When I first drove it, my only real complaint with the five-cylinder Jetta was its lack of grunt. From the seat of my pants, the 2.5L Mk V felt remarkably slow. Though the new five-cylinder engine throws out more power and considerably more torque than the old standard 2.0-liter, it also comes wrapped in more car. The average driver will probably never have issues with his or her 2.5L's performance, but of course there are always those who crave more.
So if you're a driving enthusiast and you've got your heart set on a new Jetta, this is the car you'll want to buy, the 2006 GLI. It's still got the prominent front grille and contentious round taillights, but is pulled along by a sweet new turbocharged motor linked to a proper six-speed manual transmission. Sweeter still, Volkswagen claims a six-speed DSG tranny will be an available option when the GLI officially hits dealer lots.
Our test car was equipped with the standard manual six. The shifter mechanism, the first we've experienced in a Mk V VW, seems to be much improved over previous generations, and I found the GLI's 50 extra horses and stick shift go a long way toward improving driving confidence. More importantly, the 2.0-liter turbo motor produces an impressive 207 lb-ft of torque as low in the range as 1800 rpm, so accelerating on demand is a cinch. No longer was I fixed on my rearview mirrors, fearful of barreling SUV drivers bent on punting me off the road.
Along with the upgraded drivetrain, the GLI received subtle styling cues not present on its base-model sibling, like a blacked-out honeycomb grille, blue-tinted window glass and optional 18-inch alloy wheels with performance summer tires. The suspension is set up to be slightly more rigid to sharpen handling, though stiff isn't quite the word to describe it. Along with technically advanced electro-mechanical steering, the sport tuned suspension makes the Jetta GLI a fairly precise machine. The GLI also features what Volkswagen calls its next-generation Electronic Stabilization Program to keep the less talented among us out of the land of crashes. Purists might consider it a bit overbearing, so If you like your handling sharper still, turn ESP off and throw on an aftermarket suspension from one of the numerous available sources, Neuspeed, Eibach or H&R, to name a few.
I believe the Jetta V's interior will be one of its biggest selling points; it is simply the best in its class. The GLI improves even this area in impressive fashion. The seats are GLI-specific sport buckets that are both supportive and remarkably comfortable. Aluminum sport pedals and snarky model-specific instrumentation come standard. And the steering wheel is awesome, a sporty three-spoke affair that brings to mind the tillers found on upper-tier sports cars. It's easily the best wheel ever offered on a VW-badged car, ergonomically perfect, with substantial circumferential girth and integrated audio, telephone and cruise controls. The DSG-equipped Jetta GLI will also incorporate paddle shifters on its wheel, and we're all looking forward to taking a spin in a DSG-equipped GLI sometime very soon.
When we drove it, the GLI was still very new, so new that at the time it hadn't yet been formally introduced to the press or public. Therefore, items like concrete pricing information were unavailable at press time. The car, however, is real, and should be on its way to dealer lots by the time you read this. All the way around, this is the best Jetta ever built-perhaps the best Volkswagen to date.
Base Price: TBA
DrivetrainTransverse front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine2.0-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
TransmissionSix-speed manual; six-speed DSG optional
SuspensionIndependent front MacPherson struts withstabilizer bar, independent four-link rear with coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar
BrakesFour-wheel discs with power assist, ABS
DimensionsLength x Width x Height (in.): 179 x 69 x 57Wheelbase: 101 in.Curb Weight: 3,230 lb
PerformancePeak Power: 200 bhp@ 5500 rpmPeak Torque: 207 lb-ft@ 1800 rpm0-60 mph: 6.7 sec.Top Spee: 130 mph(electronically limited)