2008 GLI New Car Test Drive
We haven't heard much lately about Fahrvergnugen, that difficult-to-define Germanic character that supposedly separated Volkswagens from other moderately priced cars. That's probably because VW outsiders never did get it, as trying to sell the Volkswagen driving experience to someone who has never experienced it is like trying to describe premium-grade European chocolate to someone who hasn't tasted it and thinks the supermarket brand is just fine.
So if you haven't driven a modern Volkswagen extensively, then you're going to have to trust us on this: The charm of these cars is that they drive like 8/10ths of one of those high-dollar German sedans, while costing less than half the price.
A SportWagen model is now available, having joined the line of sedans mid-2008. The SportWagen adds flexibility without a larger footprint or any compromise in Fahrvergnugen or efficiency. Later in 2008, the 2009 Jetta TDI will appear, with the fuel economy of a hybrid and the flexibility of a wagon.
The Jetta is more potent for 2008, with 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque (compared to 150 hp and 170 lb-ft in 2007). Its 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is pleasantly robust, with a broad power curve and a raspy sound, and delivers an EPA-estimated 21/29 mpg City/Highway. The Jetta is responsive around town and comfortable on long trips. It snicks through corners and carves through curves precisely, but rides comfortably.
And just as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi offer racier editions of their luxury cruisers, Volkswagen offers the 200-hp Jetta GLI.
Inside, the Jetta is roomy and nicely finished. Here's where Volkswagen's attention to detail is particularly convincing. The driver enjoys excellent visibility and ease of operation, with logical controls and instruments. All models come with a full array of safety features. Finish quality is good, inside and out; and the trunk is larger than in many sedans costing much more. So at just under $17,000, the Jetta is a compelling buy.
The Jetta was redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up midway through 2005, and it still seems fresh. We find its styling more pleasant than exciting. But if you like the idea of a solid sedan, and are ready to try some European flavor, the Jetta is the best deal in town.
The Volkswagen Jetta comes as a four-door sedan or SportWagen. A 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine generates 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic sport mode are available.
Jetta S ($16,990) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks with remote, cruise control, ASR traction control, CD player, eight-way manually adjustable front seats with lumbar support and new power recliners, split folding rear seat, manual tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and 205/55HR all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels. Jetta S comes with five-speed manual or six-speed automatic ($18,065).
Jetta SE ($19,850) adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof; V-Tex Leatherette (imitation leather) seating surfaces; real leather-covered steering wheel and shifter; heated front seats and washer nozzles; ten-speaker stereo with MP3-capable, in-dash six-CD player and window diversity antenna; Sirius Satellite Radio; Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) with Electronic Differential Lock (EDL); a front passenger seat that folds flat for carrying long objects; bright window trim; and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The SE comes with the manual or automatic ($20,925).
Jetta SEL ($22,900) adds a multi-function steering wheel, premium instrument display, premium audio, a 115-volt power outlet in the rear of the console, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The six-speed automatic is the only transmission available.
The Jetta GLI ($24,300) is motivated by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled inline-4 packing 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; there's also a six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gear) transmission that operates in manual or automatic mode ($25,375). Suspension and brakes are beefed up appropriately. Inside are eight-way adjustable sport bucket seats, a flat-bottom padded steering wheel, and lots of aluminum and bright-metal trim. Auto-leveling, high-intensity Xenon headlights are also standard, as are ESP/EDL, and 225/45 all-season or summer-performance tires (no charge either way) on 17-inch alloy rims. The Autobahn package ($3,020) adds a power sunroof, leather seats (with heat and power lumbar support in front), heated washer nozzles, and a premium audio system. Eighteen-inch wheels with 225/40R18 all-season ($750) or summer-performance ($890) tires are available.
The Wolfsburg Edition 2.0T is powered by the same engine as the GLI and the same six-speed manual ($20,875) or six-speed DSG transmission ($21,950). Seats are leatherette, and wheels are 17-inch alloys. VW says it will produce just 12,500 of these limited-edition models in just four colors: Reflex Silver, Black, Salsa Red, and Platinum Gray.
Options for Jettas not already equipped include the sunroof ($1000), heated front seats and washers ($225), 16-inch alloy wheels ($450), and ESP/EDL ($450). SEL and GLI Autobahn buyers can opt for a navigation system ($1800) that comes with either a CD changer or an iPod adapter, but not both. (Either way, MP3 capability is lost.) GLI buyers can choose the premium stereo ($325) without the rest of the Autobahn package. Optional on all Jettas are rear-seat side airbags ($350); and an iPod adapter ($199), which replaces the auxiliary input jack and which may not be available with certain other options. SportWagen options include a panoramic sunroof and a fold-flat right front seat for long loads.
Safety features that come standard include front airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags for torso protection, and curtain-style airbags for head protection front and rear. All Jettas have anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and traction control (ASR). Roadside assistance is included in the Jetta warranty package.