Amid the nostalgic hubbub of New Beetles and New Microbuses, Volkswagen is quietly commemorating its past in a truly useful way: with substance, not style. The new Jetta GLI pays tribute to 1984-92 cars of the same name, which were, essentially, GTIs with trunks. To true Volksmavens (look for the Fahrvergngen T-shirt), the GLI is a revered model, so we're all too happy to report that the new one fills its big shoes brilliantly.
Originally one of four Jetta models, the GLI now is part of a lineup that includes more than a dozen variants. It's priced less than the high-end GLX, forgoing some of that model's frills but seriously augmenting its athletic abilities.
Seventeen-inch wheels with 225-series tires and a six-speed manual gearbox are standard GLI fare, along with a smooth, 24-valve version of VW's 2.8-liter VR6 engine (it's shared with the automatic-only GLX and soon will power the ultimate GTI, too). Horsepower is up 26 from the twelve-valve VR6, to 200, and torque jumps 14 pound-feet, to 195.
Thrust is, no surprise, significant. VW claims the GLI will sprint to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, but it feels quicker than that. The car is prone to a bit of steering-wheel disobedience during deep-throttle acceleration, although it's not as pronounced as in Jettas with the 1.8-liter turbo four. As far as handling goes, we've often stated that the current Jetta is too softly sprung, and the revised VR6's considerable oomph has only reinforced that opinion. Still, the chassis is grippy, the car is pleasantly tossable, and composure at highway speeds is typically Teutonic.
Truth be told, our quibbles don't amount to much. The new GLI is a hoot, and, priced at $23,525 (a big $3990 less the GLX), it's a real bargain to boot. By putting performance above pleasantries, Volkswagen has again created the prototypical demi-Q-ship: sensible shoes that know how to boogie.