It's difficult to believe Volkswagen's Jetta is on its fifth generation. It seems like only yesterday a skinny 75-bhp sedan was running up and down the streets in the shadow of its more popular Golf brother.
As I tore through San Gabriel canyon, it became readily apparent that the new Jetta GLI is an entirely new animal, a vehicle both refined and dynamic. And as we left our chase car in the dust (a new BMW 3 Series), there was no doubt it had enough beans to run with the big dogs. The Jetta had graduated, so to speak.
BMW would do well to fear the new Jetta, specifically this Eurosport-enhanced GLI model. Although it was born with recalibrated suspension, 17-inch wheels, and a turbocharged 200-bhp engine, Eurosport has significantly raised its performance to such a degree it compares to cars costing nearly twice as much. In hindsight, I would have ordered the GLI (if not only for its glorious steering wheel) and sent it to Eurosport for a few well-placed modifications.
Just for grins, I brought our long-term Jetta along for the ride. Although I had spent time behind its wheel, there was something missing which made that time fairly limited. Perhaps it was the Jetta's suspension (or lack thereof). Hard acceleration caused the Jetta to porpoise, while hard-braking resulted in excessive dive. The car never lost grip, but the motions are disorienting. The GLI model firms the ride some 15 percent, and while most are happy with the results, it's still too soft for very spirited drivers.
Eurosport's long relation with H&R Springs yielded the H&R Cup Kit, a program that places the suspension exactly where it needs to be.
"I liked the stock GLI suspension," says Eurosport's Raffi Kazanjian. "But, I like the H&Rs much better. The Jetta feels 25 percent firmer than before; even with these big wheels, the car feels great."
Firm but not harsh, the Eurosport Jetta behaved much like the $43,000 BMW following it. Had I been blindfolded, I would have had difficulty telling which was which. Moreover, the H&R Cup Kit lowers the chassis about 1-1/2 inch and lends a well-tucked appearance to the car. Ultimately, if our Jetta felt like this, I'd be spending a lot more time driving it. I'm going to kick myself one more time for not ordering the GLI.
In terms of power delivery, our 2.0T is more than enough to keep the driver engaged. Hell, you might even say the FSI engine makes too much torque, if there is such a thing. Eurosport didn't think so. The crew at GIAC reflashed the Jetta's computer with a more aggressive program. It was augmented with Eurosport's tubular intake, a mandrel-bent piece featuring mass airflow provisions. The Eurosport intake replaces the factory one-piece engine cover/airbox and terminates with an ITG oil-impregnated filter element. Eurosport was in the midst of developing a stainless steel cat-back exhaust, and this car wore the 3-inch-diameter prototype. Judging from the sound, I'd be surprised if the Jetta didn't gain more than a few ponies from its inclusion.
The Eurosport dyno showed a significant increase in power, while torque rose some 35 lb-ft. And while big dyno numbers are great, it's the way this car delivers said power. The first three gears are punctuated with tire-chirping upshifts; once the car gains purchase, it will pull hard to 6700 rpm. The few times I got lazy with shifting duties, the Jetta was more than eager to pull itself out of the bog. Few turbo cars can claim such an elastic powerband.
The Eurosport Jetta GLI rides on 8x19 O.Z. Superleggera wheels, a classic multi-spoke design that has sadly been discontinued (replaced by the Ultraleggera). Kazanjian had to machine material from the wheel centers for proper fitment of the 225/35-19 Nitto 555 tires. This is curious, as The Tire Rack website states a 235-series tire is the recommended size. In any case, the new Jetta bolt pattern is 5x112 (formerly 5x100), the same as a like-sized Audi. Actually, the new Jetta wears many Audi-esque parts, including its multi-link rear suspension and aluminum front subframe. I'm certain this is in no small part responsible for its brilliant road manners.
Both Deputy Editor Funke and I were simply astounded by the Eurosport Jetta GLI. Its stealthy appearance surprised more than a few fellow drivers as we pushed the Nitto rubber till it screamed (and that's a damn long push). Gripping its brilliant sport steering wheel, I was able to carve my local canyon faster than any front-hooker that comes to recent memory. I kept asking Funke if the car was as good as I thought it was.
"Yeah... pretty damn good," was his simple yet wholly accurate response.
Comparatively speaking, the Eurosport Jetta GLI is a fairly modest piece of kit. No fancy engine work, aerodynamics, or big-buck suspensions. We think that's a good thing. It only took a few, well-placed rubs to make a great car brilliant.