Back in the early eighties, auto enthusiasts around the globe fell in love with the Volkswagen GTI. The diminutive 2 door offered comfort, practicality and great performance for an entry-level price. Add in the GTI’s responsiveness to simple tuning and the car was an icon in the making. Many have called it the original pocket rocket.*
A 2-door hatch may be perfect for some, but others require 4 doors or just prefer the styling of a sedan, so the Jetta was born. As an extension of the Rabbit/Golf (depending on where you lived) platform, it was natural that it should spawn a hotter version along the lines of the GTI. The hot Jetta was called the GLI.
With an all-new Jetta arriving as a 2011 model, it was only a matter of time before the GLI nameplate resurfaced. Coming to market as a 2012 model, the GLI breaths fire thanks to the same 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that motivates the current GTI. 200 horsepower and 207 lb/ft of torque make it to the front wheels though the buyer’s choice of a 6 speed manual transmission or a dual clutch unit that is coupled to paddle shifters.
I’ve driven both setups in the 2010 GTI at the legendary Mont Tremblant race track and they are both great fun on the track. I’m not a big fan of automatic transmissions, but I dare say that VW’s DSG might even be the quicker way to go if a potential buyer intends to take their car lapping.
To keep things sane, Volkswagen has upgraded the 4 wheel independent suspension to provide higher levels of performance and increased brake size to bring it all back to a stop.
As has always been the case, the styling touches that set the GLI apart from more pedestrian versions are subtle but definitive. Black sport seats with red piping set off a flat bottom sport steering wheel with GLI badging, while the front grille and headlights are also unique.
If the Jetta GLI is half as fun as the current GTI, then the GLI heritage will be well represented by the new car.
*For the sake of stirring the pot, let me remind you all that the real original pocket rocket was the Mini!