Driving Impressions: 2017 JETTA 2.0T GLI and 1.4T SE By: Mark Moskowitz MD
Choosing that family car involves compromise. If it didn't, most of us would be driving sub $30,000 eight passenger SUV's that would perform like a McLaren, fit in a 14-foot parking space, ride and crash test like the biggest Mercedes, and have the economy of the latest hybrid.
Should your search for the best possible compromise lead you to a compact, what to consider? It's a crowded field and contains such favorites as Civic, Corolla, Elantra, Focus, Jetta and its VW sibling, the Golf, which the Jetta handily outsells in United States. This article will focus on two offerings from Wolfsburg by way of Mexico.
The Jetta GLI is VW's sports compact. At first glance it seems like a scaled down three series BMW. Or what a sub three series four door might resemble.
The styling of the base Jetta is not terribly exciting but the GLI looks 'racey' with a host of red accents including painted brake calipers (and yes the calipers are bigger than on other Jettas though piston size is reportedly the same). Accessory lights stare menacingly through a blacked-out grill and the small spoiler lip seems to transform the rear. Despite its 18-inch wheels, the GLI measures lower to the ground than the Jetta models with smaller diameter wheels.
Driving the car, I can make no complaints about power. A transversely mounted 16 valve turbocharged engine provides 210 hp (with premium fuel).
It's especially responsive in the 30 to 60 passing range and feels more than adequate, in fact, peppy at all legal and some extralegal driving speeds. The six-speed automatic is VW's advanced DSG system. Actuated with movement of the floor (console) shift or steering wheel mounted paddles, the transmission is smooth, precise and never seems to impede power delivery.
Steering was quick, precise and accompanied by appropriate feedback but I must admit to apprehension as I drove the GLI through the twisties in the Blue Ridge Mountains. While the ride was comfortable and the car rarely became unsettled over bumps, it did have excessive body roll….. so much so that I was afraid to commit to a fast turn believing I could not correct were I to encounter an unforeseen road condition. Familiarity and a few solo runs around Carolina Motorsports Park bred more confidence. The limits of traction were achieved gradually and predictably. The knowledge translated into much less scary spirited driving, a tribute to a four-link independent suspension, and upgraded dampers and anti-rollbars.
Over bumps and irregular surfaces road noise was a bit excessive but at other times aural input was reasonable.
Positives far outweigh the negatives in the GLI cockpit.
Some reviewers have complained about the leatherette seats and plastic door panels. It's not unattractive but it's not opulent either; let's call it Teutonic. Picking nits a bit further, the well of the sunglasses holder is not deep enough to secure them and often times my glasses fell out before it could be closed. My larger six-inch mobile phone did not lay flat anywhere on the console. The speedometer and tachometer at 4 1/2 inches in diameter are not excessively large and certain positions of the steering wheel would obscure them.
On the plus side is an interior which feels massive. Four adults were comfortable on long and short Jaunts. The six-way power driver's seat was more than comfortable. Side supports neither cramped my derrière nor my shoulders. Long trips were easy.
There was dual zone climate control in the front and vents but no dials in the back. Visibility was excellent and behind the 6.3 inch touchscreen was an outstanding nerve center whose voice command actually questions you a second time if it determines you might be making a mistake or communicating without clarity. Radio controls are not as intuitive as some other systems but once learned offer tremendous flexibility. In addition to 12 V power and USB slot there are two SD card holders, one empty and one containing current navigation data.
The sunroof opens to seven predictable positions or all at once. Predictability of position allows focus on the road not the roof. Another plus is trunk room which seems even bigger than its 15.7 ft.³. And this can be augmented by lay down rear seats.
Safety features are excellent and includes blind spot monitoring and a rear collision warning system which alerts you to that oncoming traffic you might not see when focused on the back up camera. Another feature is Volkswagen's Park Pilot. At five mph a graphic gives a simulated front and rear view and combines it with auditory alerts. One can liken it to a backup system for the front.
Two missing safety/convenience items are the BiXenon headlamps which were offered last year and adaptive cruise control!
Recorded (by VW) zero to sixty time of 6.6 seconds would be a disaster in a Ferrari. In a sub $30000 compact it's pretty good. It's all about compromise and context and in this space the GLI represents an excellent choice for a single or a couple who desire compact size and luxury, technology and performance features associated with bigger platforms. It could corner a little bit faster but remember no one here is paying for an ultimate driving machine.
Features of the Jetta GLI included but not discussed include heated foldable power side mirrors, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, illuminated glove box with adjustable cooling, keyless access with pushbutton start, navigation, App- Connect (including Mirror Link, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and a Fender Premium audio system.
For 2017 the Jetta line was pared to four models: an entry S, the SE (both have a 1.4 liter 150 hp turbocharged four cylinder), the luxury SEL with a 1.8 liter 170 hp four cylinder and no manual shift option, and the GLI.
I shall try to highlight the differences between the SE and the top of the line GLI.
The presentation of the SE is plain jane. A single trim strip tops the doors. Not ugly. Not remarkable.
My drive of the SE was a surprise. Though dampers and anti rollbars differ, the basic geometry of the four wheel independent Jetta suspension remains the same. The SE rode smoothly and solidly, absorbed bumps well and had responsive steering. I drove a few tight curves and while there is a difference between the two models, most Jetta drivers will probably not push the limits of the suspension enough to experience it.
The sages at Car and Driver
peg the SE's 0-60 time at 7.7 seconds (and the GLI at 6.8 seconds). The engine revs freely and the linkage while not buttery smooth works well enough to achieve quick times and offer the driver confidence and joy. Second gear is long and tall and can yield 60 mph but not in 7.7 seconds. One has to short shift on the way up. On the way down 'heel-toeing' can be done but it's awkward in my size 10's.
Fortunately the spacious interior and comfortable supportive seating carries down the line. The leatherette clad six-way driver's seat adjustment is manual but precise in the SE. If you're the only driver, it's a minimal drawback. Set it and forget it.
The color graphics of the GLI are a bit more fancy than those of the SE. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert remain. Missing are Nav and frontal parking assist.
The SE lists for $8100 less than the GLI. What of significance do you lose?
A premium stereo, electric seat controls, about 60 horsepower, Nav (easily replaced with cell phone connectivity) and Park Assist (you will have to watch where you are going).
What do you gain? anonymity, a responsive small powerplant that returns one to the fun of driving peaky small sports sedans, 22% better fuel mileage, the savings of regular gas, and, of course, $8100.
Both are satisfactory choices but I'm thinking about a GLI with a six-speed manual…hmmm.