Sitting Pretty - Fitting Bilstein Suspension to Milltek Sport's S3
Does any road car driver ever really adjust their ‘adjustable’ coilovers? Nope, didn’t think so! Luckily, the German suspension gurus at BILSTEIN have just made things a whole lot easier for S3 owners out there; the firm’s recently released iRC kit means your perfect damper set-up is just a button push away. We went along to watch the latest Milltek Sport demonstrator getting suitably equipped.
The old saying, ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ rings pretty true in most cases. Certainly in the tuning world, where quality brands look to each other to equip their respective demo vehicles. After all, if you’re at the top of your game with your own product, it’s unlikely that you would ever want to furnish your company clothes horse with anything less than the very best in tuning parts from other technical partners.
An object lesson in this phenomenon is the car you see here. Purchased by extraction maestros Milltek, with which to develop and perfect their own system, it made sense to hand it over to a few of their other partners to tweak the rest of the car to the same level. Seeing as German suspension gods BILSTEIN also work to the same impeccable standards, it is little surprise to see the two brands often working together on R&D projects.
The S3 had enjoyed a blessed start in life in Milltek’s Derbshire Technical Centre. It’s fair to say that Milltek now offers a solution for almost every quick and sporty VW Group car of note, so the engineers in the lab didn’t have to stretch their abilities too much in order to create a solution for the S3, which shares much chassis and engineering architecture with other cars from the Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt stables. This one was gifted with the firm’s full 200-cell sports cat downpipe for starters, ably backed up by the complete 3” system throughout. Milltek’s options list for this car are vast, offering either resonated or non-resonated centre sections to allow the noise levels and tone to be dialled up or down, and for those looking to go a little wild on the tuning front, a fully de-catted version for tuners that don’t lose sleep about saving the planet. Better still, if these power gains aren’t enough to flick your switch, the system can also be ordered with the option of a Steinbauer Tuning Box which will add a sizeable power and torque increase across the rev range.
Understandably, Milltek’s demo car had been fitted with the best of everything, making it a bit of a weapon in all conditions. Keen to make the most of this new-found performance, the company turned to its good friends at BILSTEIN to similarly uprate the chassis to match. The two companies often collaborate on each other’s demo cars – with particularly awesome results.
The kit prescribed for this particular patient had to be as trick, or even more impressive as the exhaust system that inspired the whole build. Naturally, the Teutonic chassis fettlists had something special up their sleeves for such an application and offered a set of BILSTEIN’s devilishly clever iRC dampers up for the cause.
As the Apple fetishists out there have probably already guessed, the ‘i’ in that nomenclature hints at some electronic wizardry within – and you’d be right! Although adjustable rate coilovers are not exactly a new concept, what BILSTEIN has brought to the party with this kit is the ability to download an app onto your smartphone – which then allows you to control every element of your damper’s function from the comfort of anywhere you care to sit within your device’s Bluetooth range. This scores on several levels; it’s a nice piece of tech to show off to your mates, of course, but more importantly than that, it means you can and will actually be bothered to fettle your suspension to find the perfect setting. For most of us with adjustable struts, their inaccessibility and propensity to be covered in road grime usually means that we set them up at a best guess, then leave them well alone. The upshot of this is that we’re all usually driving around in a compromised setting. Too soft for real track work and far too hard for commuting comfort. With BILSTEIN iRC, a cosseting commute or blistering lap is only a couple of screen swipes away.
Fitting this set-up would be Milltek’s serial partner in crime, KPM Racing. The Buckinghamshire based firm has been the motive talent behind many of Milltek’s most successful track and fast road projects, and in the past has managed the team’s endurance race cars to many a podium and outright win. With this kind of engineering CV behind them, it was considered safe by all parties to let their talented techs loose on the S3. Bearing in mind these guys are used to having to swap engines and gearboxes in the space of a few hours, giving them the relative luxury of an afternoon to swap the S3’s almost-new suspension over was perhaps overkill.
Swapping the old units for the new BILSTEIN parts really was child’s play for the KPM techs. Being an OEM manufacturer for practically every blue-chip automotive brand of note, BILSTEIN parts always fit exactly as per factory, making them a simple replacement for the factory units. Once the dampers were bolted up, there was a little head-scratching to do in terms of routing the pre-fitted ‘plug and play’ cabling back to the control module through the interior panels, but once carefully removed and re-fitted, the KPM team were soon setting about the business of tidying and tying the cables away to make a neat fitting job. The BILSTEIN kit came with everything needed for the installation, including all wiring looms, the appropriate control boxes – and even a manual override button to allow you to choose between damper settings on those days when you’ve forgotten your phone.. or your charger, of course!
With everything fitted up, it was then a straightforward case of getting the S3 aligned on KPM’s full race set-up, ready to pound the local lanes for a shake down. KPM boss Kev set the S3 to his fabled ‘fast road’ settings before throwing us the keys in order to evaluate the efficacy of the combined mods.
The BILSTEIN iRC package really is amazing once fitted up. After downloading the app, making changes to the feel and behaviour of the car was no more difficult than the average set-up screen in any X-Box driving game you care to mention. Simply tapping and sliding the control screen transformed the car from limo smoothness to noticeably sporty. Toggling the button did exactly the same of course, making it much easier to use ‘on the fly’. As the perfect complement to this dynamic fun and games, the Milltek system provided the perfect soundtrack. A crisp bark on full throttle, countered by an agreeable mellow tone when bumbling around urban areas on a partial throttle. It’s a mistake that’s often made by many owners when ordering an exhaust system, of course. Although the idea of an ear-splitting rasp may appeal for the first ten minutes, in the real world, where cars get driven every day, and the daily commute involves every kind of road, the aural balance of the Milltek system makes perfect sense, just enough aggro to be entertaining, but more than enough refinement to make it all palatable.
There’s no doubt that the S3 is a fantastic car in showroom trim, but having spent a day playing with these two effective upgrades, I think it’s fair to say, when big tuning brands play nicely together, the whole result is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Two very worthwhile upgrades to consider for yours…