The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review

2006 VW Jetta GLI (select to view enlarged photo)
2006 VW Jetta GLI

2006 VW Jetta GLI (select to view enlarged photo)
2006 VW Jetta GLI

2006 VW Jetta GLI (select to view enlarged photo)
2006 VW Jetta GLI

On The High Road To Taos

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Auto companies don’t often introduce a new model to the press in northern New Mexico. The elevations begin at around 7,600-feet at Sante Fe and rise from there. Most engines loose power at those elevations making them seem anemic, but the confident Volkswagen folks brought a bunch of us here to test the fresh, new, turbocharged Jetta GLI believing that it would shine in these conditions.

I should admit before we go much further that I’ve always been a VW fan, notwithstanding the bad luck I’ve had with most of the VWs in my jaded past. My Rabbit diesel was so slow it couldn’t get out of its own way, but was great fun once coaxed up to speed. My “Thing” blew its engine repeatedly and rattled itself apart until I sold it to a friend who made a nice car of it. And my Golf GTI was one of the last out of the ill-fated Pennsylvania plant suffering many quality problems, but it was fast, fun and mechanically dependable.

The venerable Jetta, bread and butter car for VW for 20 years, has undergone a thorough redesign being reintroduced in March of this year. Assembled in Mexico, this fifth generation Jetta has a sixty percent stiffer chassis than the preceding car, new power plants and more standard stuff. Beginning with the “Value” edition, “TDI” and “2.5L” models, VW continues to roll out fresh iterations of the Jetta. We’re testing the GLI now and next we’ll see the sport wagon and finally the hotshot, 280-hp VR-6 sometime late next year. Competition in this premium midsize segment is intense and only the best will survive.

We pick up our car at the Albuquerque airport on a hot summer afternoon. The new GLI is a good-looking machine, especially in “Salsa Red”. The black front grille extending downward like a goatee distinguishes it from lesser siblings and accentuates the gently angular shapes that define the stylish new body. Red trimmed emblems, a mesh grill insert and a slight blue tint to the windows combine with 5-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels, with red brake calipers showing through, low profile tires and a dual exhaust tips to make the GLI look like something really special. This is the enthusiast’s Jetta meant to draw in those who want a modest sedan with a bit of panache.

We toss our gear in the deep, flat, 16-cubic foot trunk – 3 cubic feet better than the last generation Jetta. We’ve chosen to begin our trip with the 6-speed black car. The clutch seems a tad light and jittery at first but after just a few runs through the gears it feels just fine. Our route to Sante Fe takes us a few miles north of Albuquerque then onto a lovely two-lane through a little desert town full of artists. The shifter is smooth and well gated. It’s easy to keep the rpms just where we want them, between 3 and 5 grand. The Jetta feels poised and competent as we acclimate.

The 2.0-litre, 200-hp, turbocharged, four banger with direct injection and 207 pound-feet of torque winds willingly to red line and a bit beyond before the rev limiter kicks in. There is no feeling of being strained at all. The firm leather seats have plenty of bolster but not too much for this broad-in-the-beam journalist. First impressions confirm VW’s claim that the car is designed to make the sport-oriented driver happy, although we wouldn’t expect most drivers to regularly max out the zero to 60 times of 6.9 seconds or the top speed of 130 mph.

At dinner and morning presentations Len Hunt, debonair Executive VP, VW of America, reiterated the design philosophy of the Jetta and all VW products. The goal is to provide products that exemplify “affordable German engineering,” are “fun and exciting to drive” and exhibit “distinctive styling.” We’ll make a judgment at the end of our drive to Taos if they’ve met those goals. He also explained that an equally important goal is to maximize the residual value of VW automobiles and thereby maximize the value for money spent on the automobile.

The high road to Taos, Highway 76 through Panasco, rises to nearly 11,000 feet and slithers through some beautifully scenic forests and dry lands. We’re driving the gray car, a six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic and putting her through her paces. My codriver – a more knowledgeable fellow than I – tells me the manual mode uses a twin-clutch, wet-plate system (whatever that is) that eliminates the usual lag between shifts. I can confidently say it is the most precise and responsive shift-it-yourself automatic transmission I’ve experienced. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel are easy to manage. Our GLI takes the elevation in stride and the morning’s drive is over much too soon.

After a luxurious lunch at an environmentally conscious resort and spa in Taos we head back along the same mountain route. We’re acclimating more thoroughly to the car and appreciating the well-placed and intuitive controls. We didn’t have to look anything up in the manual. Fit, finish and materials are first rate. Climate controls work well.

The 4-link fully independent sport rear suspension feels firm but not harsh as we briskly challenge the sharp mountain twisties, and as we transit a three-mile construction zone featuring ruts, bumps and pot holes. Front suspension is 24% stiffer than the last GLI and rear is 29% stiffer with larger brakes and bigger roll bars. Tires are plenty grippy.

Basic warrantee coverage is 4-year/50,000-mile. The powertrain is covered for 5 years and 60,000 miles. Corrosion perforation is covered for 12 years and unlimited mileage.

The GLI price starts at $23,790, with 6-speed manual transmission, sport fabric seating, 17-inch wheels and tires, in-dash 6-CD changer, lots of air bags and all the special trim described above. Upgrading to leather, adding sunroof, 18-inch wheels and indulging in other options can become a bit pricey, but it’s mighty well equipped at the starting price. The 10.5 to 1 compression ration means you’ll be feeding it premium octane fuel but when the prices get as high as they are now 10 or 20 cents a gallon isn’t that significant, now is it? Expect the mid to high 20s for mileage.

So, how did Mr. Hunt’s philosophy hold up? I’d say quite well. For less than 25-grand it’s a fine piece of German engineering – sophisticated, high tech drivetrain, well-balanced suspension, and all the expected luxury and convenience stuff required on an upscale sporty sedan. Time will tell whether VW’s other goal of maximizing residual value will hold up.

Fun and exciting to drive? I sure thought so. Keeping the revs up, diving into the turns, enjoying the ergonomic controls, it earns a good solid B+ in my grade book.

Distinctive styling, of course, is a rather subjective assessment. While certainly not a head snapper the GLI is handsome and looks like a VW.

The GLI is just now getting to dealers around the US. If this is your genre – the sporty sedan – you might want to take a look. Mr. Hunt says that the VW brand is entirely defined by those who buy its cars. It could be just the thing to make you happy.