2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Road Test

Despite being mildly dismayed by the base 2.5-liter fifth-generation Jetta's inclination toward comfort instead of sport and the tepid performance of the new five-cylinder engine, we held out hope for the high-performance GLI version. Among Volkswagen aficionados, the letters GLI are held in high esteem and are perhaps second only to the letters GTI. Since its inception, the GLI moniker has graced sedan versions of the hatchback GTI-all the joy of the GTI but in the more-family-friendly Jetta package.

When the 2006 Jetta GLI debuted at the Detroit auto show back in January, we learned that it would arrive several months before the nearly identical fifth-generation GTI. (That car debuted in Europe at the end of 2004, but we won't get it until mid-'06.) Staffers who experienced the new GTI on European soil were impressed. The news that we'd get the GLI before the GTI was almost enough to make us look past the new Jetta's Corolla-esque styling, and the 18-inch wheels didn't hurt the looks, either. Previously, some staffers called the Jetta's styling sophisticated; these statements were not without dissent.

While we waited for the GLI to show up, the Jetta's platform mate, the Audi A3, turned up and wowed us with its civilized yet sporty dynamics (C/D, July 2005). Expectations were running quite high when a new GLI finally pulled into our parking lot for 10 days of attacking back roads and trolling interstates.

The tweaks that make a regular Jetta into a GLI are for the most part tasteful, restrained, and only address what is necessary to make the sweet-sorority-sister Jetta into a beer-guzzling fraternity boy. Alterations involve increasing power, firming up the chassis, and subtly differentiating the interior and exterior. How subtle? The only noteworthy exterior change is a blacked-out honeycomb grille that replaces the slatted chrome unit.

In this latest version of the GLI, Volkswagen selected the corporate 197-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection. The cooling effect of directly injecting fuel into the combustion chamber lets VW get away with a high-for a turbocharged engine-compression ratio of 10.3:1. And running that high compression ratio keeps the engine making decent power in those rare moments when the turbocharger is snoozing. It's never sleeping for long, though, as the torque peak of 207 pound-feet is reached at just 1800 rpm. Compared with the previous-generation GLI's 180-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder, the added displacement and higher compression ratio of the new engine virtually eliminate the minor turbo lag that gave the 1.8-liter a rubber-band-like power delivery-just a small delay between hitting the pedal and getting the power. It didn't really bother us until we sampled the new engine, which responds immediately and linearly.

At the test track the 3353-pound GLI ran to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds on its way to a 15.5-second quarter-mile time at 92 mph. We weren't bowled over by these numbers, especially when compared with the almost identically geared A3, at 107 fewer pounds, that ran to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Perhaps it was a combination of the extra weight, a relatively green engine (it had only 1292 miles on the odometer), and the larger and heavier 18-inch wheels, but the GLI lacked the frisky nature of the A3.