Review: Unibrace UB and RB

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There comes a time when modding your daily that you have to tell yourself to stop. We all know that impossible, but I felt I was pretty much done with my vehicle. However, across the forums, I heard such great things about Unibrace as a company and their products that it was a battle to quench the temptation, but in the end, it won due to a group buy.
The offer was too good to pass up, so I took the plunge.

Research
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As mentioned before, I’ve heard of these braces for about a year now and never gave them a second thought. I always thought, “Chassis bracing? Nah, my car is already pretty solid now, don’t need any thing else hindering my ride quality.” After discussing the matter with a few individuals (Including Paul from VAGer, I started my quest. In my true Zach form, I began the engineering analysis and theory to push my objectiveness to justify the purchase.

I went as deep as I could. I studied cross car moments, as well as chassis twisting. I manage to tag along some 4-Post studies here at work to observe the chassis twisting in every day vehicles. My conclusion was pretty solid…..Cross Car deflection in corners due to Whitebody bending or twisting is a huge impact in design of sports cars. Not so much commuter vehicles, but there are trade offs that always are considered to lessen a vehicle’s price. The GTI, succumbed to this mantra and was blessed with two very flimsy stamped braces to tie the exhaust well in.

I drew my reach to Audi bracing to see if they did anything different and sure enough, there are actually extra ties from these braces to the subframe. This would solidify the joint even further and prevent the subframe shifting and cross car deflection even more so. [SEE SUBFRAME MY SHIFTING SOLUTION].

You can see the extra ties arent much, but just knowing that there is a difference just from model to model that use the same PQ35 platform is interesting. Thus justifying my want for the purchase even more.

I sort of withdrew myself from the purchase when I found the pricing. it was hard to justify a $340 purchase for chassis bracing when I never wanted it in the first place. However, I was enthralled at the fact that Bruce (Owner of Unibrace) puts on almost Seasonal Group Buys that drop that $340 to a manageable $274 (WITH SHIPPING!!!) I was sold. Again, this was at a sale price during the seasonal group buy.

The RB was a different story. I heard many reviews of Bruce’s XB and UB upgrades, but this was a group buy first by offering the RB for the first time. I was “in the loop” during prototyping by a few individuals who had the chance to modify their prototypes that were sent to them, pre-production. I never thought that the rear control arms actually moved much, but the theory was pretty sound. I was already sold on the UB, so I took the plunge and tagged the RB with it.

Why only the UB and RB? Well, My overall goal (at the time) was to stiffen the entire underbody. I managed the front subframe stiffening with the Tyrol Collar Kit (SEE REVIEW) and it was my only logical step to do the midbrace (UB) and the Rear Brace (RB) due to funds and installation timing. From there, I clicked Paypal and sent my hard-earned Bonus to Bruce, and he began his shipping process to the 35-40 people who entered the GB.

Purchase
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Straight Forward PayPal process. I sent the $473 total to him and within a few days I had a tracking number and installation instructions.

I received my Braces on 11/30/12 at around 5:00pm. The first thing I noticed was the box was ENTIRELY too small. On the side was Written “UNIBRACE UB”. I was scared that I only received the UB so I was JUST about to email Bruce when I opened the package up and noticed both braces were in there. WTF!? I never realized these bad boys were so small. And LIGHT. The entire package weighed a total of 6.3 pounds and that was WITH the packing material and box. Talk about negligible weight right?

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Wrapping was standard. Lots of tape and lots of foam. Very well packaged. The box had 3 items in it. UB, RB and Hardware for the RB. No hardware is needed for the UB because it uses existing mounting locations and stud nuts.

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The quality of these parts are AMAZING. I haven’t seen a product so well made in a while. I think most of it is the presentation of it all. The powdercoat has a nice matte rough finish. The laser cutting is purely awesome. No sharp edges. And the bends and relief angles in the part are nicely formed without any cracking and any stress concentration. Whoever Bruce uses for production does a fantastic job and definitely deserves a round of applause. This was probably the first time I took a product and “FELT” it up. It was so light and just so well done that I probably inspected it for a good 10 minutes before I realized how weird I probably looked to my wife just sitting there gawking at these pieces. I focus a LOT on quality at work and this was definitely a prize in my book.

Install
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Install of the UB was very straight forward. In fact, it was laughable at how easy it was to throw this baby on. It took longer to Jack the vehicle up than it took to install. So easy….here’s a DIY right here in the Review Thread:
– Jack Vehicle Up
– Loosen 8 Cross Brace Nuts
– Place UB on studs
– Tighten all 8 Nuts onto studs (Soft tighten each side to make sure proper alignment)
– Do a final torque on them. I managed a hard hand tight + 90*. Probably a little much, but it works. The spec calls for a 25ftlb torque, but the final tightening wont be around that. Normally, you can get it pretty snug and call it a day. You DO NOT WANT TO OVERTIGHTEN! That will cause the stud to actually snap.
– Done

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Install of the RB was slightly problematic, but I will get to that. It’s a little more involved but relatively easy. You start by dropping the passenger side exhaust hanger, a simple 2x 13mm bolts. Once dropped, I found I could slide it in without needing to drop the driver’s side hanger. In hindsight, I should’ve because it would have given a better angle to install without having to rubber mallet the two “arms” over the lip of frame. Still, I managed well without having any bad feelings about it. Next you angle the RB upwards and bolts 4 bolts int he existing holes in the frame. Simple enough. Once I got the exhaust hanger back on and nice and tight, I decided to inspect my work like I ALWAYS DO (A good habit to have)!!! This is where the problems began.

My problems existed with fitment as opposed to install. I looked around and noticed everything was well placed. However, I looked at my Stock CBE and noticed a very small clearance between the bottom plane of the RB and the top tangential point of the CBE. Obviously, the Stock CBE is not manufactured to be concentric with the frame where the two control arms meet. I moved the CBE around and noticed a nice thunk upon light agitation. I Figured this was a No GO and I uninstalled the brace and shot an email to Bruce, thus began my Customer service side of it all!

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Performance
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I’m very sensitive to even the slightest suspension inputs and changes. With my mind totally open from the Tyrol kit, I had to focus hard on the UB. I took a few initial test drives with the UB alone to gather a piece by piece review. I immediately noticed the UB did what it was touted to do. I felt a good SOLID feeling across the bottom plane of the car. I could tell most of the chassis twisting was gone and the car felt more sure of itself through the turns. Lane changes are direct and quick impulse turns are exotic now. The chassis reacts so nicely to smaller inputs now without having an imbalance or a numb feeling upon initial compression.

This initial compression numbness is highly attributed to the “bending dynamic” of the chassis with higher steering inputs. Imagine the car flexing, without placing any forces through the suspension. Now, you actually have a dual dynamic between chassis and suspension. These often counter each other and prevent proper damping in turns. This is an extreme case, but the theory remains.

I’m very happy with how the UB performs and it was definitely enough to tell I installed it. I would even say it was on the magnitude of every day normal enthusiast perception. Meaning, Joe Schmo would notice a change.

Customer Service
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If there was ever a modification I would buy SOLELY off supporting a fellow member and enthusiast of the community, Bruce would be number one. This man is so knowledgeable at what he does and cares so deeply about making people happy. I was back and forth with him on concerns about the fitment issue and he was at full disclosure about everything in his design. I actually felt like he cared so much to get the matter fixed that he practically gave me his entire methodology of design and the possible reasons why the brace was fitting the way it was.

I bounced a few ideas off of him and he gathered some intel from other members that he used for the prototyping phase. We came up with a few countermeasures:

  • Longer Exhaust Hanger from Summit Racing
  • Silicone Coupler Wrapping to prevent hard knocking
  • Bending the exhaust hangers
  • Shimming the passenger side exhaust hanger
  • Shifting the design tolerances to gain a few mm of access

With these ideas on the table, I set out to install the RB again.

Install Round 2
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Again, I did not drop the other exhaust hanger and AGAIN, I should’ve. I had a bad angle and had to force it over the lip on the frame again using a rubber mallet. My own fault to be quite honest.

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This time, everything went smoothly in and upon my final tightening I started to do my countermeasures:

  • The longer exhaust hanger would not work. It put the CBE in a bind and you COULD NOT actually install it due to the constraints. You would inevitably have to change EVERY single hanger to satisfy the need. This would possibly cause UB fitment issues if you had a downpipe resonator. Judged: NO GO
  • Bending the exhaust hangers is DEFINITELY not an easy task. SOme heat was needed and I did not have any means of doing so. Judged: NO GO
  • Upon tightening, I pushed upwards on the RB pushing all of the manufacture Tolerancing upwards which gave me a good 1-1.5mm of clearance. Judged: OK
  • I shimmed the exhaust hanger about 3.5mm which in turn gave me about 1-2mm at the RB problem area. Judged: OK

Overall I had about 5-6mm clearance between the two now and felt a lot more comfortable with it. The silicone coupler was purchased but hasn’t been installed, even to this day (12/14/12). I took a couple of test drives on the worst roads around here and never had any rubbing issues. The plan is to install it anyways for peace of mind. But the fact remains it hasn’t hit the RB to this day. HOWEVER, I have not checked to see if it actually has hit, but it has not made any noise.

Bruce is currently thinking about shifting some bend lines to gain just a few mm here and there, but overall he’s got a great product going for him. I wouldn’t worry if you’re on the fence with this mod. It has been confirmed that A LOT of different aftermarket CBEs have NO clearance issues what-so-ever.

Performance Part Deux
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Again, I’m VERY sensitive to changes in my suspension dynamics. At first, I threw the car through the same corners I did with the UB and could only tell a MINOR difference. However, the more I pushed the car the more and more I appreciated the change. It was VERY noticeable at the limits and created more of a rear end balance, but not enough to rotate the rear. I have a feeling I’m getting on the edge of rear stiffness dynamics, and MIGHT have to change the Rear sway to soft upon install of the XB. Still, the RB added sort of a comfortable stiffness that compliments the UB so well, that most might not even see it. I’ve talked with some that had the RB on and a few have said they never noticed it, but others have mentioned that ever-so-slight change that was VERY appreciable for the cost of the brace.

Conclusion
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I’m sold on Unibrace, and ever more so, I’m sold on Bruce. This guy is awesome. He knows his stuff well and he knows how to pitch it to you. The website is nicely done, the product is better IN PERSON than in the perfect photographed pictures he has on his site. He offers such a great experience that I would buy 100 times from him.

My current plans are to purchase the XB to complete the package. After talking with a bunch of people with all 3 braces, they have mentioned that the change is unlike anything you’ve seen. I’m excited and can’t WAIT to deal with Bruce again.

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