Volkswagen’s new Jetta, launched last summer, didn’t have much appeal for driving enthusiasts. Cost cutting on interior materials aside, the new Jetta also eliminated the expensive independent rear suspension in favor of a cheaper semi-independent torsion beam setup, which didn’t do anything to endear the car to those who prefer twisty roads to straight ones. “Wait for the GLI”, we were told, and I’m happy to say that the new GLI is here. Not “here” as in “at the dealership”, but “here” as in “on display at the Chicago Auto Show”, which means the car is one step closer to U.S. sales.
As you’d expect from a Jetta GLI, the first thing you get is more power. Volkswagen’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four, good for 200 horsepower and 207 ft lb of torque, is the engine of choice. The standard transmission is a six speed manual, but buyers can also check the option box next to the DSG automatic gearbox. I still prefer a manual in anything with sporting intentions, but Volkswagen’s DSG gearbox, borrowed from Audi, is about as good as it gets for a shiftable automatic at a reasonable price point.
The independent suspension is back on all four corners for the GLI version, and VW tells us that the suspension is “performance tuned”. They don’t list details, but I’ll assume that includes higher spring rates (and possibly lower springs) and stiffer shocks, which will definitely improve handling at the cost of a little ride comfort. VW also uses something called “XDS”, or cross differential system, to prevent inside wheel spin during cornering. Unlike Ford’s new Focus, which uses brake-based torque vectoring, VW’s system appears to rely on the differential instead of the brakes. Speaking of brakes, the GLI comes with four wheel discs, with floating calipers painted in red.
Inside, the amenities depend on your choice of model. The base GLI comes with cloth seats (yes, please), a sport styled, flat bottom steering wheel, GLI logos, aluminum accents and alloy pedals. Step up to the GLI Autobahn, and you get a sunroof, dual zone climate control, heated V-Tex leatherette seats (nein, danke) and the Fender premium audio system. Opting for the top of the line GLI Autobahn with Navigation gets you a nav system, keyless entry and push button start, but you’re still stuck with the plastic seats. Why VW doesn’t offer leather seating as an option is beyond me.
Prices start at $23,495 for a base GLI with the six speed manual, go to $25,545 for a GLI Autobahn and jump to $26,445 for the GLI Autobahn with Nav and a six speed manual. Opting for the DSG gearbox should cost you another $1,100 or so, which puts the price of a well equipped Jetta GLI dangerously close to the $30,000 mark. I’ll reserve judgment until I get to see one up close and personal, but that price had better include higher quality interior materials than those used in base Jetta models. There’s no word on when the GLIs will hit dealerships, but I’ll take a wild guess and say by early summer.