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Buying a Used Volkswagen GTI: Everything You Need to Know

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 was 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 the 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.

Mark 7 (2015-2021)

A fully redesigned Volkswagen GTI was introduced in North America for the 2015 model year. It retains the GTI’s character of being both practical and a blast to drive. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine producing 2010 horsepower in the earlier models. An available performance package adds an extra 10 hp. Starting in 2018, the base horsepower rating was bumped up to 220, and the car got a refreshed appearance inside and out.

For 2019, base horsepower was upgraded even further to 228. Another notable change for the 2019 model was the old six-speed automatic transmission being replaced with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard for the whole life cycle of the Mark 7 GTI.

If you want a two-door Mark 7 GTI, you’ll be limited to the 2015-2016 model years. Starting in 2017, it was four-door-only.

The Mark 7 GTI has been around long enough that you can get one for a very attractive price on the used market. Early examples can be had around the $15,000 mark, which is a ton of hot hatch bang for the buck.

Which Volkswagen GTI is Right for Me?

The Mark 7 GTI has been around long enough that you can get one for a very attractive price on the used market. Early examples can be had around the $15,000 mark, which is a ton of hot hatch bang for the buck. If you’re working with a four-digit budget, then a Mark 6 GTI for under $10,000 is also an excellent buy. No matter which generation or trim level you go with, we can guarantee that you’ll never get bored behind the wheel of a GTI. Find a Volkswagen GTI for sale

Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More about Colin Ryan

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  1. I bought a 2003 Golf 4 GTI 1.8T 132KW in 2012 with 145 000 km on the ODO. Previous owner didnt replace anything that broke / worn out and it cost me a lot of money to replace all the broken / worn parts. Luckily he serviced the engine regularly, used synthetic engine oil and used genuine oil filters. The GTI never left me stranded except once when the slave cyl in the the transmission perished. I phoned the insurance co and they sent a flatbed truck. Apart from this one incident I find the Golf 4 GTI a very reliable vehicle and a huge pleasure to own and drive. Parts are very expensive at the dealer though. Its an awesome car but make sure you can afford it if you buy one – meaning not just the purchase price but a budget for maintenance as well. Its a solid car.

  2. What ever you do, don’t buy a TSI engine. I’ve had a 2011GTI for the last 4 years and i have had all of these problems except the water pump.I have spent countless days at the dealership and endless amounts of money thati should not of had to spend. Also VW is a bunch of incompetent people who donot back there products like they should. My car had lost over a quart of oilif not 2 in about 1000 miles witch caused the chain tension-er to fail and skipteeth messing up the timing belt causing the cams to run out of place witchcaused my engine to fry and my valves to be bend. I have been out of warrantyfor only 4k miles and VW Couldn’t even tell me what was wrong with my engine.They simply tried to tell me that i need a new engine because there is no compression.I asked them to tell me how this could happen on such a new car that has amillion sensors and rev limiter and they couldn’t. At this point they wanted meto pay them the 135$ fee for diagnosis and I argued it and ended up payingnothing (terrible service and people who don’t know what they are talkingabout) I then began to look into it myself because VW just didn’t want to helpeven though i have been a great customer (got my dad to get a Audi a4 – thathas similar problem looses a quart of oil in 1000miles)(in witch he’s called Audiout on this and they tell him that it is normal to burn a quart in a 1000mileswitch anyone knows that is not normal. I also convinced my sister to buy a 5cylinder Passat ( so far no problems) After researching for weeks how thismotor works and the problems it is pretty clear that the car should have givenme an oil warning or some kind of flag something was wrong. The only thing thatit gave me before the valves got bent was misfiring codes and a cam correlationcode. I then took it to VW and they told me to just replace the cam sensor a 5min job that costs 25$at this point I’m pretty sure VW was just trying limitthere liability by denying it. and that the real problem was that my tension-erslipped .by the time I realized this the engine had been basically fried due tothe oil problem. Now I’m stuck with a 9k$ debt and a car with a non-workingengine that’s pretty much a new car only had 70k on it. Now VW wants nothing todo with it and is trying to tell me that nothing is covered because my warrantywent out 4k miles ago. my dad also has the same engine in his Audi a4 that weare trying to give back to Audi for fear that it will do that same thing andAudi is not standing by there cars faulty design and constantly giving me dadexcuses’, he has been working his way up the Audi leader-boards talking to manyrepresentatives that are all trying to say that it is normal for a car to loosea quart of oil in 1000 miles. For such a sought after company with as muchtechnology and engineering used to design these cars the mechanics that work onthese to say that its ok to loose a quart in 1000 miles is absolutelyridiculous and I find it offensive how they treat there customers like they areretarded and don’t know what they are talking about i wouldn’t recommend buyingfrom a company like this.

    I will not be buying or telling anyone to buy these carsagain.


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