The new Jetta, quite frankly, has failed to resonate as much as the old one, mainly as a result of its bland styling. Volkswagen must be hoping that the sporty GLI model hits the mark with young, hip buyers and injects some life into the rest of the range.
The GLI at least looks the part, thanks to a deeper front spoiler, front foglights, a blacked-out grille surround, and some truly wicked eighteen-inch aluminum wheels shod with 225/45 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber. The beautifully crafted interior has aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped shift lever, a squared-off sport steering wheel, and decent bucket seats.
The new GLI may look like a hotted-up Toyota Corolla, but it certainly drives a lot better. Unlike most modern VWs, this one doesn't go all mushy on you during hard cornering and cock its rear wheel into the air. The steering is delightful, and there is just enough lift-throttle oversteer to make the handling entertaining and easy to modulate with the throttle pedal. With the intrusive stability control disengaged, it's too easy to spin the inside front wheel in tight bends, however. Despite its sport-tuned suspension, the GLI goes placidly down the freeway, with a supple and compliant ride.
The only disappointment is the performance. The 197-hp turbo four makes a nice, if muted, noise once the tach is spinning past 4000 rpm, and it revs sweetly enough, but it doesn't feel that fast. A Mini Cooper S, which has less power, seems much peppier. We liked the brake feel and stopping power, however, and enjoyed the fluid clutch and six-speed manual transmission. (A six-speed sequential manual DSG transmission is also available.)
The GLI is a sport-compact car for grown-ups, for a more sophisticated audience than the crowd that bolts on big exhausts, decals, and suspension kits with no wheel travel. All it needs is a bit more grunt.