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hmmm, I have a s3, little newer, but pretty much the same.. if the coolant doesn't seem to be going anywhere (in your oil, out the exhaust in a white fog, on the ground..) it may just be bleeding out air in the system, mine leaked a bunch on the ground a couple of years ago with no rhyme or reason to it (has not done it since) I do tend to add a couple ounces of coolant maybe 1-2 times a year. seems to run between 170-225f depending on the ambient temp and speed (190f tops while making 50+ mph) 225 when traped in 95+ gridlock

As for the mechanical noise, mine has a fair bit of "Character", but nothing I would refer to as ball bearings. What are you running for oil and is it fresh? change it look for crap in the oil, water, metal, perhaps cut your filter apart to look for engine parts damage. Does the sound occur at idle, clutch in / out, under load, all the time, certain gears? as for the low end flat spot, could be a funny map, power commander fitted? mine really needs about 2.5k on the tach before it pulls with authority ;), but after that its all out. You should be able to accelerate cleanly if not real rapidly in third gear from 25ish mph
 
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