2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
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by Haney Louka

Equipped with Volkswagen’s upgraded 200 horsepower 2.8 litre VR6 engine and a new standard six-speed manual transmission, the 2002 Jetta GLI is like “a four-door version of the sporty GTI hatchback”, says reviewer, Haney Louka. “And perhaps just as importantly, it undercuts the $37,110 GLX model by a whopping $6,160.”

Cure for a mid-life crisis

Volkswagen’s current Jetta model has been on the market since mid-1999. While many manufacturers consider four years a full life span for models in this price range, the Germans have traditionally kept their models alive significantly longer. For the Golf/Jetta models, it seems about six years is the norm. So how does VW plan to keep these models fresh?

For one, the styling is such that it does not look dated, despite the fact that the cars have been on Canadian roads for three years now. But more importantly, VW has been introducing new engines for the Jetta every year since its introduction. In 1999, three engines were available: the base 115-hp 2.0L four, the thrifty 1.9L TDI (turbo direct injection) diesel, and the powerful 174-hp, narrow-angle VR6. 2000 saw the introduction of the 1.8T, a turbocharged, five-valve-per-cylinder four-banger with 150 hp, which was upped to 180 for 2002 models.

Now, the VR6 has been strengthened to 200 hp thanks to a new four-valve cylinder head, and it’s mated to a new six-speed manual transmission (a five-speed Tiptronic manumatic is optional). And perhaps just as importantly, this muscled-up version is available in GLI trim, which is both sporty and light on options, and undercuts the $37,110 GLX model by a whopping $6,160. Think of this new Jetta as a four-door version of the sporty GTI hatchback, and you’d be right on the money.

My test vehicle was a black Jetta GLI, equipped with the $205 Cold Weather Package (heated windshield washer nozzles and front seats) and the $1,485 Monsoon Package (sunroof, tinted glass, and Monsoon sound system) for a total as-tested price of $33,195 including destination charges. The only other option is the Leather Package, which adds $1,030 to the price.

Being light on options means different things in different vehicles. In the case of this GLI, the standard equipment list is still rather lengthy, including 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, dual chrome exhaust tips, sport seats, a three-spoke leather steering wheel, and ESP (electronic stabilization program). That’s in addition to A/C, keyless entry, anti-lock brakes, power windows, security system, CD player, and other features that are standard on all VWs.

Subtle Styling Cues

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Click image to enlarge

In typical Teutonic tradition, this Jetta is something of a sleeper: the only cues that set it apart from tamer models are the aforementioned 17-inchers, chrome exhaust tip, and subtle badging on the rear trunk lid. What would be the fun if everyone else knew it was fast?

Inside, the sporty buckets are borrowed from the GTI. Tastefully executed and well shaped, these seats do an excellent job of holding the keister in place and keeping it comfortable in the process. The rest of the interior is pure Jetta: superb fit-and-finish with a high-quality feel to the materials, dials, and switches. Small touches, like damping on moving parts such as the glove box and grab handles, make the difference here.

Another high-end touch – both the trunklid and hood are supported by hydraulic struts. You won’t find a prop rod or cargo-space-robbing hinges on this machine.

The Driving Experience

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

A drive in the GLI proves that there is more to this machine than meets the eye. VW’s VR6 engine is known for its smooth, torquey power delivery and that reputation is well deserved. Sliding the lever into first gear reveals a more precise and shorter shift action than with the five-speeds found in other Jettas. The sixth gear isn’t overly tall, meaning that the lower five gear ratios are quite close together-a nice feature, but not entirely necessary when mated to such a flexible engine.

Everything about the GLI is firm – the seats, ride, steering, and braking – in a way that is consistent with the intentions of this car. This GLI’s beauty definitely runs more than skin deep.

Out on the road, there is no shortage of power from the narrow-angle V-6. Whether the motor is loafing along at 2,200 rpm or spinning at 4,000, tipping into the throttle produces the same fluid power delivery. It’s this type of flexibility that no four-cylinder engine I’ve sampled can match.

Body motions are better controlled than those of the GLI’s more softly sprung siblings, and just about the right balance between ride quality and handling for the Jetta. The ride does suffer a bit though: the car’s short wheelbase results in abrupt up-and-down motions on bumpy roads. But we have none of those in Winnipeg, right?

The compact dimensions of this car also mean that rear seat legroom is at a premium for people of any size, especially if those in the front are long of leg.

To Sum It Up

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
The Jetta GLI is a premium small sedan for those who value performance and style over more mundane priorities like passenger and cargo room. One thing is for sure – it’s hard to beat this level of driving satisfaction for the money.

Shopping Around

Compact, performance-oriented sedans make up a small but growing niche in the market. The Subaru WRX provides more performance than the GLI, but it makes do with ho-hum interior and exterior styling. The Volvo S40 is in the same price range, but places more emphasis on space and luxury and doesn’t offer a trim level that competes against the Jetta’s performance.

The Jetta also competes less directly with mid-sized Japanese sedans like the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord.

Technical Data:

2002 VW Jetta GLI
Base price $30,950
Price as tested $33,195
Type four-door, five passenger compact sedan
Layout front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.8L narrow-angle V-6, four valves per cylinder
Horsepower 200 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 195 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
Fuel Premium Unleaded
Transmission 6-speed manual
Tires 265/60R-17
Curb weight 1,445 kg (3,179 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,513 mm (98.9 in.)
Length 4,376 mm (172.3 in.)
Width 1,735 mm (68.3 in.)
Height 1,440 mm (56.7 in.)
Trunk Capacity 455 litres (13 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption (US data) City: 11.3 L/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.9 L/100 km (30 mpg)

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