Volkswagen has not yet lived down the weaknesses of the most recent redesign of the popular midsize Jetta sedan, but the Jetta GLI goes a long way toward restoring the line’s reputation. More refined than the base Jetta, it benefits from an independent rear suspension that improves the car’s handling. And the interior recalls the high quality standards of pre-2011 Jettas.
In many ways, the 2013 Jetta GLI is quite likable, but with a number of “ifs,” beginning with … if only it had a conventional automatic transmission rather than the dual-clutch automated manual gearbox known as the DSG. (We have yet to warm to this type of transmission.) And, if only we were a little smaller and more agile; access to the front seat is awkward for people with bigger, older frames. Those turn-offs aside, we suspect we’d have been quite happy with our Jetta GLI if it had been equipped with the standard 6-speed manual transmission.
Despite vociferous criticism from many quarters, Volkswagen continues to market a bargain-basement version of the front-wheel-drive Jetta for $15,545. But the German automaker took care to offer a wide variety of cars under the Jetta nameplate. In addition to the base model, there’s the GLI, Hybrid and diesel, as well as the SportWagen, available with a gasoline or diesel engine. So the Jetta line runs the gamut from inexpensive to luxurious to sporty, with a side trip to versatile. For those who demand maximum fuel efficiency, the diesel and Hybrid versions reach well into the 40- to 50-mpg range.
Our test car, a bright red GLI Autobahn, had a sticker price of $28,090. The turbocharged 2-liter Four churns out 200 horsepower and is rated at 27 mpg city, 32 highway. It’s also rated a partial-zero-emissions vehicle.
Big, tall drivers who like to keep the seat in its rear-most position have difficulty navigating past the B-pillar and sometimes fall heavily into the car. But once the driver is nestled inside, the seat and driving position are comfortable. The leatherette upholstery is supple as real leather and feels durable.
Among the GLI Autobahn’s standard features are premium touch-screen radio with satellite service; media device interface with iPod cable; multifunction steering wheel; cruise control; power driver’s seat; sunroof, dual-zone climate control; and heated front seats. It all added up to a feeling of luxury and refinement, with a mildly sporty character.
The DSG transmission shifted predictably once the car was in motion, but it was grabby, hesitant or both on startup from a dead stop. We’ve driven Volkswagens with stick shifts before and are certain we’d find the 6-speed preferable in the Jetta.
The rear seat is commodious and fairly easy to access and egress. The trunk is unusually large for this segment, at 15.5 cubic feet. But the opening is on the small side; we were unable to squeeze a 19-inch portable television set through it.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Jetta a Top Safety Pick.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2-liter turbocharged Four, 200 horsepower, 207 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual
Weight: 3,157 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×7-inch alloy
Tires: 225/40R H all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.5 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type: Premium unleaded (recommended)