Article Updated: January 27, 2023
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Volkswagen’s MK7 GTI was first introduced in Berlin at the Paris Motor Show in 2012 to which hit the markets in late 2012. It won the Car of the Year Japan Award in 2013, which was the first time a European product won such award. Compared to its predecessor, MK6 GTI, the 7th Gen GTI is roomier and sports a more powerful 2.0t engine. There is a 7th gen (2015-2017) and a 7.5 gen (2017 – 2021), which is basically the 7th gen but with a facelift.
Under the hood, the GTI features an IHI IS20 turbo that puts down 217hp and 258lb-ft, unless you choose to go with the performance package, which puts down 227hp and 258lb-ft. The performance package (PP) features upgraded brakes, limited-slip differential, and software tweaks to up the engine 10hp. To be honest, you probably won’t even notice the 10hp difference, but it’s there according to Volkswagen. It was built on the common MQB platform.
Common MK7 Volkswagen GTI Engine Problems
- Ignition coil pack failure
- Turbo failure
- Leaking water pump/thermostat
- Suction pump failure
- Engine valve buildup
- Sunroof seal
- Creaking subframe
1. Ignition Coil Pack Failure
Ignition coil/coil pack failure is something that is common in most turbocharged engines. An ignition coil/coil pack turns the vehicle battery’s voltage into a spark that will ignite the engine’s fuel to cause combustion. As you can imagine, a faulty or failing ignition coil can have a big effect on an engine.
Failing ignition coils do not occur all the time as we make it out to sound, but if you happen to have an engine misfire, odds are it’s an ignition coil or spark plug. There are multiple reasons why they could go bad: normal wear and tear, improper spark plug gap, intrusion of moisture, or leaking valve covers.
Symptoms of Ignition Coil Failure:
- Engine misfires (P0300, P0301 – 1st Cylinder misfire, P0302 – 2nd Cylinder misfire, P0303 – 3rd Cylinder misfire, P0304 – 4th Cylinder misfire)
- Check Engine Light (CEL) illuminated
- Rough idle (cold or warm)
- Engine stalling
- Engine not turning
Ignition Coil Replacement Options:
If you aren’t sure what is causing engine problems, we highly advise getting an OBD-2 scanner. If you see the fault codes above (P0300 – P0304), you more than likely have a bad ignition coil. Once you’ve established your vehicle has a bad ignition coil, change all of them to decrease the likelihood of other worn ones going out in the future. We would even advise changing both ignition coils and spark plugs to cover all the bases. This is a pretty simple DIY if you have the tool, and if you choose to go to a shop you’ll be looking at a bill of ~$225.
If you are tuned or plan on going tuned, we highly advise going with the 1-Step colder spark plugs. The more boost you’re running, the hotter the engine gets, which leads to misfires under full throttle on OEM spark plugs.
DIY Difficulty: Easy
2. MK7 GTI Turbo Failure
This is a common problem in the early versions (2015 – 2017) of the Mark 7 GTIs. To be specific, the 06K 145 702N turbo is prone to failure. If you are looking to purchase this vehicle, try to find out if it has this turbo. Volkswagen was aware of the issue and quickly made engine revisions, so anything that ends in 722 you should be okay.
So what exactly happens and why are the 702’s prone to failure? Volkswagen chose to go with IHI, instead of the former Borg Warner turbos. This is not to say that all IHI turbos are bad, but the 702 had an issue during assembly and IHI quickly resolved the problem with future models. In the 702’s, the manifold sealing surface seems to be what causes these specific turbos to be unreliable.
Symptoms of Turbo Failure:
- CEL illuminating
- Power loss/poor acceleration
- Loud, whining noise
- Exhaust smoke
- Siren noise
IS20 Turbo Replacement Options:
There are really two options when it comes to turbo failure: replace it with an IS20 OR replace it with an IS38. Depending on cost, we would advise an IS38 if you’re looking for more power. However, if you choose to go this route, you may want to get an aftermarket clutch as well. Changing a turbo is not the easiest DIY task if you don’t know your way around an engine, but it can save a lot in labor costs. If you’re looking to take it to a shop to do, you could be looking at anywhere from $500 – $700 in labor costs alone.
DIY Difficulty: Difficult
3. Leaking Water Pump/Thermostat Housing
The water pump and thermostat housing are actually connected and unfortunately are very prone to leaking. A water pump takes water from the radiator through the engine to ensure the engine remains at a constant temperature. The thermostat housing houses the thermostat, which regulates coolant flow. So both of these components are crucial to maintain optimal engine temperature levels.
Typically with this unit, you won’t be able to see the leak, you’ll just most likely smell coolant leaking. Leaking happens because the plastic thermostat housing begins to deteriorate due to heat, which causes a coolant leak.
Symptoms of a Failing Water Pump or Thermostat:
- Coolant smell in the engine bay
- Engine overheating
- Coolant light illuminating more than normal
- Refilling coolant more than normal
Water Pump or Thermostat Replacement Options:
This DIY is not terribly hard and would actually save you money in labor costs. We would advise buying both the water pump and thermostat to ensure both parts are brand new. If you are looking to take your vehicle to the shop for this fix, you would be looking at about $600 – $700.
DIY Difficulty: Intermediate
4. MK7 GTI Suction Pump Failure
The fuel suction pump for the 2015 – 2016 GTI’s was very prone to failure and even caused Volkswagen to recall over 100,000 units. The suction pump is located in the fuel tank and is created to purge fuel from the Evaporative emissions (EVAP) system. When there is a faulty pump, fuel will flow directly into the EVAP system which can slowly lead to major issues if not taken care of immediately. How do I know if I have a faulty or failing suction pump?
Symptoms of Suction Pump Failure:
- Fuel smell in the cabin of the vehicle
- Power loss in mid-high RPMs
- Clogged charcoal canister
- Check Engine Light illuminating
Suction Pump Replacement Options:
Unfortunately, when it comes to DIY’s, we couldn’t find any guides online, but if you know what you are doing, this is a relatively easy DIY. If you have a 2015 – 2016 GTI, take it in and note Safety Recall Code: 20Y6. They should know what it is and replace it free of charge if you are still under warranty. Unfortunately, if your vehicle is no longer under warranty, you are probably going to have to replace the suction pump, purge valve, and charcoal canister. If you are looking to buy a 15-16 GTI, make sure this has already been done.
5. Engine Valve Buildup
Carbon buildup, unfortunately, is very common in many direct injection vehicles. What exactly is carbon buildup? The engine has to burn fuel to run and while this happens carbon deposits gradually build up in the intake valves. This is something you will experience at least once throughout your vehicle’s lifetime. See below for clogged intake valves vs clear intake valves. As you can imagine, it is much more difficult for your engine to “breathe” with clogged valves.
Symptoms of Carbon Buildup:
- Reduced fuel economy
- Engine knocking
- Cold start misfires
- Loss of power & engine stalls
Ways to Prevent Carbon Buildup in the Intake Valves:
- Manually cleaning the intake valves (Every 60,000 miles)
- Getting professionally walnut/media/soda blasting (Every 60,000 miles)
- Use the best quality engine fuel (93+ Octane)
- Running the engine hard when driving (3000rpms+ for consecutive 20-30mins)
If your vehicle has over 60,000 miles and has not had the intake valves cleaned, we highly recommend giving them a look because there is a high chance there is quite the carbon buildup. Cleaning the intake valves is something you can do on your own, but it is not an easy project. We have seen some people use oil catch cans or intake valve and turbo cleaner, but would recommend sandblasting to ensure most of the carbon has been removed. If you were looking to take it to a shop to get them professionally cleaned you could be looking to pay up to $600.
DIY Difficulty: Intermediate
6. MK7 GTI Sunroof Seal
Now yes, we acknowledge this is not an engine issue, but it seems to come up frequently enough to include in this write-up. There are multiple service bulletins (TSB 2045672 being the main one) from Volkswagen when it comes to this issue, so if you are having this problem make sure to call your local dealer to see if it is covered for your specific VIN. If you’re looking at purchasing an MK7, make sure this service has been resolved so you don’t have to deal with it later on. For reference, the service bulletin can be found here.
What exactly happens and what should you look out for? Essentially Volkswagen may have improperly equipped the sunroof seal to have a little gap that allows water to flow from the sunroof into the internals of your vehicle and possibly ruin some electrical components. If you are experiencing this, you will see something similar to the picture below. It is VERY important to act fast on this, so you do not have any electrical damage in the frame on the vehicle.
7. Creaking Subframe
Although not an engine issue, we have seen many complaints online regarding the squeakiness or creaking of the subframe. The subframe of a vehicle supports the axle, powertrain, and suspension. Here is an example of an MK7 GTI subframe creaking. This isn’t a huge deal to us because we can just turn music on, but for those that find this annoying, there are many causes for these noises. Also, this noise may only be heard by making certain driving maneuvers, such as making a turn, going over speed bumps, going up a driveway, or more.
If you are looking to get this issue resolved, be prepared for a rather difficult diagnosis, especially if it only happens with certain maneuvers. It can be one simple bolt in the subframe that is causing all of the noise. But, remember the subframe includes the powertrain, suspension, and axle. 90% of the time it is a bolt associated with the suspension, like the control arms or bushings. If you plan on taking it to the dealership, be prepared for the mechanics to come up with nothing.
Volkswagen MK7 GTI Reliability
This is always going to be a big question when it comes to any vehicle on the market, “How reliable is the MK7 GTI?”. It seems like there are mixed reviews when it comes to the reliability of these vehicles. The early years of the 7th gen had turbo issues that were later addressed in the 7.5’s. In general, if you take care of your vehicle, you shouldn’t have any HUGE issues. We have seen some of these go to 250,000 miles, so this goes to prove that they can be very reliable vehicles, it just all depends on how well they are maintained.
What is your experience with your MK7 GTI? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you are wanting to consume more VW MK7 GTI content, we wrote a Best Mods Guide for the Volkswagen MK7 GTI.