In its quest to become the world’s number one automaker, Volkswagen has decided to broaden its target clientele. To do this, VW has to make its products more accessible. With this in mind, last year, this manufacturer offered a new generation Jetta more suited to American tastes. While purists didn’t exactly give this recent Jetta a warm welcome, VW did what it set out to do, selling an unusually high number of units south of the border. Mission accomplished!
The new GLI: Not your average Jetta
Although the new Jetta is less fun and sporty, Volkswagen’s GLI, introduced this year, doesn’t disappoint. It may even be able to console jilted purists. For the uninitiated, the GLI is the sport version of the Jetta and is the equivalent of the GTI for the Golf. Sure, the GLI isn’t as widely recognized as the GTI, but many people have sworn by it for years.
Subtle as they may be, the changes on the outside are enough to set the Jetta sports car apart. For starters, it has front-end fog lights and a distinctive front fascia including a honeycomb grille with the GLI logo. At the tail-end, an apron and a twin exhaust confirm the car’s true nature. But the real attention-grabbers are the 18-inch rims through which you can catch glimpses of the red brake callipers. Our test model had even more presence with a tornado red paint job. During our test drive, several people were so taken with the car’s style some even mistook it for a BMW!
Mechanically speaking, it has the same engine as the Golf GTI, namely a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with direct injection that develops 200 horsepower for slightly higher torque. That’s much better than the 115 horses in the current Jetta. As for the choice of transmissions, it comes factory standard with a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional dual-clutch DSG. It’s one of the best engines on the market and, although it runs on super, it features good power and noticeable fuel economy.
Independent rear suspension
The GLI, as its friends call it, isn’t just a more powerful Jetta. It has a multilink – thus, independent – rear suspension, instead of a rear torsion bar suspension like the conventional Jetta. That gives it better support in sport conditions and helps minimize weight transfers. The GLI is also lower, a feature that not only gives it a lower centre of gravity, but gives it more style, particularly with the side skirts that lower the sills even more.
The interior includes a few unique features too, like the optional leather seats with red stitching. The sport steering wheel with its flat bottom isn’t unlike the one that initially appeared on the Audi RS models. But just like the current Jetta, the dashboard is made with a few rather lacklustre plastics – luckily the aluminum finish spiffs things up somewhat.
In the back, the Jetta’s new platform increases the cargo space, making the car more family-friendly. Its larger dimensions also give passengers more room, making things a little less cramped when there are three people in the backseats. However, during our test drive, the backseat passengers had trouble buckling their seat belts because the buckles are sunken in to the bench. This was particularly challenging at night.
On the road
At the wheel, we liked the turbo four-cylinder that delivers its power in low gear and instantly. What’s most surprising is without a doubt the engine’s rich and muffled sound, as though there was a V6 under the hood. This detail makes all the difference and makes the GLI much more fun to drive. As for the rest, this souped up Jetta is almost as dynamic as its more posh cousin, the Audi A4. The only true advantage of the A4, whose price is much higher, is its all-wheel drive. If the GLI had AWD, it would be pretty much the perfect sport sedan, especially for the price.
A sporty ride and a manual gearbox have always gone hand in hand. In the case of the GLI, let’s just say that in spite of the manual transmission’s lower base price, we recommend the DSG dual clutch gearbox. It performs better, promotes better fuel economy and eliminates the clutch pedal, which came in handy in various situations.
True rivals for the Jetta GLI are hard to find. Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series buyers that are outraged by their prices may even be tempted. Prestige notwithstanding, the Jetta GLI has as much to offer as these higher-end models: it’s equally fun to drive and it costs less than $30,000 fully loaded.
|Test model||2012 Volkswagen Jetta|
|Trim level||GLI 2.0 TSI DSG|
|Price range||$15,875 - $28,875|
|Price as tested||$28,875|
|Warranty (basic)||4 years / 80,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Competitive models||Honda Civic Si, MazdaSpeed3, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Subaru Impreza WRX|
|Value for price|