Automakers have got a nearly impossible job to do when it comes to settling on a car's suspension. Aside from obvious considerations like safety, longevity, and serviceability, it's got to forgive enough of the road's shortcomings and imperfections to satisfy your mother but perform well enough to meet your wannabe race car driver sensibilities. For most people, whatever compromise is struck up is typically good enough. But you're not most people.
Suspension parts maker Bilstein knows this, which is why the company offers all sorts of coil springs, dampers, and coilover shocks that'll outperform whatever the guy who engineered whatever it is that you drive thinks you need, and which is exactly what it's done for Volkswagen's current Golf SportWagen.
Despite its name, the SportWagen isn't necessarily sporty. Its suspension is well-behaved but with an emphasis on comfort. Fortunately, making it better isn't hard, and starts with Bilstein's B14 coilover system. Bilstein's B14 dampers feature a mono-tube design for more consistent damping, threaded bodies for easy ride-height adjustments, and the ability to let the SportWagen handle better than what Volkswagen ever thought it ought to. Best of all, installing any of Bilstein's coilovers is as straightforward as the SportWagen is deserving of them.
Lay down the money for Bilstein's B14 coilovers and this is what you'll get. It's everything you'll need, that is, if you care about things like better handling and an adjustable ride height. If you're in the market for adjustable damping, though, you'll need to step up to Bilstein's B16 Series.
Bilstein's B14 coilovers are ride-height adjustable by as much as 45mm lower than stock by way of threaded shock bodies and aluminum collars. Look underneath the SportWagen's backside and you'll find a twist-beam rear suspension, which means its rear shocks (right) are mounted independent of their springs.
You're swapping out shocks, which means you already know that wagon's got to be airborne and with its wheels removed. Out back, remove the inner fender liner and mudflap from each side. Calm down; you'll be putting all of this back into place soon enough and unscathed.
This is the SportWagen's factory ride-height sensor. You not disconnecting it from the rear twist beam because you don't have the right Torx bit will result in all sorts of expensive problems.
Volkswagen's made it easy on you and also has made sure your grimy mitts won't get anyplace near that rear interior by positioning its rear shock mounting hardware underneath. You'll need a 16mm socket to undo all of this.
Support the rear twist beam with a jack stand and disconnect the shock's lower mounting bolt. Besides a jack stand, you'll need an 18mm socket to get this done. Now's also a good time to mention that you ought to be saving all of this hardware.
Do the same thing to both sides, lower that twist beam, push it forward and out of the way, and get those shocks out of there.
Those shocks that you just hucked into the dumpster, go grab them and remove those cast-aluminum mounts that you'll be reusing. Cut the zip-ties, slip the dust boots out of the way, and remove the locknuts to make all of this happen. When you're done, slip them onto the new shocks.
You'll also be reusing the original rear springs' upper and lower mounting bushings. See that there tab on the lower-right side of that bushing? That'll mean something to you when you go to position it back into place.
Bilstein's stiffer spring rates mean the rear coils can be shorter, allowing for a lower ride height but without sacrificing travel. The aluminum collars can be threaded up or down, decompressing or compressing the springs for easy ride-height adjustments.
Attach the rear shocks up top without fully tightening their hardware and position the rear coils in place before connecting the shocks' lower mounting points.
Raise the twist beam from the center and position both shock's lower mounts before tightening anything. If you don't have access to a lift, use a floor jack to raise the twist beam into place.
Raise the twist beam, reinstall the original lower shock mounting bolts and tighten it all down. Be sure that the upper shock mounts are properly seated; they're made of cast aluminum, which means the chances of you cracking them aren't in your favor should seat them in a funny sort of way.
You've made it to the front, which means you're about halfway finished. There are all sorts of things that've got to come apart up here but the inner fender liners aren't among them.
Disconnect the brake line bracket from the knuckle to avoid stretching it, pinching it, or doing anything else to it that'll make you have to buy a new one.
Use an 18mm socket to unbolt and get this end-link out of the way.
You'll need a 14mm socket and an 18mm Torx bit to remove the pinch bolt that holds the strut and knuckle together. Allow some spray lubricant to penetrate the area before trying to muscle it all apart. Further encouragement can be found in the form of a pry bar, gently spreading the knuckle's opening enough to release the strut but not enough to split it in two.
You think you're ready to unbolt the strut from its upper mount and you're wrong. Disconnect the lower ball joint by removing the three nuts from the lower control arm's underside. You'll need a 16mm socket to do this.
That disconnected ball joint means you can lift that knuckle assembly up and out of the way. This is also a good way to muck up an otherwise perfectly good CV joint so be sure to not swing that assembly out any farther than you've got to.
The only things stopping you now from yanking those granny struts out of there is a plastic cowl, a handful of clips, and a few bolts on each side.
Your days of going full-on commando and disassembling a loaded-up strut in between your feet as pieces go skimming past your face and flying across the street are over. Your spring compressor doesn't have to be as fancy as this one to keep you from mangling your face up either.
You can toss the bump-stop and the dust boot that VW wanted you to have but Bilstein's designed its front coilovers to work with that upper mount, so save it.
Position the factory upper mount over the Bilstein shock and on top of its spring. There are multiple ways it can be positioned but only one way will be right.
Bilstein says not to use air tools when fastening the upper mount onto the shock, which means you'll need a get-up like this to keep the shaft from spinning when tightening the locknut.
Now's a good time to have another look at whatever documentation Bilstein's provided, take some measurements, and adjust those shocks to whatever ride height you think you want. You can change it later, but it'll never be easier than it is right now.
Slip the coilover's strut into the knuckle, being mindful of its alignment tab on its backside. You'll know you've dropped it down far enough when you're able to slip that Torx bolt back into place.
You'll need to reconnect whatever you've removed, starting with the lower ball joints, the upper mounting hardware, the end links, and the brake line brackets.
A lower and more refined ride height matched with wonky factory wheels and tires means you're not done yet. Plus-sized TSW wheels paired with 225/35-19 Falken Azenis rubber says you're almost done, though.
Visit the alignment shop post haste and you've done everything just about exactly how Bilstein expects you too. Geometry says that lowering the SportWagen's ride height will also affect its camber and caster, and you arguing with geometry will never make sense.