Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Volkswagen Jetta

dan proudfoot The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
Volkswagen has succeeded in creating a sporty, premium drive that seems only distantly related to base-priced Jettas. You'll like this vehicle if you've loved GTI hatches since you were a kid, but now you need a trunk.
Looks Rating
Amazing how the usual roster of hot-up features - egg-crate grille, larger wheels, painted calipers - render the bland Jetta edgy.
Interior Rating
Red-stitching on the steering wheel and seats brings purpose to the dark cockpit. Seats are supportive front and rear.
Ride Rating
Near-equal torque and horsepower inevitably assures driving pleasure. As does balanced servings of comfort and handling.
Safety Rating
An electronic differential keeps GLI pointed in the right direction; stability control corrects your mistakes.
Green Rating
Sports-oriented cars consume more premium gasoline than do more boring vehicles, of course, but not much in this case.

In the mists of memory the BMW 2002 looms as the most pleasurable car many of us have ever owned, even if we've moved on to far more powerful, plusher vehicles.

Volkswagen's Jetta GLI recalls its spirit.

I'm driving a GLI now on the same roads I drove many times in my 2002, back roads leading to the Mosport race track, and the character of the GLI's two-litre engine – the same size as that of the BMW, but more powerful – makes the car seem like a living, breathing thing. The light action of the manual gearshift and clutch, too, gives pleasure approaching that of the BMW's gearbox.

Story continues below advertisement

The thing about the 2002 was, it carried four persons but drove like a two-seater. In it you could be a responsible parent or a rabble-rouser, your choice. Another thing, this Bavarian confection was as solid as a bank machine (albeit prone to rust) if not at all luxurious. A charmer.

Ever since its heyday – in the 1970s stretching into the 1990s as enthusiasts kept them running long after the last one came off the assembly line in 1976 – competing manufacturers have tried to capture the magic combination of the little car with the large engine. (BMW itself ceded the territory as its more exhilarating models became increasingly pricey.)

As it happened, Volkswagen's Golf GTi gained similar status after its introduction in 1975, as an industry leader that actually prompted the coining of the term, hot hatchback.

Today's GTI continues as the premium Golf – and it still sizzles. But the Jetta GLI that Volkswagen that has introduced as a 2012 model sells for $1,900 less, with the same engine and transmission as the GTI, similar suspension tuning, and unlike the GTI, a commodious trunk. At $27,475, it's a well-priced charmer in much the same way as the 2002 in its day.

The understated styling of the workaday Jetta has been zapped with sculpted rocker panels, the GTI's honeycomb grille, and spectacular 17-inch wheels – 18-inch optional. At the rear, the tail lamps are smoked and stainless-steel exhaust tips crown a diffuser-like panel. The usual tricks associated with "sports" models, then – but they successfully transform the bland basic Jetta into something special.

Underneath and within are the key ingredients. The GLI is 15 mm lower than other Jettas, and carries a different rear suspension that affords far more grip on bumpy surfaces. This multilink suspension is fitted on all Jettas exported to Europe from Volkswagen's Mexican factory, while a less-expensive beam axle suspends North American Jettas other than the GLI.

Nearing Mosport, I'm in the passenger seat when my colleague behind the leather-bound wheel gets carried away in one tree-lined corner, charging far too fast into its tightening radius. I brace myself as the GLI begins to skid, tires moaning, seat belts tightening, when the stability control system takes over and arrests the skid with computer-controlled application of the brakes on different wheels. I would not want to experience a similar situation in a 2002.

Story continues below advertisement

We arrive at Mosport's training track adjacent to the Grand Prix circuit. After kissing the ground in appreciation for having survived, driving solo around the treeless circuit in a series of GLIs is nothing short of refreshing.

The GLIs equipped with the optional automatic are most fun for this overjoyed-to-be-alive driver. The dual clutch operation delivers crisp, instantaneous shifts on its own, or the driver has the option of controlling the process with the steering wheel paddles. Incidentally, Volkswagen Canada expects as many as 60 per cent of GLI buyers to choose automatics. GTI buyers are more traditional enthusiasts with a 50-50 split between manual and automatic transmissions.

The upgraded suspension keeps the cars surprisingly flat in the constant cornering – the training track has every kind of turn imaginable but an absence of straights. But what's most amazing is how the brake pedal stays firm despite hard usage. The stink of hot rubber and hotter brake pads surrounds the cars after every 20-minute session, but there's no brake fade. Impressive.

We're told the stereo has eight speakers and the optional Fender sound system will blow us away. I confess I never tried it. I can report, however, that the sound actuator installed on the GLI engine – a hollow tube within the induction system – does give the engine a marvellous throatiness that's very satisfying during hard acceleration.

Like the 2002's two-litre engine, this one sings a happy tune as you put its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque to work.

Whether this powertrain would be even better in its GTI installation remains in question, because there is no hot hatch present at Mosport for purposes of comparison. The GTI is 42 kg lighter for a superior power-to-weight ratio, and in all likelihood its body is torsionally more rigid, which generally enhances handling.

Story continues below advertisement

But the truth is that GLI buyers probably won't care if their car isn't the hottest Volkswagen in the showroom. That would be the new Golf R, eclipsing the GTI with 270 horsepower, all-wheel-drive and a $39,675 price. The GLI? Its combination of price, practicality and personality render it a charmer and that's enough. As was the case with the fabled 2002.

Tech specs

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Type: Four-door sedan

Base Price: $27,475

Engine: 2-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder with DOHC and direct injection

Story continues below advertisement

Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: Front-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city/6.2 highway (manual); 8.8 city/6.1 highway (automatic); premium recommended.

Alternatives: Mazdasport3, Honda Civic Si, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Subaru WRX, Suzuki Kizashi, Nissan Sentra SE-R

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies