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What VW T5 Upgrades Are Best?

What VW T5 Upgrades Are Best?
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What VW T5 Upgrades Are Best?

Modifications on any vehicle will generate mixed opinions; and of course, it is down to the owner what they choose to do to their vehicle. Whilst classic owners may lean towards originality over performance, those driving more modern getaway vehicles are presented with plenty of choices should we wish to make some changes. 

But, what will make a noticeable difference, and in a world where costs have to be considered, what is worth spending your own money on? We asked Rob Hawkins to investigate what VW T5 upgrades are best. Read on it might just make your bus better than you ever imagined!

Do you need to upgrade the VW T5?

Equipped with 'bells and whistles' from the factory, especially in comparison to a classic car, a good VW T5 doesn't need anything upgraded, on paper at least. 

But there will be tired components that could do with replacement, and it is these opportunities that we feel best present the chance to upgrade, and make a noteworthy difference at the same time. 

If you can stop your suspension bushes knocking, reduce body roll on roundabouts, or increase your fuel economy, those are real-life reasons to get some upgrades underway.

We’ve examined the popular T5 upgrade options to help you decide what’s worth pursuing and what isn’t.

We'll come back and cover T5 camping upgrades another day, as that is another subject in itself. 

VW T5 line up at a Volkswagen showVW T5 line up at a Volkswagen show

How to give your VW T5 more power: Air filters

One of the most popular reasons for upgrading a VW T5 is wanting additional performance from the engine or even a little more economy from the fuel consumption.

A quick and easy starting point is to fit an air filter upgrade, but don’t expect a startling difference in engine performance. While offering better engine breathing, and complementing other modifications, a replacement panel-type filter will only raise the power output by a couple of bhp, if that. 

However, given the way they are made, it will mean you won’t need to buy a replacement air filter for the next service, or ever in fact. Instead, most performance air filters need to be washed out with the manufacturer's cleaning solution and re-oiled before being fitted back onto the vehicle.

If you want a noticeable power increase then an induction kit is the best bet. These require the old air filter housing to be removed and replaced with either an open cone or a closed-off induction kit. Open cone kits are often less expensive but may draw warm air from the engine bay unless a cold air feed is fitted - typically a hose from behind the front grille to direct air to the filter. Cold or cool air is essential to optimise combustion (the warmer the air, the less dense it is, which means it contains less oxygen for combustion.)

A closed-air induction kit is often the most expensive type of aftermarket performance air filter, but it can also offer the most gains.

Many manufacturers will provide power curve charts as evidence of potential gains or you'll be able to find before/after articles or videos online to back up their claims if you want to chase improvements in power figures.

Mechanic fitting a new air filter to a VW T5Mechanic fitting a new air filter to a VW T5

T5 performance upgrades: Exhaust systems

A performance T5 exhaust system can offer several benefits over the factory-fitted mild steel version.  A stainless steel system, for example, may carry a lifetime warranty and won’t corrode like its steel counterpart – our Milltek Sport exhausts are made of the highest quality type 304 aircraft-grade stainless steel.

Generally, these performance exhaust systems promise to be more free-flowing helping to improve the performance of the engine, especially if a performance air filter has been fitted as well.

Yellow modified VW T5 with performance  exhaust and Ferrari wheelsYellow modified VW T5 with performance  exhaust and Ferrari wheels

Improving turbocharged VW T5 engines: Intercooler upgrade

Where a T5 has a turbocharged engine, changing the standard intercooler for a larger one can help to improve the performance too. Providing the new intercooler can deliver better cooling to the air that passes through it, then will help to ensure the air that’s fed into the engine contains a greater proportion of oxygen, which is vital for combustion.

The limitations of space are often the biggest problem when upgrading the T5 intercooler. It is tight under the bonnet, which is why many owners choose to mount a larger intercooler behind the front bumper and grille, often known as a front-mounted intercooler (FMIC) like this example we stock from Forge Motorsport.  Find T5 intercooler parts here

Forge front mounted intercooler fitted to VW T5Forge front mounted intercooler fitted to VW T5

How to make your VW T5 faster: ECU Remap

An ECU (Electronic Control Unit) remap is a very popular upgrade, but we advise you to proceed with caution. The ECU is the vehicle's computerised brain, and a remap is where the data concerning fuelling and ignition timing is altered to help improve performance and, in some cases, improve fuel consumption.

However, there are good remaps and bad ones, and it can all go wrong if a remap results in an engine running too lean or too rich. Ask to see a before and after power curve chart, and check if they will tailor the new power delivery to your style of driving, or whether they simply turn everything up to 11.

Speak to other T5 owners who have had the remap that you are considering to see what they think of it and whether they have had any problems. 

If your engine is already noisy or smokey, any reputable tuner will turn you away and ask you to fix those issues first. Releasing more power from the engine will only increase the stress on the components, and if they are struggling already it's a surefire way to make it go bang!

ECU remaps can be undone, and removed if required... But costing a good few hundred pounds, it's worth doing the due diligence before you hand over your car keys and cash. 

Check out www.onlyrevo.com as a good place to start your research. 

Revo sponsored VW T5 at the NurburgringRevo sponsored VW T5 at the Nurburgring

Stopping power: VW T5 brake upgrades

Depending how carried away you get with the remap and turbo tuning will determine how necessary a braking upgrade is for your VW T5. Of course, you may just be doing it for looks too... Big brakes behind big wheels are always gonna be in fashion. 

Starting with the simple stuff, providing you are confident your brakes are in good working order, you might consider fitting performance brake pads to kick things off. The extra friction will assist in slowing things down, but this can come at a cost... Brake dust!! 

Changing the discs to a set with grooves, dimples or drilled holes will help to remove some of the extra dust and assist with cooling. If you're doing a lot of touring or carrying weight, the last thing you want is brake fade when it comes to descending big hills!

Replacing the standard rubber flexi-hoses used throughout the hydraulic braking system with stainless steel braided hoses will help to maintain braking pressure. The standard rubber hoses can balloon under braking, whereas braided hoses are more robust. 

Lastly, fresh brake fluid would be a great move. Brake fluid absorbs moisture and loses efficiency over time. Read our guide on brake fluid here to find out more

mechanic changing VW T5 brake discs mechanic changing VW T5 brake discs

T5 Suspension upgrades: What do you want?

T5 suspension can be a minefield when it comes to deciding the best upgrades. It helps to start with a clear idea of what you want from them. For example, you may want an improved ground clearance, maybe less body roll under cornering or reduced noise when travelling over rough surfaces. The solutions may require one or more upgrades, so read on to examine the areas you may choose to address.

Two purple VW T5 campevans with different suspension heights and modificationsTwo purple VW T5 campevans with different suspension heights and modifications

T5 suspension bush upgrades

Standard rubber bushes are used in components such as suspension arms and anti-roll bar mounts, but some of them can be uprated for polyurethane and there are specific bushes that are a straight swap on the T5, such as those from Powerflex. In some cases, the old bush will need a hydraulic press to remove it, whereas most polyurethane bushes can be fitted by hand or using a vice.

There are a few advantages to fitting polyurethane bushes. They generally last longer than rubber bushes and, in some cases, they can provide a firmer ride quality with more positive steering and handling. However, you may think the ride quality is too firm and harsh, so it’s worthwhile learning a little more about the 'shore hardness' of a polyurethane bush, which is a measurement of how stiff it is. It may be possible to order a softer or harder bush to fine-tune the vehicle’s ride quality and handling.

Find our range of VW T5 Powerflex bushes here.

Mechanic taps centre tube into Powerflex suspension bushMechanic taps centre tube into Powerflex suspension bush

T5 suspension spring upgrades

Standard coil springs on the T5 are designed to cater for the vehicle as a van or people carrier, but many enthusiast owners find the ride height is too high when it comes to using it as a leisure vehicle, with the gap between the tops of the tyres and the wheel arches considered quite unsightly on the show field. This can be fixed with a set of lowering springs, such as these ST springs by KW, or these lowering spring kits from Eibach, all of which lower the vehicle by 30mm. It's worth noting the T26-30 version requires one part number and the T32, being more heavy-duty, needs another. 

The condition of the suspension dampers may affect the performance of the lowering springs. If a damper is worn, for instance, then it won’t control the bounce of a spring. Consequently, it may be worthwhile replacing any dampers you are unsure about, or fit a complete kit of new dampers and springs (more commonly known as a coilover kit), such as this one that’s manufactured by SSP.

T5 rear suspension with powerflex bushes and performance shocks and springs fittedT5 rear suspension with powerflex bushes and performance shocks and springs fitted

T5 wheel and tyre upgrades

One of the most popular upgrades on a T5 has got to be fitting an aftermarket set of wheels and tyres, often with a larger diameter. However, make sure the offset of the wheel is suitable, which is the distance from the inner mating face and the inner rim, denoted by the letters ET and a number. On the T5, this ranges from ET50 to ET55, depending on the model and engine, but check your vehicle. Fitting wheels with the wrong offset can result in handling and steering issues, along with the wheels fouling the arch liners.

The weight of a wheel is important and can affect the handling and ride quality of the vehicle because it concerns its unsprung weight. If it’s light, then it may result in the handling feeling more agile, but if it’s heavy then it could contribute to the vehicle crashing over rough surfaces in the road. So it’s important to find out the weight of a wheel when choosing an aftermarket set, and to also check whether the wheel is suitable for the van’s gross weight. 

Some wheels may need to be fitted with spacers or longer wheel bolts or studs if there are clearance or offset issues to address. A variety of T5 wheel spacers and kits can be found here.

The choice of tyres is just as important as which wheels you decide to fit, and in some cases, a good-quality set of matching tyres can transform the ride quality and handling of a vehicle without having to do anything else. Just make sure the tyres are suitable for the weight of your van.

White VW T5 Swamper side profile with off road wheels and tyres fittedWhite VW T5 Swamper side profile with off road wheels and tyres fitted

Stop the noises and keep the heat in! 

Seemingly harsh or noisy ride quality may not be caused by the suspension but by noise being transmitted and amplified through the bodywork. It helps to eliminate this problem by first making sure everything is securely fitted, ranging from interior trim to wheel arch liners and any undertray. Also, make sure there are no suspension knocks. The most common is an annoying rattle from a worn anti-roll bar mounting bush or droplink.

If you are confident everything is securely fitted and there are no worn suspension components, then it’s worth considering fitting sound-deadening material to dampen any panel vibrations and block noise from the engine and road. There are plenty of products available that can be stuck onto the inside of panels and fitted underneath carpets.

Fitting a T5 cab carpet set will assist with noise reduction too. 

Technician fitting sound deadening to inside of VW T5 CampervanTechnician fitting sound deadening to inside of VW T5 Campervan

T5 interior upgrades

One aspect of a T5 that has the most scope for upgrading and personalising concerns the interior, and books have been written on the subject! Everything from an aftermarket seat cover and swivel base to a rock and roll bed and pop top are available. It’s far too easy to spend more money than the value of the van on interior alterations, so don’t rush into anything before working out exactly what you want from the interior. Start with its purpose, perhaps as a day van or for camping trips, then work out how this can be accommodated.

You might find our friends at Combe Valley Campers You Tube channel useful to help you with this. 

VW T5 Caravelle rear interior with captain seats and pull down bedVW T5 Caravelle rear interior with captain seats and pull down bed

T5 exterior upgrades 

Whilst not essential or even going to improve the drive, altering the exterior of a T5 can help to shave a few years off its looks by fitting aftermarket items or parts from later models, such as LED headlights, later T5.1 facelift bumpers (with or without parking sensors) and door mirrors. We published a great article all about the T5 facelift, which itemises what is required here

There are also some practical upgrades for the exterior, such as a bonnet cover to protect the paintwork from stone chips, and subtle-looking wind deflectors to reduce airflow when a door window is wound down.

Orange VW T5 with T5.1 faceliftOrange VW T5 with T5.1 facelift

Why are you doing it?

Whatever aspect of your T5 you are looking at upgrading, it’s very easy to become carried away. Rather than rushing out and buying everything on offer, start by looking at why you want to improve a particular aspect of it, then compile a list of the options available. Speak to specialists and owners to seek their opinions and then make a choice that best fits how you plan to use your vehicle in the future. 

Above all enjoy the journey, T5 ownership should be fun.  

Rob

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