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Buying a Used Volkswagen GTI: Everything You Need to Know

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Colin Ryan April 2015

The Volkswagen GTI is nothing short of an icon. This is the enthusiast's version of the Golf compact hatchback, one of the best-selling cars in the world. Those special initials (signifying Grand Tourer with fuel Injection) started the whole trend of hot hatchbacks way back in the late 1970s, which certainly took Europe by storm and proved to be an eye-opener for American drivers better acquainted with soft, slow, less-than-agile domestic offerings.

Here was something that provided thrills, practicality and comfort while still being affordable to buy and affordable to run. There are cars that are quicker and more nimble, and some that offer more space and more luxury, but there's nothing else that brings those attributes into one accessible package. The GTI incorporates front-wheel drive, seating for five (well, 4.5) and plenty of useful cargo space, especially with the rear seats folded down.

For our purposes here, we'll concentrate on the three generations before the current (seventh) model, since these will still provide reliable motoring. And there's a good chance that most of those for sale will have useful maintenance records, so potential buyers can feel brave enough to take the plunge.

Mark 4 (1999-2006)

The Mark 4 is perhaps the least desirable in this group. Not that it's a bad car as such: The regular Golf brought a new level of luxury to the world of compact hatchbacks. But luxury and performance don't always go hand in hand.

Rather confusingly, there were initially two trim sublevels: GLS and GLX. The GLS version started out with 115 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine. One thing that does go with luxury is extra weight, so the senses aren't really stirred by this meager amount of muscle. It was replaced in the 2000 model year by a turbocharged 1.8-liter producing 150 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque.

The GLX has a 2.8-liter V6 making 174 hp and 173 lb-ft. Before VW got seriously into turbocharged 4-cylinder engines (one of the first major companies to do so), its V6 engines were -- and still are -- highly regarded. Transmissions in either case are a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic that VW calls Tiptronic.

When the 2002 model came along, those GLS and GLX variants were dropped, and the car became a straightforward GTI. The 1.8T engine was boosted to 180 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque; the V6 went from using 12 valves to 24, making 200 hp and 200 lb-ft.

Although the regular Mark 4 Golf came with two or four doors, this GTI is 2-door only. Some models were built in Brazil, incidentally.

Mark 5 (2006.5-2009)

When the Mark 5 arrived, the GTI's reputation for being a driver's car was fully restored. Under this model's hood is a 2.0-liter engine turbocharged to produce 197 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.

And a new transmission became available as an alternative to the 6-speed manual: the 6-speed DSG (direct-shift gearbox). This is an automated manual that can be set to D and forgotten about until reversing or parking is required. But drivers can also select gears themselves using the centrally mounted lever or using paddles mounted to the steering column in true race-car-driver style. It allows more involvement and really offers the best of both transmission worlds.

The system uses two clutches, an outer and an inner, with even-numbered gears linked to one and odd-numbered gears linked to the other. The upshot is that shifts are supersmooth and superfast, yet the driver only has two pedals to concentrate on: throttle and brake.

This system hasn't been without its teething troubles. Mostly it's the mechatronic control unit that needs replacing. Some have been fixed under warranty. Otherwise, it's around $1,000 for the part.

These GTI models were all built in Germany and came in 2-door form, with 4-door versions starting with the 2007 model year. At the same time, the special DSG-only Fahrenheit version brought Magma Orange paint and an even sportier suspension tune.

Mark 6 (2010-2014)

Based on the same platform as the previous generation, this generation is more of a modernization than a completely new model (which the Mark 7 is). This is when Bluetooth became available, along with better iPod integration, bi-xenon headlights and touchscreens.

Getting into the nuts and bolts, it's a different 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, but output is similar to the Mark 5: 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.

Much like the Mark 5, this seems like the only car most people will ever need: quick enough (certainly for public roads), big enough for many people, as well as being comfortable and well equipped. For the 2014 model year, 2-door versions were discontinued.

Autotrader Says

It's always a smart move to buy as new as finances allow. The Mark 4 is still worth considering, though, if your budget can only stretch that far. The quality of cabin materials is noticeably better than American or Japanese cars of that era, but the thrills will keep building as the generations become younger. A search on Autotrader for 2008 Volkswagen GTI models brings up 169 cars ranging from $7,588 to $15,587.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Used Volkswagen GTI: Everything You Need to Know - Autotrader