Review 2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLI


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    There are plenty of small, reasonably-priced sports sedans 
available, but few of those could be called luxurious. Leave it to 
Volkswagen to add luxury touches to the compact sports sedan 
equation in its Jetta GLI.

    The Jetta is the most popular European-branded import in the 
country, and it's no wonder. There seems to be a Jetta for every 
need, with choices ranging from the value-oriented GL sedans and 
wagons (which get new, upscale standard features this year) through 
fancier GLS sedans and wagons to the premium GLI and GLX 
sedans. GL and GLS models may be had with a naturally-aspirated 
2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a 180-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo four, 
or a fuel-efficient and surprisingly powerful 1.9-liter direct-injection 
turbodiesel. The GLI and GLX sedans have the latest version of 
VW's compact, innovative VR6 V6 engine, with important internal 
changes that raise power output while reducing fuel consumption. 

    I've just finished a week with a new GLI, the sportiest Jetta 
model. Its 200-horsepower VR6 and six-speed manual gearbox put 
it at the forefront of the compact sports sedan class for power, but 
that's not what truly distinguishes it. In a class where comfort is 
often sacrificed, and in which style can owe more to video games 
than automobiles, the Jetta GLI stands out as not just a ``pocket 
rocket'' but as a ``pocket luxury rocket.'' 

APPEARANCE: As it was with the original Beetle many years ago, 
change for change's sake is not part of the Volkswagen philosophy 
today. The 2003 Jetta looks pretty much like any Jetta made since 
the 1999 model year, when the current body style debuted. That 
marked its departure from a ``Golf with a trunk'' to its own distinct 
style. A Jetta now is a conservatively-styled but handsome small 
sedan, boxy but with rounded edges and corners. The rounded-
trapezoid Volkswagen grille highlights the front, and the bulge in 
which it is set continues on to the hood. The sides are plain except 
for small fender flares, and large wraparound taillights mark the rear. 
An optional small rear wing gives a contemporary sport look 
without being overpowering. 

COMFORT: ``Elegance'' is not a word commonly used to describe 
the interior of a small sports sedan, but it applies here. In GLI trim, 
the Jetta is closer to its upscale Audi cousins than it is to any car in 
its own class. The design is unmistakably German, and, even in 
monotone black, like the interior of my test car, it is anything but 
dark and cave-like inside. The GLI isn't quite a full luxury car - while 
the front seats and steering wheel are adjustable, they are manually 
adjustable, and the upholstery is cloth. Unusually for its class, the 
GLI's steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach so any driver can 
find the perfect driving position. The main instrument cluster is in a 
hooded pod, with the center stack angled toward the driver. Blue 
nighttime lighting lowers eyestrain. There is no complexity, all 
controls are simple and easy to use. Bring your friends along - rear 
seat room is very good for the Jetta's small size, and the trunk is 
exceptionally large.

SAFETY: Safety equipment in the 2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 
includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the ``Electronic 
Stabilization Program'' stability-enhancement system, front and front 
side airbags and side-curtain head-protection airbags.

ROADABILITY: As is typical of Volkswagens, the Jetta GLI's 
suspension tuning is softer than the norm for sports sedans. But 
spring and shock rates are well-matched for a combination of 
comfort and handling. It may, as the old saying goes, ``corner on its 
door handles'' when driven hard, but it takes the corners well and is a 
very enjoyable car to drive. Unlike many small, reasonably-priced 
sports sedans, the Jetta GLI also works very well as a long-distance 
touring car. The factory may be in Puebla, Mexico, but German 
Autobahn breeding shows.

PERFORMANCE: Once VW's premium powerplant, the original 
174-horsepower VR6 was overshadowed when the 1.8T 1.8-liter 
turbo four-cylinder engine got bumped up to 180 horsepower. It is 
now back to top power output in the VW line. The compact, 
narrow-angle V6 VR6 has been refined for 2003, with a four-valve-
per-cylinder head replacing the previous two-valve head. This, along 
with variable intake and exhaust valve timing and a variable-length 
intake manifold, improves breathing, which improves power output 
at all engine speeds. Maximum output is up to an even 200 
horsepower, at 6200 rpm, with torque increasing from 181 lb-ft to 
195, at 3200 rpm. Unlike some of the earlier versions of the VR6, 
this one makes plenty of power at all engine speeds, with good low- 
and mid-range response, and there is still an enthusiastic top-end 
rush. It sounds more like a regular six-cylinder engine now, too. As 
befits its sports status, the GLI comes only with a slick-shifting six-
speed manual transmission. For VR6 power with an automatic, 
check out the GLX.

CONCLUSIONS: Sport-compact performance meets European-
style luxury in the Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Base Price			$ 22,950
Price As Tested		        $ 25,394
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve 15-degree vee
                                 V6
Engine Size			2.8 liters / 170 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			195 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		98.9 in. / 172.3 in.
Curb Weight			3,179 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        15.9
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline 
                                 recommended for maximum performance
Tires				P225/45 HR17 Michelin Pilot MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 29 / 22
0 to 60 mph				7.9  sec (mfg)
Coefficient of Drag (cd)		0.30

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Monsoon(r) sound system and power sunroof	        $ 1,240
Rear spoiler						$   479
Cold weather package - includes:
  heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles	$   150
Destination charge					$   575

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