In today’s car-centered culture, driving can become a mundane chore, something we have to do instead of something we want to do. Well, meet one sure cure for those behind-the-wheel blues: the Volkswagen Jetta GLI.
Built on the bones of the already fun-to-drive Jetta compact sedan, this sported-up version pilfers many of the components that make the brand’s Golf GTI hot hatchback such a hoot to drive. At its heart is the same 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, an 81-hp boost over the standard Jetta. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard; a 7-speed automatic is available. Very good EPA fuel-economy estimates of up to 32 mpg in highway driving make it as responsible as it is entertaining.
Similarly, the GLI’s sport-tuned suspension, recalibrated steering, and more powerful brakes have all been upgraded to GTI standards. The result is one of the most satisfying compact sedans to drive that’s currently on the road.
If there’s a deal-breaker here, at least for some, it’s the lack of prominent hood scoops, spoilers, and the like. On the upside, the GLI’s subtle styling tweaks—including red-painted brake calipers—set it apart from the regular Jetta, while allowing you to keep your performance potential on the down-low so as not to alert passing gendarmes to how much fun you’re having behind the wheel.
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Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4 (228 hp), 6-speed manual, FWD
MSRP, base model: $26,890; (as tested: $31,185)
MPG, city/hwy/combined: 25/32/28
Safety ratings: NHTSA: 5 stars overall; IIHS: good (all crash-related ratings)
Spare tire: Compact temporary
Final assembly: Puebla, Mexico
Basic warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles