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The Volkswagen Jetta has sat alongside the Golf since 1979 as the hatchback’s slightly larger sibling. Whether your market called it the Jetta, the Bora, or the Atlantic, VW’s small sedan has been the answer to many people’s needs. Like the golf, VW has given the Jetta a few performance variants, which have led it to the GLI, its current top-spec. The GLI has been around for a few decades now and serves as the Golf GTI equivalent to the Jetta. Thanks to their shared components, the GLI makes a fantastic sporty-daily that’s also reliable and efficient on fuel. The current Mk7 GLI is still brand new, but the Mk6 is widely available as a used model. Next time you’re out window shopping for a new fun daily driver, you might want to check it out.

 

Mk6 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Overview

The Jetta GLI has been hooned around American streets since the first generation’s model hit our shores around 1983. It offered a nearly identical package to the GTI in a slightly longer and more spacious package that better suited itself to families. Volkswagen held onto that formula and continues to use it today, although the Jetta and Golf have grown quite considerably since then. Equipment between the two has also differed as they do serve slightly different purposes. 

GTI, in VW’s case, stands for Grand Touring Injected, while the dissenting L in GLI trades Touring for Luxury. As such, the Mk6 GLI is a little softer and offers less power than the GTI, though they do share drivetrain components. Under the hood of the 2012-2018 model is VW’s EA888 inline four-cylinder engine mounted transversely, powering the front wheels exclusively. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine was a massive hit for VW when it debuted in the Mk5 GTI, and its subsequent revisions have provided VW and Audi tuners with a reliable and capable platform. VW did switch engine generations in mid-2013, so the later cars do have a few important engine differences, covered below. Backing up those engines are either a 6-speed H-pattern manual or a 6-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox. Both choices were well exercised before finding themselves in the Mk6 GLI, so parts are plentiful and reliability is high.

Adding to the GLI’s sportiness are the suspension and braking components. The standard Mk6 Jetta uses a torsion beam rear suspension like that found on the Mk3. It’s an archaic design best suited for anything but precise driving. However, the GLI is equipped with the same multi-link rear suspension as the GTI. Its independent design, paired with the firmer dampers and shorter and stiffer springs, help give the GLI a capable ride. Leaning into the corners with a flat chassis and powering out with the EA888 is giggle-inducing, for sure, but the performance doesn’t stop there. The GLI also wears the larger brakes from the GTI, eliminating the ‘80s-spec units given to the base model. Red, powder-coated calipers clamp down on larger rotors at all four corners to ensure you can stop as quickly as you go. 

The interior and exterior of the GLI only further reinforce the model’s performance credentials with a series of sharp and styled accents. There were a few different trims offered over the Mk6 production, but all came with bespoke wheels, unique bumpers and skirts, and a honeycomb grille. Inside the cabin, a soft-touch dashboard, leather-clad touch points, and red stitching tied it all together. 2016 saw a facelift across the Jetta lineup that introduced new but similarly-styled bumpers and some lighting and interior updates.  

Included equipment and options were determined by the GLI’s trim level. Between 2012 and 2014, GLIs were offered with four trim options; the base GLI trim, the Autobahn, Autobahn with Navigation, and the Edition 30. The base car came with all of the sporty exterior bits that made the GLI distinctive but lacked a sunroof and leather seats. Opting for the Autobahn trim added larger 18” wheels, V-Tex (leatherette) upholstery, dual-zone climate control, Fender audio, and a sunroof. Stepping up to the Autobahn w/Nav, added satellite navigation, a backup camera, keyless entry, and push-button start. The top-spec Edition 30 trim was a 2014-only addition and was available with or without navigation. Exclusive to those models were carbon fiber-look interior trim, Edition 30 door sill plates, a trunk spoiler, “Laguna” wheels, and red grille trim. Adding the navigation also included the same equipment as the Autobahn w/Nav and adaptive Xenon headlights. 

For the 2016 facelift, VW cut down on the trim offerings to just two; the SE and SEL. With the trim reduction came an equipment improvement for the base SE model. Fender audio, a sunroof, V-Tex upholstery with red stitching, heated front seats, keyless ignition, and Bluetooth all became standard. Stepping up to the SEL trim, added navigation, bi-xenon headlights, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. Various other small trims and bits saw updates, as well as the infotainment system. The latest MIB 2 software became the defacto infotainment system in every model. The GLI kept this level of equipment right until production ended for the 2018 model year. 

 

Mk6 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Spec Sheet

    • 2012-2013 Engine (CCTA/CBFA):
      • Engine Type: Turbocharged Inline 4
      • Displacement: 2.0L (1984cc)
      • Horsepower: 200 hp @ 5100 RPM
      • Torque: 207 lb/ft @ 1700 RPM
      • Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
      • Max RPM: 7000
      • Induction: Turbocharged
      • Turbocharger: KKK K03
      • Boost Pressure: 8.7 PSI (0.6 Bar)
    • 2013.5-2018 Engine (CPLA/CPPA):
      • Engine Type: Turbocharged Inline 4
      • Displacement: 2.0L (1984cc)
      • Horsepower: 210 hp @ 5300 RPM
      • Torque: 207 lb/ft @ 1700 RPM
      • Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
      • Max RPM: 7000
      • Induction: Turbocharged, Single twin-scroll Turbocharger
      • Turbocharger: Garret MGT1725S
      • Boost Pressure: 8.7 PSI (0.6 Bar)
    • Transmission:
      • Manual: 6-speed, MQ350 (02Q), H-pattern
        • Ratios: 3.77/2.09/1.47/1.09/1.10/0.91
        • Final Drive: 3.24:1 (1st-4th), 2.62:1 (5th+6th)
      • DSG: 6-speed, DQ250, Dual-clutch Auto/Manual
        • Ratios: 3.77/2.09/1.47/1.09/1.10/0.91
        • Final Drive: 4.06:1 (1st-4th), 3.14:1 (5th+6th)
    • Weight:
      • 3208lbs / 1550kg
    • Performance:
      • Manual 0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds
      • DSG 0-60 MPH: 6.3 Seconds
      • Top Speed: 126mph (Electronically Limited)

 

Mk6 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Chassis & Drivetrain Breakdown

The Mk6 GLI has the benefit of sharing a handful of parts with VW’s other performance models. Engine, suspension, and braking components are interchangeable between the Mk7 GTI and Golf R, giving the GLI an OE upgrade path should you choose it. However, the stock bits are plenty firm and deliver a wonderful experience when cared for. 

 

Engine

Both the early and late GLIs are equipped with Volkswagen’s EA888 engine. However, VW instituted a whole series of changes to the EA888 during Mk6 GLI production, essentially giving the early and late models two different engines. The GLI’s inline four-cylinders use a cast iron engine block to house a forged-steel crankshaft, cast connecting steel rods and pistons, and two balance shafts driven by a timing chain. A single, chain-driven oil pump keeps the engine and turbocharger lubricated through a wet-sump setup. 

Volkswagen Mk6 Jetta GLI EA888 Gen 1 Engine

Atop the block sits an aluminum cylinder head with four valves per cylinder and two overhead camshafts. The valvetrain is pretty trick for such an affordable car, as it uses finger followers and hydraulic tappets to control camshaft and valve interaction. It’s a very similar setup to what’s found in BMW’s S54, an engine known for its high-tech and motorsport-derived cylinder head. Rounding out the valvetrain is the variable camshaft timing on the intake side. Fueling is handled by a set of four injectors that mount to the head and spray fuel directly into the combustion chambers. The direct injection allowed VW to produce more power from less fuel, letting them lean out the burn for cleaner emissions and use less of it in the process. 

That’s about where the similarities end for the two engines found in the Mk6 GLI. The 2012 and early 2013 models use the last batch of the first-generation EA888 engines and, as such, have some older technology. The Gen 3 engine uses a bespoke block with .5mm thinner cylinder walls, as it’s designed to be lighter than the prior two generations. Revised connecting rods, pistons, and lightweight balance shafts reduce strain on the rotating components while being driven around a revised steel crankshaft. Regulating the breathing of the Gen 3 engine is a highly revised cylinder head. 

Volkswagen ditched the traditional individual exhaust ports for a single exhaust outlet shared by all four cylinders. Short individual runners are cast into the head and routed out a single exit into a Honeywell-Garret MGT1725S instead of the Gen 1’s KKK K03. Because of the minimal exhaust length, water-cooled runners, and revised turbocharger, the Gen 3 engine is the better choice for tuning. However, the GLI Gen 3 head is a unique item among the generations in the US. While the CPPA and CPLA are Gen 3 engines, they don't have the variable valve lift system found in the Audi Gen 2 and the later Gen 3 engines found in the Mk7. 

02_VW Gen 3 EA88 exhaust cooling diagram

Beyond that, there are plenty of smaller changes and updates. The PCV system had a redesign that reduced carbon buildup on the intake valves and improved the overall reliability. Aiding the Gen 3’s weight reduction is a plastic oil pan, electric turbocharger wastegate, and more aluminum hardware. Visually, the two are similar but distinguishable. The early engine has the oil cap located on the valve cover and is accessible through the engine cover, whereas the later engine has the oil filler cap off the back of the engine on the passenger's side. 

Whichever engine you end up with, you have the potential for a reliable and powerful daily driver without the threat of major disaster. The EA888 was developed on decades of inline-four testing and design from VW, culminating in a package that has powered nearly every small VW performance model for the last decade and a half. However, the EA888 is still an engine, and it certainly has had its fair share of common issues. Later models equipped with the Gen 3 engine have less to worry about, but many components are plastic, so there's always the threat of age and mileage. 

The most common issues on these engines will come in the form of oil leaks. The rear main seal, cam bridge seals, and timing covers are all spots the engine regularly develops leaks. While not always the case, a failing PCV system can be the cause. The PCV systems on the early and late engines are typical failure points on the EA888, though they do wear gradually. It’s the PCV’s job to keep as much oil out of the intake tract as possible to prevent carbon buildup behind the valves. VW updated the PCV for the Gen 3 engine, simplifying it while making it more effective. Because of that, the later engines can go around 15,000 miles longer between valve cleanings. Another oiling update the Gen 3 engine has is the absence of an oil screen in the cam bridge. The screen was notorious for breaking and traveling through the engine before blocking oil passages and causing oil starvation. 

You’ll also need to be cautious about the cooling system. The water pump is made almost entirely of plastic which saves weight and manufacturing costs but lends to a higher risk of failure. Constant heat cycling makes the plastic brittle enough to crack and leak. On top of that, oil leaks from above the pump will cause the sealing o-rings to swell and fail if they already haven’t dried up from the constant exposure to heat. You need to remove the intake manifold to get to the water pump, which, coincidentally, is also a point of concern on the EA888. The carbon buildup that affects the valves will jam the flaps inside the intake and can be a factor in the flap’s linkage breaking. 

Last but not least are potential issues with the timing system. Timing chain tensioners on the early engines were notorious for failing and were eventually updated on the Gen 3s. By now, Gen 1 engines should’ve had their original tensioner replaced with the updated 06K, but it’s still something you should look out for. The chains themselves are prone to stretching on both generations, but that only happens at higher mileage. 

 

Transmission

GLI buyers were given a choice of two transmissions: the 02Q 6-speed manual or the DQ250 6-speed DSG. They represented the sportiest offerings given to the Jetta and had served VW owners well for the decade prior to the Mk6 GLI’s release. We’ve covered these transmissions before, too, so you can find very in-depth guides of the 02Q manual and DQ250 DSG through those links. However, I’ll give you a brief overview here. 

The VW MQ350 family includes three variations of their 6-speed manual transmissions for transverse layouts. The GLI makes use of the 02Q, a slightly updated version of the 02M, that’s cable-shifted and uses a hydraulically-actuated clutch. VW’s split output shaft design allowed them to offer six forward gears in a space that could previously only fit five without significantly complicating design and costs. The gearbox is a stout design at stock power levels, though they can get upset when the boost is turned up. Synchros and input shaft bearings are things to look out for on cars pushing more power than stock. Early transmissions could’ve had soft shift forks, but they only regularly broke under miss-shifts. If you do want to raise engine performance, you’ll assuredly need an upgraded clutch package. Luckily, we know just where to get one.

01_VW Audi DSG S Tronic DCT transmission technical drawing

Like the 02Q, the DQ250 DSG gearbox is another stalwart of the VW lineup. It appeared in the early ‘00s in the Audi TT 3.2 Quattro before spreading all over. The dual-clutch design eliminates the need for a clutch pedal as all clutch actuation is done electronically, letting the DSG serve as the “automatic” transmission option. Of course, drivers have the ability to switch it into manual mode and use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear. It even comes with a “launch control” function that provides drivers with the best possible acceleration from a dig. While that surely makes for a good time, too many launches can cause excessive wear on the DSG’s clutch plates, especially on modified cars. 

In terms of reliability, the DSG is nearly bulletproof. Flywheel issues exist on transmissions fitted to TDI, but that won’t affect your GLI ownership. The most frequent complaint among DSG owners comes from hard or rough shifting. The cause could be a number of factors, from worn fluid to a cranky mechatronic unit, to worn mounts and bushings to aggressively inconsistent driving. That cranky mechatronic unit can be a larger issue, though. The “mechatronic” unit is the internal set of electronics and solenoids that operates gear changes and clutch control. A couple of things are known to cause faults, but the only fix is a unit replacement. Thankfully, those rarely happen and shouldn’t be something to worry about. With that said, servicing is very important. Fluid changes should be performed every 30-40,000 miles with quality fluid and a fresh filter. 

 

Suspension

While the Jetta no longer shares a wheelbase or body parts with the Golf, it does partially share the same PQ35 platform architecture. Evidence of that is most easily gathered from the GLI’s suspension. VW’s experience with the GTI and Golf R was taken and transferred to the Jetta, though they aren’t identical. The GTI is far more suited to track duty than the GLI, but the fast Jetta still has plenty of backroad credibility.

Upfront is the same MacPherson strut design used in the base Jetta and Golf all the way up to the Golf R. The featured components are firmer and sit the car lower to the ground for the handling required by the GLI badge. Sachs struts carry the factory lowering springs to make up the damping at the front axle. The springs are slightly stiffer and about .5” shorter than the base Jetta units. A single lower control arm controls suspension articulation, while a solid tubular sway bar controls roll. The control arm uses two inner bushings, a forward and rear, and mounts to the bottom of the knuckle via a replaceable ball joint. 

 

The rear setup consists of four main arms per side: a trailing arm, a lower control arm, a toe arm, and an upper control arm. Only the GLI benefits from the independent multi-link rear suspension design that can be found in the GTI and Golf R; the other Jettas make do with a simple (i.e., cheap) torsion beam design. The lower arm is the largest physical piece, acting as the spring’s lower perch. All of the arms use rubber bushings to dampen road vibrations and harshness. A single Sachs shock controls the damping at the rear. Overall, it's identical to the GTI, with parts being completely interchangeable. 

If you’re looking to add a little more poise to your GLI, then you’re going to want to start looking at rear suspension components. The excess of rubber bushings can create a twitchy feeling, especially after 70,000 miles or so. Stiffer rubber, polyurethane, and solid spherical units are available for several of the arms and will give the rear of the car a much more planted feeling. Sway bar upgrades are also effective and relatively inexpensive. Pair them with a good set of tires, and you’ll be harassing BMWs on the back roads all day long. 

 

Brakes

Rounding out all of VW’s performance upgrades are larger brakes. The base Jetta uses small disc brakes up front and even smaller ones in the rear to go along with the “simple” suspension. The GLI benefits from disc brakes at all four corners and works with sportier tires to provide a much-improved braking performance.

FCP_Euro_Vlokswagen_Mk6_Jetta_GLI_Buyers_Guide_Front_Brakes_And_Wheels

The front brakes use a single-piston sliding caliper that comes powder-coated in red right from VW. Those calipers clamp down over 312mm blank-face, vented rotors; up from the lower trim’s 280mm discs. At the rear, the drum brakes are cast away for a similar setup to the front. Red sliding calipers handle the clamping forces over a non-vented rotor. The early 2012-2013 models received 272mm rear discs, while later cars received smaller 253mm discs. Both setups provide identical stopping power, so don’t be put off by the smaller rear rotor. 

If you’re looking to improve upon the braking capabilities, then you’re in luck. Among the various aftermarket big brake kit options, you have the choice to remain with OE VW parts. The 345mm front and 310mm rear rotors from the Golf R are direct bolt-ons with the corresponding calipers and pads. They’ll provide a huge increase in heat resistance and a significant jump in pad size without breaking the bank, relatively, of course. A good set of sticky tires are the next best thing for stopping power. 

 

Mk6 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Valuation

While 2012 might feel like yesterday, we’re now a decade removed from the Mk6 GLI’s debut. Now, the Mk6 has become another used performance sedan waiting for an enthusiast to grab the keys. Good news, especially for the young enthusiast, as the GLI has become a very affordable option. It’s a model built on a proven platform with a thoroughly developed drivetrain and impeccable safety ratings and carries the ability to return solid MPGs. Thanks to the wide model year range, buyer also has a load of options to choose from in a few different price ranges.

FCP_Euro_Volkswagen_Mk6_Jetta_GLI_Buyers_Guide_Headlight

At the bottom of the range are going to be the earliest models, specifically the 2012 and 2013 models with the Gen 1 engine. Finding a low-miles example is about near impossible, but that shouldn’t worry you as these cars have proven to go the distance with the proper maintenance. The bottom of the pricing ladder sits right around $6000 for a scruffy example. Well-kept models with relatively low miles, near 100,000, can reach up to the $10,000 mark. They aren’t a bad deal at that price point, especially with good service records, so look for one with the highest rim level. Paint and transmission spec doesn’t appear to have a gap in pricing, so you’ll have a level playing field across the board.

Slightly more upmarket are the pre-facelift (2013.5-2015) models with the Gen 3 engine. With more horsepower from the factory and the Edition 30 special edition, these models tend to bring more money, at least from an asking point. Expect the early Gen 3 GLIs to bring around $8000 to $12,000. Low mileage examples, especially the Edition 30s, can still reach the $15,000 mark, but those will likely have very low miles or come with a handful of tasteful upgrades. 

FCP_Euro_Volkswagen_Mk6_Jetta_GLI_Buyers_Guide_Steering_Wheel

The facelifted models have more than a few interior and electronic updates that bring them much closer to a current standard. The MIB 2 infotainment system is significantly more intuitive and user-friendly than the pre-facelift system, and the several standard safety features are never bad to have these days. Combine that with better standard equipment and improved looks, and you have the recipe for a more valuable model. If you can stretch your budget, the 2016-2018 models typically start around the $13,000 mark with higher miles on them. Low mileage and relatively new examples can stretch right into the low/mid $20,000 range and are likely worth the money. 



Is the Mk6 GLI Reliable? Cost of Ownership? Are they easy to work on?

Putting all of those questions together leaves one large one to be answered: should I buy one? Well, if you want a reasonably sporty sedan with good bones, great safety, the potential for fuel-sipping MPGs, and the potential for performance and cosmetic improvements, the answer is yes. The GLI’s positive qualities outshine the potential issues by leaps and bounds. VW didn’t really try anything new with this model as it uses well-developed components throughout, and those add up to a truly quality package.

FCP Euro Jetta GLI Mk6 Volkswagen Dashboard 

In terms of reliability, there’s not much to look out for on the GLI. The most troubling part of the car is the engine, and its biggest issues are carbon buildup and finicky water pumps. An oil leak from the rear main seal prevents the biggest challenge to fix as the transmission has to come out, but just about every other potential issue won’t require major disassembly of anything. Other parts of the car require regular maintenance to be trouble-free for a lifetime. Plus, as a potential owner, you have over a decade's worth of prior ownership experiences available to you on VW forums. VW enthusiasts are a thorough bunch who aren’t strangers to the DIY process. If you do have a problem, it’s likely been covered and discussed with a clear solution.  

If you do have to fix anything, parts prices aren’t the worst. It’s a German car, and European parts always cost a premium over Japanese and Domestic companies, but remember, you now have a Lifetime Replacement Guarantee backing up anything you need for your Mk6. You also have the fact that it’s a Volkswagen going for you; VW parts prices aren’t the same as Porsche or BMW. Things like engine oil changes will cost around $70, while brake rotor and pad replacements should be around $300 for all four corners. That isn’t anything different than what you’d pay for a regular Jetta or any other VW product. Paying for labor is another story and totally dependent on the dealership or independent shop you hire. However, you won’t necessarily need to do that, as the Mk6 is generally very DIY-friendly. 

FCP Euro Buyer's Guide 2017 Volkswagen Mk6 Jetta GLI Seats

We have a lot of experience with the Mk6 GLI platform and the related Mk7 GTI. The PQ35 platform lends itself well to home repairs as parts are easily accessible. Specialty tools aren’t typically required unless you’re doing some serious work to the timing chain system and valvetrain. Brake jobs, oil changes, and filter changes are all easily accomplished with a handful of simple tools. More involved jobs like water pump replacement, intake manifold removal, and intake valve cleaning will require more patience and skill but DIY guides and How-Tos exist all over the place, and they will help you right through the job. 

All in all, there isn’t much that presents itself in the way of Mk6 GLI ownership. They’re cheap, fun, reliable, have a wealth of online support, and are widely available. Those qualities aren’t the easiest to find in a European vehicle these days, especially when grouped together. 


author image
Written by :
Christian Schaefer

Car and motorsports-obsessed writer/editor for FCP Euro's DIY Blog. Constantly dreaming of competing behind the wheel or searching for another project. Owner of a turbo Subaru Forester and a ratty Porsche 914, neither of which are running.


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