Review and photos by Simon Hill

When Volkswagen debuted its sixth-generation Jetta in North America for the 2011 model year, it cast a wide net with a car that was bigger and less expensive than its predecessor, designed to appeal to a broader cross-section of U.S. and Canadian car buyers.

Which naturally had those enthusiasts who value Volkswagen’s European sensibilities up in arms, because in the pursuit of value (current starting price: $16,385, destination in) Volkswagen had ditched the Jetta’s multilink rear suspension and jettisoned all the high-end soft-touch materials from the interior. This new Jetta was not the same car your cousin Horst could buy in Germany.

Test Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI volkswagen car test drives
Test Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta GLI volkswagen car test drives
2013 Volkswagen Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Happily for the enthusiasts, Volkswagen then introduced the new Jetta GLI for the 2012 model year, and this indeed was the car your cousin Horst could buy in Germany, so while it carried a significantly higher price tag it came complete with an independent rear multilink suspension, soft-touch dash, some exterior bling (including honeycomb grille, textured black side skirts and revised fog light designs), plus of course the 200-hp 2.0L turbocharged engine out of the Golf GTI. Wunderbar!

For 2013 the Jetta GLI, which starts at $28,985 destination in, features a couple of key revisions that should make the performance crowd even happier: First, you now get launch control if you choose the DSG automatic transmission, and second, there’s a new switch down by the gearshift that allows you to disable the ASR (anti-slip regulation) system. Holy smoking burnouts, Batman!

Other subtle changes include thicker glass in the windshield and side windows for improved acoustic damping, an adjustable centre armrest for the front seats with a storage bin under it, upgraded climate control system, and some seating revisions for improved comfort. There’s also some new optional equipment rolled into the Technology package including bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED license plate light and a rearview backup camera.

My test car was fully loaded with the all-inclusive $5,650 Technology Package and the DSG automatic transmission (a $1,400 option), so it got all of the above equipment and more, including the power sunroof and 18-inch “Bathurst” alloy wheels from the Sport package (17-wheels are standard), the leather upholstery from the Leather package, plus the navigation system, 400-watt Fender audio and other equipment from the Technology package.

This all adds up to an as-tested price of $36,035 including destination fees, and frankly the GLI doesn’t look that much different from the bread-and-butter Jetta, so your neighbours won’t likely be all that impressed. But if you like a sporty car that keeps a low profile (at least in any colour other than my test car’s loud Tornado Red) and offers hidden performance and comfort, then it’s money well spent because the GLI is a hoot to drive.




About SimonHill

Simon Hill rebuilt his first engine, an air-cooled Volkswagen, at 14. He started writing professionally about cars in 2009 and is also the editor of Boat Journal magazine. He lives in Vancouver, BC.