(b.) a television series in which smooth-skinned actors in their middle twenties attempt to portray teens navigating the tumultuous rapids of modern adolescence by the application of close-part harmony; immensely popular when it debuted, but trailed off in the second season when it began getting a little preachy and then there was that part where Rachel was all like, “Finn, I need to let you fly free,” and…
(b.) Some TV show which I have never seen.
(c.) The best car in the current Volkswagen Model range.
Whaddya mean it’s pronounced “Gee-El-Eye”?
Now, no review of Volkswagen’s warmed-up compact sedan would be complete without a few Oh! Snap! cracks at how thoroughly Vee-dub has un-pimped the regular Jetta. Fans of the German marque are appalled – appalled I tells ya – at the dumbed-down, embiggened and encheapened Kraut-rolla the once-sprightly Jetta has ballooned into.
‘Twas as though they had wandered into the VW showroom expecting the usual delicious and slightly unreliable bratwurst and been handed an Ikea hot-dog instead. Yes, a bargain at just 99 cents, but made of gym-mat foam and not tasty pork by-products.
Critics were apoplectic, and the buying public responded immediately – by completely ignoring them and snapping up thousands of Jettas. I quite enjoy that, as it must have punctured a few bombastic egos.
Not to worry though, as VW still sells a premium smokie-on-a-bun for all you sausage enthusiasts out there.
And here it is. In profile, the GLI is quite a bit better looking than I remember, a slick blend of sleek aerodynamicism and teutonic crispness set off by the traditionally chunky five-spoke Volkswagen alloys, and-
One criticism of the GLI immediately is that it appears to be just fifteen feet of some car. I imagine that if you went down to the Car Store and asked for, “One Car, please. What? Oh I don’t know… German flavour I suppose,” then this is what you’d get.
Yes, it has two-tone, multi-spoke alloy wheels and a colour-matched grille – but what doesn’t these days? I will say that the Glee looks fairly good here in black, but if you take a look at the car Jack drove in his 2.0T Intramural League test, a silver GLI can be about as bland as unsalted porridge.
However, methinks this is a very, very good thing. A Lamborghini Reventon might look like a stealth fighter, but the Glee is actually a stealth car: just another five-seater people-pod; one more unremarkable corpuscle blending in with the flow on an arterial highway. Handy if you’re going to cane it a little, but more on that in a bit.
The interior of the Glee is slightly less stealthy; most notably, that flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the tiniest bit boy-racer. And, as apparently dictated by some international sporty car interior standard first established in the early Eighties, there’s plenty of red stitching everywhere.
Other than that though, it’s a sensible, conservative sort of place to be, with comfortable seats, an immense amount of rear legroom and a cavernous trunk. And there’s another advantage too.
If you were picking up your new fiancee’s parents at the airport, and you didn’t quite get along with them just yet, being in that not-good-enough-for-our-son/daughter zone (that sometimes never goes away), you could be perfectly safe arriving in a GLI.
A GTI? A ‘Speed3? A WRX? Those’d be something different, but this car would elicit a future-father-in-law’s reluctant nod and/or a near-mother-in-law’s mollified sniff. It’s not showy. It’s not racy. It’s sensible and circumspect and even a little bit nice. Maybe this kid’s got a good head on his/her shoulders after all.
It took four different axle-backs on the back of my personal WRX to find the right blend of growly aggression without boorish bellowing. VW got it right straight out of the factory with a thrumpety symphony that’s part panthera tigris purr, and part strafing-run Stuka. The ubiquitous 200hp 2.0T has never sounded better.
As such, you will want to dip into the power reserves early and often, and with a phenomenally low torque peak providing insta-shove around 1700rpm, the Glee provokes… well, just see definition (a.)
Right. Nearly forgot to complain about the lack of a traction control button. Yes, this is either a silly oversight or one of the chintziest cost-cutting measures imaginable, but it didn’t really bother me once.
We live in a world where a Hyundai puts out a turbo-four with a full 25% more power than VW’s version, but there’s more to it than just peak horsepower figures. The Glee isn’t underpowered, and it’s not overpowered. It’s right-powered.
Yes, there are moments where a little more thrust would not have gone amiss, but the whole package is so composed-yet-thrilling that you find yourself willing the car along, wringing it out, diving into the corners and blasting out of them. Meanwhile, your future mother-in-law is clutching her purse with a white-knuckled grip implying that hissed undertones are about to be exchanged with her son/daughter on the subject of That Young Man/Woman.
But what do you care? It’d be easy enough to back off the throttle and find that the GLI is a comfortable cruiser with its softer-than-a-GTI suspension. The Fender-brand stereo is phenomenal and the fuel economy can even be quite good, if you’re gentle.
Yet whenever I climbed into my 6-speed tester, I experienced a kinship of the sort that Tazio Nuvolari must have felt, nursing his somewhat-wheezy Alfa-Romeo to that now-legendary victory over the Auto-Union juggernauts. It seems Mazda isn’t the only company that knows something about Jinba Ittai.
The GLI is a joy to drive, and shockingly, shockingly good in wet weather. Perhaps it’s the relative softness of the suspension, perhaps it’s the soft-compound of the Continental winter tires this tester was equipped with, but the level of grip that the GLI has in a wet corner is extremely surprising and gratifying. But then, so’s the rest of the car.
Business-like exterior, comfortable interior: a sedate-looking sedan that’s capable of thrilling dynamically but prefers not to shout about it. Maybe I’m stretching, but the GLI could just be this generation’s E39 BMW. It’s that good.
But – and here comes a But so big that it should be written in flaming letters three miles high; a Mix-a-lot-sized conjunction that I don’t like (and I cannot lie) – but, it’s still a Volkswagen, and that means Your Mileage May Vary.
After a charming week with the GLI, I found myself sitting at the ferry terminal late at night, waiting to pick up my wife (I’ve been married for coming-on 6 years, the in-laws threw in the towel long ago). Docking was inevitably delayed, and as I waited, the local station began playing Young the Giant’s “My Body.” As the first kicks of the bass drum came through, the back panel of the GLI decided it was time to start buzzing like the trunk of a 90s Civic with a Bazooka tube. At all volumes.
This car, you understand, had all of 1500 miles on the clock, and while press cars generally take more abuse than somebody who expresses a political viewpoint in the comments section of a Youtube video, I generally have to say this failing was unacceptable. Unacceptable, or at least very disappointing.
Volkswagen has always been like this. Some owners have never had a problem, others have had nothing but problems. Still others have had a up-and-down track record that reads like the fortunes of a character on Days of Our Lives. Uh, which I have also never seen.
So can I recommend the GLI? Yes, though not unreservedly. It’s a fantastic car, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be next season.
Volkswagen provided the car reviewed and insurance