First drive: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Old 10-07-2011, 06:02 AM
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Default First drive: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Mosport International Raceway • Since Volkswagen ditched the European version of the Jetta and replaced it with the made-for-North-America sedan, it has gone from bit player to sales success — 20,969 units in Canada thus far this year.

The quibble, at least from those of us who enjoyed the European flavour of the previous car, was that the bigger sedan brought less enthusiastic handling and an antiquated base engine that did little to arouse one’s senses.

Fear not, then — the new GLI more than puts the spice back into the Jetta’s very likeable demeanour.

Before getting to the engine, it’s worth looking at what VW has done to create a serious sleeper. The front end is bolder, the back end features twin pipes and smoked tail light lenses, there are large P225/45R17 tires and the brake calipers are painted bright red. Inside, the GLI picks up the Golf GTI’s thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel — which puts some welcomed heft in the driver’s hand — a soft-touch dashboard, automatic climate control and excellent sport bucket seats that provide a ton of support without feeling confining. Of course, being the go-faster model, there are stainless steel pedals and red stitching on the steering wheel and shifter boot.

That’s pretty much the extent of the cosmetic upgrades. However, beneath the sheet metal, the GLI is very different from its more pedestrian siblings. First, the twist-beam rear suspension has been ditched in favour of a much more effective set of multiple links and the ride height has been dropped by 15 millimetres, which lowers the centre of gravity. The net result is a car that has a more planted look and a more planted feel when it’s driven with purpose.

Lapping the driver development track at Mosport International Raceway northeast of Toronto brought the changes home. The body remains flat and hunkered down, while the steering brings a crisp turn-in and very good feedback. There is also much less of a tendency for the back end to chatter out of line when swooping through a fast corner with broken pavement at the mid-point. Indeed, it takes a lot to get the Jetta GLI to misbehave, especially when it’s wearing the optional ($975) 18-inch wheels and lower-profile P225/40 tires. The latter’s effect is such that the upgrade should be considered mandatory.

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