moment last weekend, I stumbled upon a car supermarket advertising new Subaru Impreza WRX 2.5L models for £14,699. Amazed at the price, I did a little more digging online, and found that there are a few places offering slightly cheaper prices. Motor Depot have plenty for £14,898 on the road with metallic paint. That’s a serious quick car for very little money (230PS and 0-60 in 5.9 seconds).

Add a PPP upgrade (270PS and 0-60 in 5.3 seconds) for £1700 (or less if you shop around), and you’ve got brand new car, with a warranty, and real world performance that no comparably priced hot hatch can get near.

Having said all that, I’ve got no plans to swap my GTI for a cheap Impreza. I have too few opportunities to really use the more modest abilities of my GTI, and the Impreza’s image and running costs put me off. There’s a big Impreza facelift coming soon too, so I can’t imagine that’s going to help residuals either.

Regardless, I can remember being very impressed in 2001 that Honda could sell the Civic Type-R in the UK with 197bhp for £16,000 (over £17,000 with aircon and metallic paint). If you’d told me then that a 270ps brand new and warrantied Impreza (with aircon and metallic paint) could be had for just over £16,500 in 2007, I’d have struggled to believe you.

The World of Cars

As I run a pretty large car website, with reviews of almost 2000 different models, I need to look up rare models from time to time.

On Friday I happened across the 2006-2007 edition of World of Cars in WH Smith for £6.95. I initially assumed it would be fairly limited in coverage, rather like the Daily Express car guides from years gone by. I couldn’t have been more wrong; although the guide only covers current cars, it claims to detail 8,500 models (including kit cars), and every model I could think of was there, including such rare beasts as the Pyonghwa Motors Hwiparam from North Korea.

I thoroughly recommend tracking down a copy.

A new website in less than 12 hours

Less than 12 hours after coming up with the idea, I’m happy to launch (link now removed)

It’s a simple site for searching UK car reviews, based on Google’s new Custom Search Engine

Inspired by the review Matt Cutts wrote, I spent some time writing lots of URL patterns that would filter only the review pages of most major UK car sites. I’m pretty happy with the result, which I think gives nicer results than just a plain “model manufacturer reviews” search on Google UK

Fifth Gear

Watched the first episode of the new series of Fifth Gear last night.

What a load of rubbish…

No Jason Plato (Jason and Tom Ford were the only decent reviewers), new incredibly annoying presenter Tim Lovejoy, rubbish banter from the presenters, and lots of sub-Top Gear stunts – Wreck my ride, racing a plane and a radio control car.

Tom Ford’s review of the Ferrari 599 at the end of the last series was great. More of that please, and less of the nonsense we had last night. I’m a total petrolhead, yet I fast forwarded through about half of last night’s programme… 🙁

Spotted a BMW 335d this morning

Did a bit of a double take this morning when I spotted a parked grey BMW 335d Coupe on my way to the post box. They’re not available yet as far as I’m aware, so I’m assuming this must have been a BMW demonstration or press car.

Rather impressed with new 3 Series Coupe in the flesh. It’s much better looking than the 3 Series Saloon.

I’m hanging onto my Golf GTI for at least another two years or so, but a 12 month old fully loaded BMW 335d is my most likely next car in 2-3 years time (I occasionally dream about buying a black BMW M6, but a 335d is far easier to afford and justify in the real world). Not sure if I’d go for the Coupe, or whether my practical side would push me towards a Touring 3 Series instead…

UK Car Depreciation Revealed

Interesting article on PistonHeads showing what are the best and worst depreciating cars in the UK.

Mostly unsurprising, but there are a few points worth noting:

  • The Alfa 166 is serious bargain as a used car. I’ve suspected this for a while, but these figures confirm it. Very positive reviews on
  • Quite surprised by the poor performance of the Land Rover Freelander. The early ones don’t do well on, but I still would have expected a 4×4 from a brand like Land Rover to do better
  • I’m amazed that the Volvo S80 is in the list. Maybe it’s because the model listed is a saloon. I suspect most people who want a big Volvo, are looking for an estate. Rather mixed reviews on too
  • I feel rather sorry for the Fiat Marea. It seems to be well liked by reviewers on, but it loses 87.47% of its value in 3 years (admittedly as a 1.6 Auto). Could be a very good deal for someone on a tight budget
  • The Kia Sorento does very well. It was well priced to start with, has held its money well, and gets good writeups on Anyone who bought one new must be feeling pretty happy right now

Myself and some my closest friends seem to have picked our cars pretty well:

  • My previous Civic Type-R is good, although unfortunately it was a company car, so I didn’t get the benefit of it holding its value
  • Based on the Golf R32 performance, my current Golf GTI should do well. I did go a little over the top on the options list, but I knew what the tradeoff was. I’d rather have the exact car I want, rather than compromising to save a few pounds in the longterm
  • A Mini Cooper and an A4 Cabriolet feature as new or nearly new purchases made by friends. Good choice guys, and I’m sure you’ll have enjoyed reading the article Performance Simulator

My latest new feature is a car performance simulator, which I’ve just made available as a Beta. It’s a Java Applet, which brings certain issues with it, but it’s a pretty computationally intensive simulation, so I doubt Flash or Ajax could have achieved the same results in realtime.

It’s early days, and there are a lot of issues to be worked out, but I’d appreciate any feedback. My eventual plan is to open up the data side of things to visitors, so people can add their own cars.

Some interesting comparisons you can make are:

  • Ferrari Enzo vs anything else – no contest
  • Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk V vs Honda Civic Type-R – the GTI and Type-R are almost neck and neck until about 100mph, but the Focus ST is a fair bit quicker
  • Ford Focus ST vs a Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type UK – the 4WD of the Impreza gives it a good initial lead, but then its weight and 4WD transmission losses mean it can’t continue to pull away at the same speed

Thoughts on my MkV Golf GTI

I’ve now owned my Volkswagen MkV Golf GTI for 6 months (purchased July 2005), so I thought I’d write a bit about the experience. Some of this content has been written by me on various forums previously, but here it is in an updated form:

It’s a Shadow Blue 5 door, with DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), leather, Monza 18 inch alloys, xenon headlights, winter pack, multifunction wheel, parking sensors, folding & dimming mirrors, rear side airbags, Highline display, and an arm rest. My previous car was a Honda Civic Type-R, which was great, but I wanted something with a bigger range of abilities than the Civic as my next car.

The main cars I considered were the Mercedes SLK 350 and Porsche Boxster (both too expensive once you add options), Nissan 350Z (quite hard work to drive, and felt slower than it actually was), Subaru Impreza or Mitsubishi Evo (too hardcore), Audi A3 Sportback (the dealer was very unhelpful), and the Golf GTI.

First the negatives:

  • The standard stereo doesn’t sound like anything special
  • One or two of the plastic parts are poorly finished
  • I find that I don’t make much use of the arm rest – I just can’t get comfortable with it
  • DSG takes some getting used to – if you don’t quite get the accelerator position right in D mode, it either doesn’t drop a gear when you wanted it to, or it drops two gears instead of one. I’m getting tuned into this though, and the paddles are there to let you take control when you want
  • DSG does sometimes let the car roll back a little on steep hills, but it’s not a big problem, and I think I’m used to it now
  • Sport mode on the DSG box takes no prisoners. It’s great if you’ve got a quiet road to yourself, but otherwise it’s not that useful. A “brisk mode” between D and S would have been nice
  • The steering is not quite as “quick” as the Civic. The steering wheel needs to be turned a little more to get the same effect as the Civic. Not a big deal, but I would prefer the steering to be that little bit quicker. On the other hand, the Civic had a “dead spot” around straight ahead, and there’s no such issue with the GTI
  • The DSG box is so smooth that I sometimes lose track of what gear I’m in. I miss being able to tell what gear I’m just from the engine noise, or flicking my hand across to the gearstick, as I could in my Civic
  • The engine sounds a bit rough up to about 1500rpm, and a bit breathless over about 6000rpm. I miss the extra kick of the Civic’s VTEC mode
  • The GTI definitely feels slower at high speeds than the Civic. I think that it’s actually just as fast, but it just doesn’t have the sense of occasion that the Civic had when driving hard. It’s easier to accidently speed in the GTI than it was in the Civic
  • The speedometer and fuel gauge are not as readable as the ones in the Civic were. They look much better, but I can’t just quickly glance at the speedometer to check if I’m keeping to 30mph. With the fuel meter, it doesn’t matter as you have option to put the range up on the Highline display, but there’s no such option for the speed. This is a very minor point, but it would have been a nice feature
  • The auto windscreen wipers work very well, but there’s a bit of an issue with the auto lights. If you leave them on and drive under a bridge, they come on. People in front must be wondering why I’ve just turned on my headlights on a sunny day? They work much better if you turn them on and off manually, but let it automatically decide between the headlights and sidelights when it’s on
  • My car is Shadow Blue, which I absolutely love. However, it shows the dirt terribly. Significantly worse than my black Civic, which I had thought was pretty bad. Steel Grey or Reflex Silver are probably the colours to get if you hate washing your car. Despite this issue, I would still spec Shadow Blue if I was ordering the car again

Right, on to the good points:

  • The engine between 1500 and 6000rpm is wonderful. It may not have the top end kick of cars like the Civic, but there’s just huge amounts of smooth power available all the time. It also seems to be bit better on fuel than the Civic, and with a larger tank and the range meter in the Highline display, it can comfortably go a lot further between visits to the petrol station
  • The DSG gearbox is lovely to live with day to day. Whilst I’d prefer a very good manual box (such as the one in the Civic) on a fast, quiet road, the DSG is so much better the rest of the time. Coming from the Civic’s great gearbox, I still have no regrets about buying the Golf with DSG. I doubt I would buy a manual again, unless I was buying a trackday car
  • Sport mode is very useful in tight spots. It’s great to know that the car will nail those gearchanges for you. This also applies in Drive mode in a busy city centre. It’s one less thing to be concerned about. Probably makes driving 5% easier, but in tight spots, you can really notice the lighter workload. I’d be very surprised if the DSG box doesn’t contribute to the safety of the car in some small way
  • The interior is very nice. The leather seats are comfy, I like the red lights at night, and the blue instrument dials work for me. It also comes with a pretty decent set of standard equipment, and good options. It feels like they spent several times as much on the interior as they did on the Civic. Very similar to my father’s Audi A4 SE in feel, but the GTI has more toys
  • I really like the look of the GTI – “discreet performance” sums it up for me. Anyone who knows cars will recognise it and appreciate the little touches, but it doesn’t stand out in the way that cars like the Astra VXR, Impreza, and Evo do. Nothing wrong with standing out, but the GTI pretty much suits my taste perfectly
  • Unlike many other hot hatchbacks, the GTI is available with 5 doors, which makes it fantastically practical
  • I like the parking sensors. I’m not the best at parking, and the rear visibility of the GTI is not great. I can’t name a particular occasion where they saved my paint work, but I do find them reassuring
  • There are lots of hooks in the boot for shopping bags. Sounds like such a silly thing, but they’re so useful when shopping
  • The xenon lights and autodimming mirrors are wonderful. When driving on a cold, dark night, having climate, heated seats, DSG gearbox, ESP and tyre pressure monitor for safety, and autodimming mirrors and xenon lights, is very appealing
  • The fan-like spray of the windscreen washers is very good. Much better than the normal washer jets of most cars. Gives very even coverage of the screen, and doesn’t seem to use much washer fluid
  • It’s very very easy to drive. No silly turning circle like the Civic. This car is so painless to own. Lots of performance, yet it’s very relaxing to cruise around in

As an an overall package, this car has very few rivals.

  • Mk V Golf R32 – Wasn’t available when I ordered. The engine is supposed to sound great, and 4×4 would be good to have, but I’m not a fan of the extra cost and heavier fuel consumption. But the main issue is that it’s supposed to be slightly heavier to drive, and I really don’t like what they did with the styling. Still, I’m sure it would be a lovely car to own
  • BMW 130i – fantastic engine, but more expensive, and a lot less space than the GTI
  • BMW 330i Auto Touring – Ticks almost all the same boxes of performance and practicality, but it costs almost £10K more when specced up
  • Audi A3 Sportback – Very similar to the GTI. Just depends which interior, suspension setup etc you prefer. Slight worry about depreciation with the 3.2 though
  • Skoda Octavia vRS – no DSG available, and I prefer the styling of the GTI. It’s still a very nice car though, and I’d prefer one to a Mondeo ST220 or equivalent
  • Ford Focus ST – Wasn’t available when I ordered, but this is the really tough one. Don’t like the styling as much as the GTI, and no DSG, but the engine is apparently very good. Also, it can be had with 5 doors and lots of kit, and the price (in the UK) is exceptionally competitive. I suspect that very good though the GTI is, it can’t quite justify the price difference with the Focus
  • Cars like the Astra VXR, Civic Type-R, and Clio 182 are at least as quick, and are significantly cheaper, but I don’t think they have anything like the breadth of talent that the MkV Golf GTI has

In summary, whilst I still have a soft spot for the Civic, there’s no way I’d swap back. Performance, practicality and comfort seem to be similar to a BMW 330i Tourer with Auto and all the toys, but for a lot less money.

At the time of ordering, the BMW 130i, Ford Focus ST, Octavia vRS and Golf R32 weren’t available. All of these would be contenders if I was looking now, but I suspect only the Focus (which is cracking value) could really tempt me away from the GTI.