When Volkswagen redesigned the 2011 Jetta, I was actually angry at them, and glad to see the car leave. As a long-time VW fan, and two time (and current) Jetta owner, I felt the brand had abandoned me with this cheap imitation of what was once a quality, fun to drive car.Ã‚Â When news came that VW would be offering a new GLI, I was skeptical. I am pleased to report that the new GLI makes up for a lot-but not all of what infuriates me about the current base Jetta.
While the drab Jetta SEL nearly put me to sleep just by looking at it, our Tornado Red GLI is remarkably sportier looking in comparison. The changes VW made from the standard Jetta are few, but extremely effective. The GLI’s ride height has been dropped half an inch, the front grille and fascia replaced for a far more aggressive look. Our Autobahn model sported upgraded 18″ wheels and painted brake rotors. Minor changes, but collectively they all come together to provide a Jetta GLI that make the car faithful to GLI’s of the past.
My biggest gripe with the new Jetta was it’s cut-rate interior, and with the GLI, VW has addressed some of those issues. The seats, for one, felt more like what one should expect in a VW. The red stitching on the leatherette seats, shift boot, emergency brake and steering wheel added a sporty flair. And oh, what a steering wheel-a definite pleasure to hold. While I found myself cursing out the standard Jetta’s interior, I actually didn’t mind spending time in the GLI. Although an improvement over regular Jetta’s, the cost cutting measures on the current generation are apparent, but just not to such an extreme extent. Rock-hard plastics are still there, but the major driver interaction points-seats, steering wheel-are much better here.
The Jetta GLI is powered by the tried and true 2.0L turbo four cylinder that does duty in several VW and Audi cars. I’m pleased to say the engine matches, and does justice to the spirit of the GLI. The GLI has a nice bark to it, and despite its 200hp, the car feels genuinely quick and sporty. Buyers can opt for a six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch DSG. Our test car had the DSG, which tended to lurch a bit around town, but otherwise was a willing partner when you wanted to push the car. Thankfully, VW swapped out the rear suspension of the standard Jetta for a multi-link rear suspension,. This, and the lower ride height, completely transforms how the car feels. In other words, I felt like I was actually driving a Volkswagen. I’m pleased to say the Jetta GLI is a fun, engaging car to drive, with handling that is as competent as one would expect a GLI to be.
The Jetta GLI is offered in three flavors-base, Autobahn, and Autobahn with Navigation. Our test car was the Autobahn, which adds a leatherette interior, power moonroof, 18″ wheels and a Fender premium audio system. Equipped with the DSG transmission, our test car rings in at $27,415USD, including destination. That’s quite a premium over the 2012 Honda Civic Si sedan, but I would concede the VW has the superior drivetrain.
With the new Jetta GLI, I do feel somewhat better about what VW is doing. I am disappointed the driving fun that was a hallmark of all Jetta’s has gone away, but with the GLI, VW engineers have provided a car that remains true to its roots. A definite must see for the buyer seeking a sub-$30,000 sport sedan.