The Volkswagen GTI is in my eyes the quintessential “hot hatch”. It’s the vehicle that literally defines that term in the eyes of most enthusiasts. Built in Germany, made to last, and a blast to drive, it’s easily one of my all-time favourite cars. However, I can’t help but think of a hatchback as a bit juvenile-looking in this day in age. Like most true petrolheads, I love station wagons. They’re practical, they look cool, and they’re rare enough to be considered unique. Hatchbacks though, not so much. Where most hatchbacks are more practical than their sedan counterpart, they just look more youthful. Where the GTI is based on the popular Golf, its sedan counterpart, the GLI, is based on the Jetta. All stereotypes about Jetta drivers aside, the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI looks far more grown up to me than the GTI, and has always been at the back of my mind as a practical car to own while still a city-dwelling bachelor in my twenties.
Pricing for the current Jetta starts off significantly cheaper than that of the last one. Starting at $14,990 for the base car, it seems to lack the “premium” pricing of its predecessors. In order to compete with the likes of the Corolla, Civic, Mazda3 et al., ze Germans decided to cut down pricing. Of course in order to do this, they had to cut costs altogether; and that means that the Jetta is now manufactured in Mexico. The first time I heard of this, I cringed. Cheap labour and cheaper bits are not what I expect from a performance-oriented German car. Has this GLI been robbed of its charm? I decided to spend some quality time with a fully-loaded 2013 model to find out.
First off, I’m a huge fan of the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that has been prevalent in Volkswagen (and Audi) vehicles for quite some time now. Putting out (supposedly; the 2.0T has always been said to be underrated) a modest 200-horsepower and 207 lb/ft of torque, the Jetta GLI isn’t exactly the quickest thing around. I only managed to get a 7.4 second run to 100 km/h. Volkswagen has, however, fixed the one true gripe I have always had with this motor. It was always capable, torquey, and refined, but it just never sounded quite right. For me at least, part of the allure of a performance car is the way it sounds. The fine gentlemen over in Wolfsburg have now directed some of the intake resonance right into the cabin of the car, bringing in a powerful yet confident rumble. The GLI now sounds the part.
In simple terms, the new Jetta GLI is a lot of fun to drive. My test car was equipped with the 6-speed DSG “direct-shift” gearbox, which is definitely a quick shifter and therefore makes it marginally quicker than the 6-speed manual model. Though the advantages are there, I must say that the DSG gearbox is nowhere near as satisfying as a true manual. I found my left foot looking for a clutch pedal on numerous occasions when preparing to stomp on the throttle. As well, the 2.0T still has that diesel-esque lag between 0-5 km/h. Issues aside, the GLI didn’t even flinch while barrelling through the twisty Snake Road near Hamilton, ON. Corners are definitely this car’s forté, and it doesn’t bother to hide that.
The biggest surprise I found with this 2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI was its fuel economy. Typically I always find that with my habitual lead foot, I tend to be a bit distant from most manufacturers’ fuel economy claims. On the highway in the Jetta though, I managed to get 6.2L/100km. In combined driving over the course of a week, I averaged 9.3L/100km. The correlation between the amount spent on fuel versus the amount of fun I had with the car is almost unbeatable. With similar power numbers, I compare the Jetta GLI with another one of my favourites, the Honda Civic Si Sedan. With the Jetta’s cost-cutting and Mexican build, one would assume that they would sit at a similar price point, right?
Finished in a beautiful Tornado Red and equipped with the Technology Package, my tester is literally the most expensive Jetta a Canadian can buy. It has an easy-to-use navigation system, a brilliant-sounding Fender sound system (no really; it has the perfect amount of bass, treble, and midrange), and enough options to make your head spin. The DSG is a $1,000 option over the manual, but I’d still prefer the stick for a purist driving experience. Loaded up, the sticker on my GLI is right around the $34,500 mark. I initially thought the sticker was a bit on the higher side considering a Civic Si can be had for $26,000 with a standard navigation system and sunroof, but then I did the math on it. Sure, my tester comes in a bit pricier, but Volkswagen will sell you the GLI without all the toys for just around the $27,000 mark. One quick gripe: I must mention that this GLI, in typical German car fashion, requires a proprietary Volkswagen-branded cable to connect your iPod or other multimedia device. How hard or expensive would it really be to just include a regular USB port like everybody else? I will say though that Volkswagen’s manual shifter is right on par with the Civic Si’s legendary snick-snick gearbox, if not better.
All this being said, I will say that the Jetta has a few other notable advantages. For one, it’s quite possibly the only sedan on the market that maintains the “hot hatch” driving position. It’s comfortable to be in, and long trips don’t take a toll on the body. The intricate red stitching in the steering wheel, shift boot, and seats show meticulous attention to detail, and of course, the Germans are known for their interior. If you’re shopping on the pre-owned market, a late-model Jetta GLI will have depreciated significantly more than the Civic; especially considering Civics hold their value. Plus, when you wake up and need to get to work, your GLI will typically be waiting for you in your driveway or garage, whereas if you had bought the Civic Si, it probably would have been stolen by then. Jokes aside, I like the GLI. I do feel though that it’s lost a bit of its charm over the years. Youthful as it may look, the GTI still has 100% of the passion, fun factor, and quality to go with the premium price tag. If your new car must be a sedan, I would still give the nod to the Civic Si.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Gallery