The Mk6 GLI shares a platform with a handful of other performance-oriented Volkswagen models. The shared base allowed VW to engineer a smaller amount of components for a wider range of models to keep costs low and quality high. What that resulted in was a series of well-developed systems with very few chronic issues that performed as well as anyone else in the segment. When it comes to suspension, the Mk6 GLI shares many of its bits with the Mk6 and Mk7 GTI, as well as a few others. The PQ35 and later MQB platforms those models are based on have been a reliable and competitive base for VW’s performance vehicles, and the Mk6 GLI is a direct benefactor of that.
Volkswagen Mk6 Jetta GLI Suspension Overview
The Mk6 GLI is equipped with the sportiest suspension offered on the Mk6 Jetta platform. Its basic design is shared with the GTI, though a few components are slightly different to account for the chassis differences. It is the firmest and lowest of the Jettas, helping it give off an aggressive stance, but it’s a bit softer than the GTI. Overall, the stock suspension delivers a taught but comfortable ride. Sportiness is relative, and the GLI is no GT3.
Underpinning the GLI’s front suspension is your classic MacPherson strut design. A lower control arm supports a Sachs strut to make up the major components at the front. Mounted on the damper is a stiffer and .5” shorter spring than what is fitted to a non-GLI. The lower control arm uses two inner bushings, one forward and one rearward, as pivot points for vertical articulation. The stamped steel arm connects to the steering knuckle via a replaceable ball joint. Connecting the two sides together and assisting roll control is a hollow sway bar. Its endlinks attach to the strut and utilize ball joints on both ends for articulation.
The initial Mk6 Jettas were equipped with a torsion-beam setup, significantly hampering their handling characteristics; however, that design never made it to the GLI. Instead, VW equipped the same kind of multi-link design found in the GTI. It uses four separate arms per side: a trailing arm, a lower control arm, a toe arm, and an upper control arm. The lower arm is the largest single piece of the rear suspension, as it acts as the lower spring perch. In this design, the spring is mounted separately from the stock Sachs shock. The upper arm assists the lower arm in the suspension’s articulation and also controls the camber settings. The trailing arm also aids in vertical articulation but controls the location of the knuckle in relation to the wheel well. All of the arms use rubber bushings to absorb the noise, vibration, and harshness of the road surface. Assisting roll control at the rear is the same type of sway bar used up front.
Mk6 VW GLI Suspension Specs
- Front Sway Bar: 23.6mm
- Rear Sway Bar: 21mm
- Spring Rates: 162 lbs-in Front / 203 lbs-in Rear
Common Mk6 VW GLI Suspension Problems
Continuing such a developed suspension system allowed the Mk6 GLI to remain free of major suspension issues. The few issues that do come up are all wear-related
Front Strut Mounts
Three bolts secure the mounts to the chassis, and their threads are exposed to the elements. Many owners have gone to change the mounts only to run into corrosion problems with the bolts. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to avoid it if you live in an area prone to corrosion. The only solution is to soak the bolts in a penetrant prior to any work. In extreme cases, which aren't unheard of, you'll need tools to remove the stud and nut while still bolted to the car.
There are bushings all over the front and rear suspension. Every one of them is rubber and is prone to tearing once worn well beyond replacement. Worn bushings can lead to all sorts of vague handling, clunks, and knocks from the suspension. You'll also be able to get an idea of bushing health by examining your tires. Worn bushings will throw an alignment slightly out of whack enough that an affected tire can wear unevenly.
Mk6 VW GLI Suspension Upgrades
As a sporty sedan, the GLI is set up really well for the street. Its damper and spring rates provide a controlled and composed ride without ever being overly firm. Not everyone is looking for that compliance, though, and it can leave owners desiring more. Luckily, the strength given to the chassis via the shared PQ35 platform is the incredible availability of aftermarket performance products. VWs are very popular cars, and the aftermarket support they can benefit from is massive.
Springs and Dampers
The springs and dampers control the height and ride from the suspension. VW didn’t give buyers any extra performance options to choose from, so the suspension remained the same throughout production. The stock suspension package is great for strictly road driving, especially in an are with poor roads. However, that compliance hampers the sporting dynamics of the GLI, relegating it to a more relaxed driving experience. If you’re looking to improve the road feel and stance of your GLI without spending several thousand dollars, an aftermarket strut and spring package is the way to go.
Start with your spring choice and match the dampers to them. Just about every aftermarket spring is stiffer and shorter than the factory parts, so you’re guaranteed to make your GLI feel firmer and more controlled. Although there are many who make spring for the Mk6, we offer the Eibach and H&R units. As OE suppliers for Porsche’s GT department and others as well, we trust their quality and engineering. With that said, there are a few different options to think about between the two manufacturers.
The tallest of the bunch are the Eibach PRO-KIT springs. Offering a 1.1” drop over OE, they’re a great choice for a firmer road car without a massive drop. Stepping up in firmness, and drop are the H&R Sport springs. The estimated drop is between 1.5-2.0” while the ride is suited to backroad blasts. The other two springs H&R offers, the Super Sport and Race springs, have a drop between 1.75-2.3”. Their compression rates are even firmer, suiting them to autocrosses and occasional track use. If neither of those companies is what you’re after, you still have plenty of options. Neuspeed, B&G, and DG are popular choices on the Mk6 platform, especially the latter.
Just about all of those options will require a non-OE damper selection, except for the DG springs. The aftermarket pieces are firmer than the OE dampers are set for and have a lowered suspension travel, so they’ll bottom out the original struts. Before you go pulling the trigger on those, though, ensure your budget allows it. All of the aftermarket springs will cost you between $250 and $400 for the set. Once you have them, then you can pair them with another damper.
The best dampers for the Mk6 GLI using a lowering spring will come from Bilstein or Koni. Both manufacturers are OEs for automakers and have had over half a century of experience with performance VWs. On the softer side are the Bilstein B6 and Koni STR.T dampers. They were developed with firmer valving than the OE parts but are still able to be paired with the stock springs. An optimal pairing for them would be the Eibach PRO-KIT springs, as they offer a minimal drop with an increase in firmness. A more aggressive spring like the H&R Super Sport or one of the Neuspeeds is best paired with the Bilstein B8s or Koni Sport dampers. Both are specifically designed to be paired with shorter springs, and the Konis even offer adjustable rebound damping
We understand apprehensive feelings about ordering some performance parts, especially if you haven’t done it before, so we’ve put together a few kits to make your ordering process a little simpler. Under the Cup Kit sub-menu are three different strut and spring kits that you can choose from. Two kits are offered with the H&R Sport springs, one with Koni Sport dampers and the other with Bilstein B8s. The other kit features the Koni Sports paired with the H&R Race springs.
Strut and spring packages are a great low-cost way to improve your ride and stance. However, they don’t offer any adjustability or customization. To get the improved ride and adjustability, you’ll want to look at “coilovers.” Coilovers are aftermarket dampers fitted inside a threaded body. Adjustable collars ride on the threads and act as the lower spring perch, giving the driver the ability to raise and lower the spring height. While they’re typically used best on the race track, coilovers will do well on the street.
Choosing which brand you’d like to bolt into your Mk6 is likely to be the most difficult part of finding coilovers. We highly recommend finding someone local and going for a ride in their car so you're able to get a feel for them before a purchase. We do know that isn’t always possible, though, so written reviews on forums are an OK backup. Once you narrow it down, we have more than a few good options to choose from across different price ranges. The lower price range kits sit between $1000 and $1200, costing a few hundred dollars more than the strut and spring kits, and include the BC Racing BR-series, ST Suspensions X, and Bilstein B14 PSS kits. Bilstein is the largest name, but the BCs are incredibly popular. They’re set up to be a street coilover, with softer rates than a true motorsport variant, and offer adjustable compression/rebound through a single knob. The ST Suspension set will give the firmest ride for the least amount of drop, even less than the Eibach springs.
At the other end of the range are larger industry names like KW, Sachs, and H&R. Their coilovers are set to do the same job as the less expensive options but with the engineering of massive companies behind them. KW’s Variant 1 and the Sachs Performance coilovers are perfect street/track options designed to excel on backroads and at Lime Rock Park. H&R offers two options, though both are suited to mostly street driving. The one setup that does stand out is H&R’s Ultra-Low option. As the name implies, the focus was on looks rather than performance; however, the Mk6 community has expressed that their ride is one of the best, considering the 3” drop they offer.
Addressing the strut and spring combination will deliver a huge difference in feel; however, you’d be leaving performance on the table. Sway bars are an integral part of any suspension setup as they’re used to aid the springs in roll control. If anything, it allows the springs and dampers to have a softer setup without sacrificing cornering performance. Like the GTI, the GLI does very well with a set of aftermarket sway bars. Even without a different set of struts and springs, a sway bar upgrade will change the handling dynamics.
Sway bars can be bought separately or in pairs; whatever is right for you is what you should buy. The rear sway bar on the Mk6 GLI is the one to do first if you’re only changing one of them. Stiffening the rear of the car will reduce understeer in corner entry and should allow you to get on the power a bit early after the apex. If there were any downsides, it's that a tougher set of endlinks is greatly recommended, and it can introduce more liftoff oversteer.
Stronger endlinks are a must when upgrading the sway bar, as the OE pieces aren’t designed to handle the stresses of a larger bar. The aftermarket pieces, like those from Racingline and 034 Motorsports, are made from 6061 aluminum and feature a range of adjustments to function with stock height and lowered suspensions. Plus, they use motorsports-spec ball joints or heim joints to control articulation. Whatever sway bar you throw at them, they’ll handle it.
Connecting the dampers to the chassis are the strut tops; rubber bushings that provide some compliance to the sharp hits your GLI takes from a bad road surface. These are often overlooked in the suspension but play a fairly critical role in the damping process. The firmer the strut top, the more effective the dampers can be. The GLI’s strut tops aren’t anything special and leave plenty of room for improvement. 034 Motorsports is one company that offers a few options for strut mounts. Their Density line of mounts uses a 75 durometer rubber which sits at around 50% firmer than the OE mounts. Stiffer than that are their camber mounts, solid aluminum strut tops with a permanent 1.5° increase of negative camber. Those are best suited to motorsports as the solid mounts will introduce a significant amount of harshness into the GLI’s ride.
Once the suspension is firmer and lower, you’ll need to get an alignment. Lowering the car changes the angle of each suspension arm, and that will put the camber and toe settings out of spec. The factory arms have some adjustments but will be limited by the lower setups. The solution is to replace the arms with adjustable versions. Similar to the endlinks, the arms feature a range of adjustments to allow for an aggressive motorsports alignment or a tire-killing, neck-breaking, camber-heavy alignment.
034 Motorsports has a full line of adjustable rear control arms with stiffer bushings and full adjustability for anyone who needs it. Their arms are made from CNC’d aluminum, use either heim joints or significantly stiffer rubber bushings, and provide several degrees of camber and toe gain. 034 isn’t the only name out there in adjustable Mk6 GLI arms, but they do carry weight as a leader in the aftermarket.
Mk6 VW GLI Suspension Service Intervals
Refreshing your suspension components is the best way to keep your higher mileage GLI feeling as fresh as the day you bought it. Worn bushings and dampers will introduce lots of slop and squish into the driving feel but will do so gradually as miles increase. You likely won’t feel it happen, but the suspension will eventually get tired, removing most of the sporting characteristics from the car. Luckily, all you have to do is replace them with some new parts, and you’ll be back on your way.
Your dampers and strut mounts are going to last around 75,000 miles in good health before you start to notice a significant decline. They’ll eventually get pretty soft, enough that you can comfortably bounce the car by pushing on the body. Begin looking for some signs of dampness around the strut body around that mileage. When a strut fails, it’ll begin to leak its internal hydraulic fluid. Other signs of worn struts and shocks are clunking over bumps and a very bouncy ride.
Control arm bushings and ball joints will be the next to go, though they can wear beyond a useable limit even earlier than the struts. Failing bushings are characterized by vague and sloppy steering, especially through corners. If your GLI feels like it's moving all over the place while you have the wheel still, then it’s likely your bushings. Some of the bushes are fluid-filled, so they’ll leak fluids. Others aren’t, so use a prybar to put pressure on the bushings. Good bushes should flex against the pry bar but have solid resistance and will only flex so far. Blown bushings will be easy to move and have lots of play. Look out for the trailing arm bushings first. They’re under a lot of load and will likely be the first to wear.
Beyond that, you’ll have plenty of trouble-free miles ahead of you in your Mk6 VW GLI. Hopefully, we’ve covered all your questions regarding the GLI and its suspension, but if we haven’t, please leave them for us in the comments below. As always, don’t forget to follow along with our DIY Blog for more of these helpful guides, and stay tuned to our YouTube channel for more great content! Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or concerns. Happy wrenching!
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.