Everyday cars need a level of practicality, though that often interferes with a light curb weight—a quality every great performance car strives to have. It all depends on how it’s packaged, though, and the Volkswagen Mk7 GTI is both practical and light, not to mention quick, affordable, and stylish. A forever fighter in the battle against the monotonous daily driver, the GTI has a rival from its own family: the Mk6 Jetta GLI. Essentially a GTI in sedan form, the GLI offers more room for people and cargo and a less-fussy ride. Choosing between the two means considering many critical factors, so I’m here to help you out. Here are five reasons why the GTI is the better choice for you.
A Better Drivetrain
Although the Mk6 GLI has the EA888―and mostly a Gen.3 variant―it isn’t the same as the GTI’s Gen.3. The GTI was fitted with essentially the same engine for its entire run with three distinct engine codes; CXCA, CXCB, and DKFA. Its most significant differences came from the cylinder head, where the GTI received much more tech. The head uses a different casting and the variable valve lift from the TT and S3 for a broader power band. Out of the box, the GTI pumps out more than the GLI, dwarfing it by 51 lb-ft and 10-20hp, depending on the model year. Ecu tuning will get GLI owners close, but not enough to match.
Later Mk7.5 GTI owners will also benefit from the improved DQ381 7-speed DSG gearbox. It shares many components with the Audi TTRS's DQ500 DSG and is rated for more torque than the outgoing 6-speed. The addition of the seventh gear also lets the GTI perform better on highway drives, with some owners pulling around 35mpg from their hot hatches.
More Available Technology
The GLI had the edge when it debuted in 2012, but the Mk7.5 GTI had overtaken it nearing the end of their respective runs. Inside the cabin, GTI owners can choose their driving modes, which select different engine, transmission, and suspension parameters based on the setting chosen. The suspension, in this case, is VW’s DCC or Dynamic Chassis Control. It features dampers with electronically controlled valves that can stiffen or soften the ride at the push of a button. There are more than performance updates, too. Adaptive Cruise Control, Highbeam Control, and Lane Keep Assist weren’t available on the GLI but came standard on the GTI Autobahn. Externally, the headlights on most later Mk7.5 GTIs feature the Adaptive Front-lighting System, while the GLI made do with basic LEDs.
The VAQ Differential
The VAQ differential isn’t necessary for daily use, but its increased performance makes a noticeable difference. Rather than a traditional limited-slip differential, the VAQ sits outside the transmission in line with the axle and isn’t actually a differential. Instead, it’s much close to a Haldex AWD system’s differential coupling, utilizing a set of electro-hydraulically controlled clutch packs. Under acceleration and while cornering, the GTI measures each wheel speed individually and gets readings from throttle position and yaw sensors. The VAQ’s controlling computer then uses those inputs to determine when to activate and how much pressure to use.
If a very versatile system, and although more complex than a standard LSD, it has all of the benefits without the downsides. The variable lock-up will stay locked with a wheel in the air but unlocks when not needed. That prevents the understeer a clutch-type LSD can cause on corner entry and the sudden loss of traction that happens to torque-biasing diffs with a wheel in the air. Admittedly, this isn’t a necessary feature for many owners, but it makes a huge difference when the drive gets spirited and twisty.
Better Aftermarket Support
Although the aftermarket has come around to support the GLI’s Gen.3 engine, there are more options for the GTI, thanks to its turbocharger orientation. It shares its layout and design with the Mk7 Golf R, the Mk8 GTI, the current Audi S3, and the Audi TT, but the GLI doesn’t. Those other models are all common platforms for high hp builds, so the GTI benefits from the shared aftermarket parts development. Modifications like upgrading to the Golf R’s IS38 turbocharger are much easier in the GTI because of that, reducing the monetary effort needed for more power.
The same goes for the suspension. Every Mk7 GTI uses the MQB platform, while the Mk6 GLI uses the older PQ35. The latter isn’t a bad platform, but the MQB is superior in many ways and carries more aftermarket support because of it. Other non-aftermarket bits from the TT, S3, and Golf R should bolt on, too, with a bit of cross-shopping.
Fits In More Places
The GTI is much smaller than its sedan sibling. In tight cities like Ney York and Boston, every inch counts while parking, and the GTI is about 17” shorter than the GLI. All of the length is aft of the front doors and mostly behind the rear wheels giving you a nice advantage while reversing. Obviously, the reduced size should mean a reduction in storage capacity, but that is simply not the case. What the GTI lacks in length, it makes up for in vertical space resulting in a negligible impact on storage space.
If you find yourself in the GTI, you'll quickly realize why they're so popular. Finding a good blend of performance and practicality is tough, and the GTI offers that in spades. Once you have your VW, be sure to service it with the best OE, OEM, and Genuine parts backed up by an uneatable Lifetime Replacement Guarantee. As always, look out for more great written content on the blog, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for cool builds and DIYs.
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 flat-six-swapped Subaru Impreza and a ratty Porsche 914.