Road Test: Double clutch, dual personality

2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI matches your mood

June 19, 2013
by Emily Atkins

From the May 2013 print edition of Fleet Management.
Meet the split personality VW Jetta GLI.

Jetta GLI Vitals

Body Style: 4-door compact sedan

Engine:  2-L, 200HP, Turbo

Transmission: 6-speed tiptronic dual-clutch (DSG) automatic

Fuel Capacity: 55L

Fuel Economy: City 8.8L/100 km; Highway 6.1L/100 km

Price: MSRP $28,990; As tested $34,640

Cast in “Tornado Red”, with an aggressive grille, low stance and big alloy wheels, this sleek machine churns out a vehement 200hp through the VW double-clutch system known as ‘DSG’.

Inside, contrasting stitching on the black leather matches the exterior colour, while the steering wheel smacks of the track–it’s smaller, and the bottom is flat, like a racing wheel. Slip the gear shift down to the S slot and with the firm, tight ride, superb handling of the sport suspension and authoritative brakes, it’s no wonder the driver feels the car should be pointed straight to the Autobahn rather than the office on a warm spring day—this Jetta wants to jet.

But left in reliable old D for Drive, and with shopping or soccer on your mind, the GLI slips into grocery mode, delivering the goods, kids and dog in comfortable, roomy style.

The GLI brings new meaning to the notion of versatile. It has the chops to please all the drivers without needing a diverse fleet to do it. It’s small enough to be a competent city driver and is maneuverable, with an astonishing ‘class-leading’ trunk space (read: big enough to sleep three average adults), but also sweet on the highway and peppy enough to make driving rewarding for those who like to feel the G-forces.

This car has very few flaws. One is that in some driving positions it’s impossible to see either the front or rear corners. This does detract from its utility in the city, and makes parking in tight places a headache unless you have the optional backup camera. The sunroof creates undue noise when open at highway speeds, and backseat passengers commented on the ride being perhaps a bit too firm (note to self, don’t invite Goldilocks for any more test rides).

On the plus side, the adaptive headlight system works really well, turning on side illumination when you turn the wheels or activate the turn signal. The headlights self-level, so when the trunk is loaded and the car is down at the rear, the lights are not pointed directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers.

The DSG (direct shift gearbox) provides a super-smooth drive. It is managed by dual electronically controlled clutches, which make for faster shifts, better acceleration and fuel economy. According to VW, the shifts take less than 4/100ths of a second. In Drive mode, it delivers smooth shifts at the right time. In Sport mode it shifts up later and down earlier to provide more torque. Combined with the paddle shifters, this system gives a real feeling of control and confidence that the car will be in the gear you want, when you want it. It might be a tiny bit too aggressive at times, however, as it had a tendency to stay in a lower gear, revving high, even after the right foot came off the gas.

On the tech side, this car offers intuitive connectivity, excellent eight-speaker, 400-watt Fender stereo, multi-adjustable power driver’s seat and the sunroof has a dial to control it with pre-set increments, from wide-open to sliver-of-sky.

The Jetta GLI is a mild-mannered grocery-getter with the biggest trunk in the business, morphing into a street-wise performance machine growling down the highway with more style than some of its German cousins. If you are looking for German quality that’s right up there with some of the pricier brands, the Jetta family is a great place to look. At the upper levels (the GLI and TurboHybrid tested) you’ll be getting a vehicle with comparable quality, great looks, and wonderful carrying capacity all at a much lower price tag.

And Turbo makes three

The TurboHybrid version adds another dimension to the Jetta experience. De-tune the suspension, drop the horsepower (just a little), run it all with a smoothly mated turbo gas/hybrid electric powertrain and the car turns into a gas-sipping workhorse. Boasting fuel consumption numbers that are about half the GLI’s, the TurboHybrid delivered on the promise during a week-long test drive in both city and highway conditions.

From a handling perspective, a sport suspension would match up better with its torquey engine performance. The standard Jetta suspension is surprisingly floaty. On the practicality front, even after the batteries have taken up a portion of the hybrid’s trunk, there is still a larger, and deeper cargo space than many cars. This is a really impressive addition to the Jetta family.