Drove the New GLI, Too - 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: Drove the New GLI, Too

August 25, 2011

GLI2.jpg (Photo courtesy of Volkswagen of America, Inc.)

At the Volkswagen event I attended earlier this week (hence the previous Golf R post), I also briefly drove the new 2012 Jetta GLI. I was excited to drive it as I've spent plenty of time with our long-term Jetta TDI and wanted to see how the two cars compared.

As with previous iterations, the new GLI is a Jetta with GTI hardware. That means the GLI gains the GTI's 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed DSG transmission, 17- or 18-inch wheels, bigger brakes, an independent rear suspension and retuned spring and dampers rates with a lower ride height. It also looks a bit different on the outside (new grille, dual exhaust, front spoiler) and has a GTI steering wheel, sport front seats and red-accent stitching on the inside.

As you can imagine, the GLI is much more interesting to drive. Just as in the GTI, the turbo-4 is a gem, with a wide torque band and a pleasing engine/exhaust note. The DSG comes with paddle shifters (they're not offered on the TDI), making it easier to snap through gear changes. (Also, for what it's worth, I didn't notice any of the low-speed engine braking that Mark pointed out recently. It could be a TDI quirk). In terms of handling, the GLI is more responsive and gripper when cornering. The overall suspension tuning is still on the soft side, though, reflecting the car's balanced approach to performance and comfort.

GLI_3.JPG Make takeaway from the brief drive: the GLI is the enthusiast's choice within the Jetta lineup. It's pretty fun to drive and won't embarrass itself on a curvy road. It also comes closest to being what the Jetta used to be -- a bridge between basic sedans and more upscale European entry-level luxury sedans. On that latter aspect, though, the biggest hold-up continues to be interior design. There's not much here on the GLI that's different than the regular Jetta and consequently the GLI's interior doesn't rise any higher than ordinary.

But overall I think the GLI is pretty cool. It has the new Jetta's strengths like a big backseat and trunk and adds a decent set of enthusiast credentials. Pricing starts at $23,495 at moves up to $25,545 for the Autobahn trim level. We'll also likely be getting GLI into the office in the coming weeks for full testing.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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