What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Volkswagen GLI gets a few more features but remains otherwise unchanged. All trim levels now come standard with cold-weather features such as heated seats and heated windshield-washer nozzles. Additionally, the GLI gets Volkswagen's new navigation system as an option.
For many years, there existed a void in the market between "econosport" compact sedans (typically made by Japanese manufacturers) and pricier luxury sport sedans (normally produced by Germans). That void was filled a few years ago with the introduction of the Volkswagen GLI.
Bridging the gap between sporty compact sedans and luxury models, the GLI (it was called the Jetta GLI until last year) offers the taut, energetic feel of a German-engineered sedan, but at a more attainable price. The GLI's 200-horsepower turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine provides plenty of punch, while a firm suspension and communicative steering bring joy to those who appreciate a strong connection to the road. Also added to the mix is a nicely tailored cabin, VW's brilliant "DSG" automated manual transmission and an optional navigation system.
With pricing in the $25,000-$30K range, the 2009 Volkswagen GLI does exist in its own special niche of sorts. One could also consider the less expensive but equally impressive Honda Civic Si sedan, the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX and Legacy GT models and the turbocharged Volvo S40 T5. There's also Acura's redesigned TSX to think about. Of this bunch, though, we think VW's GLI stands tall, and it's an excellent choice for a small, fun-to-drive sport sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen GLI compact sedan comes standard with bi-xenon headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, metallic interior trim, aggressively bolstered front seats, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated side mirrors, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. New for 2009 are standard cold-weather features that were previously optional, including heated windshield-washer nozzles and heated front seats.
Ordering the optional Autobahn Package gets you a sunroof, leather upholstery and power lumbar support for the driver. There's also a Sport Styling kit that includes various exterior styling add-ons. Stand-alone options include 18-inch alloy wheels and Volkswagen's new voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with an integrated 30GB hard drive, SD memory card slot and USB port.
Powertrains and Performance
Only one engine is available on the 2009 Volkswagen GLI: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. It's available with a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed DSG transmission. The latter is an automated manual that allows either ultra-quick manual-style shifting via steering-wheel buttons or fully automatic operation. The GLI can sprint to 60 mph in about 8 seconds flat. EPA fuel economy estimates for a DSG-equipped GLI stand at 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Models sold in California and California-emissions states meet the strict PZEV (partial zero-emissions vehicle) emissions standard.
Antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are all standard. Side airbags for rear passengers are optional.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2009 Volkswagen GLI received four out of five stars for protection of front-seat occupants in head-on collisions and five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the GLI earned the top rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin of the VW GLI exudes top-notch quality. Clean European design and an exacting fit and finish give it an upscale flair. Performance-oriented touches include a thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic-trimmed pedals. Firm side bolsters on the front seats hold both driver and passenger snug around corners -- perhaps a bit too snug for those of wide frame. Otherwise, seating for four adults is comfortable all around, and the rear seat offers a folding armrest and a split-folding feature. This year's new and improved navigation system now features an intuitive touchscreen interface and a 30GB hard drive that not only decreases processing time (compared to last year's unit) but also devotes 20GB to digital music storage. Trunk capacity measures an impressive 16 cubic feet.
The GLI's well-sorted suspension strikes a near-perfect balance between a comfortable ride and sporty handling. And the ride is surprisingly quiet. Between the precise handling, strong turbo engine and smooth-shifting DSG transmission, the 2009 Volkswagen GLI is a well-rounded choice for enthusiasts on a budget.