From the June 1985 issue of Car and Driver.
We want the truth: Did “car lust” fade from your life when you and your sweetie settled down? No more slab-and-steer, no more whoop-and-loop, no more red-lights-in-the-mirrored-night? If you haven’t broken out itching from car lust again, just wait. And be thankful that Volkswagen doctored its new Jetta GLI for the inevitable time when your unfulfilled car lust bounces off the rev limiter again.
Those of us at the magazine who didn’t have the opportunity to write about VW’s outrageously swell GTI (C/D, March 1985), one of the most civilized and practical rat racers ever built, are delighted to see the Jetta GLI following so quickly on its tail. Yes, the GLI sedan is based on the same pseudo-econobox GTI that the car world is so excitedly babbling about. The GTI can run 114 mph, stop from 70 mph in 182 feet, corner at 0.83 g, and never put a wheel wrong. Can its sedan counterpart possibly live up to the hatchback’s reputation? Although the stubby three-door GTI is built in the U.S.A. and the wedgy GLI four-door in Germany (more on this later), each is shot through with merry disrespect for the law of physics. Actually, neither thinks much of any law. We’ve been perpetrating in three GLIs—one black, one metallic dark gray, and one slathered in an insane red with a hint of orange, a shade both loved and despised by all the world’s policemen. They don’t understand that, as the song about girls goes, GLIs just want to have fun.
As an out-and-out rapscallion, the quiet-riot GLI ridicules ostensibly more sporting machinery. It runs low to the ground, with much the same urgency as the GTI, but with even more practicality and a considerable measure of luxury perks. Beneath the semiconservative lines of the Jetta, the GLI offers lusty upgrades in trim, engine, and running gear. Tell your sweetie about the practicality: The new Jetta has 12 percent more interior volume than the old, a 28-percent bigger trunk, and a 37-percent larger gas tank. (But take our advice about this practicality talk: If your sweetie isn’t the understanding sort, keep the GLI’s 11-percent increase in horsepower under your hat until you’ve got it safely under your foot.) The improvements in capacity aside, VW now feels that the old Jetta’s street-smart virtues are more appropriate than the “little Oldsmobile” treatment that befell VW’s American offerings a few years ago. VW’s Wolfsburg gang, by its own admission, has now seen the real enemy, and it is Japan.
Suddenly we have a car that bolts out of the gate with a base price of $9995, and one that runs surprisingly close in speed and quality not only to the Honda Accord and the Mazda 626 but also to the Audi 4000S and the BMW 318i. And since the interior room in this year’s GLI beats both the BMW 325e and the Mercedes 190E, there is some truth to VW’s proclamation that “the GLI carries five adults and their luggage at autobahn speeds in the style of other German sedans costing two to three times as much.”
Despite such claims, Volkswagen of America, after a few rounds of internal squabbling, requested that the European GLI’s aggressive appearance be toned down. Gone are its deep air dam, trunk spoiler, and black-out nose logo. Still, beneath the black trim and tidy red-accented bumpers and side moldings is a wedgy body, sporting aerodynamic halogen headlights and a high trunk line. The combination provides a very respectable 0.36 drag coefficient—a plump advantage over, say, the 0.41 figure of the sleeker-looking Audi 4000s.
Sweetening the pot are such options as air conditioning, a sliding steel sunroof, cruise control, heated power mirrors, and a “Heidelberg IV electronically tuned AM/FM auto-reverse stereo cassette with console-mounted push-button cassette holders.” The slightly less snazzy unit in the red GLI we sampled in Michigan provided pleasant listening and surprisingly little need to twiddle the volume up and down as road speed fluctuated between serenely sedate and seriously seditious. The system’s only real drawback was small rear speakers that failed to take advantage of the cavernous trunk’s bass-producing potential. A separate package includes power windows, central locking, heated power mirrors, a courtesy-delay interior light, and Wolfsburg-edition sport seats picked up from the Quantum. These seats are less bolstered for lateral support than the GTI’s sport seats, but they feature longer thigh support and, for the driver, combined rake-and-height adjustment. Black leatherette covers the bolsters for reduced wear, while center inserts in striped charcoal-gray velour pick up the neutral tones of the door panels’ pleasantly coarse gray fabric. Lumbar and bolster adjustments wouldn’t be a bad idea, though we didn’t notice any real shortcomings in comfort.
Roominess abounds front and rear for a car this size, and the back seat is rated for three full-size people, with three-point harnesses for the outboard passengers. When nobody is filling the middle space, a fold-down armrest with an integral tray reveals a passage to the carpeted trunk that can be used for toting skis.
Up front, leather covers the dandy four-spoke sport wheel, the shift boot, and the fat knob atop the graciously smooth five-speed shifter. The GLI’s heating-and-air-conditioning system is easily adjustable and quite consistent, running rings around the GTI’s ducting, which tend to scorch the driver’s right leg when the temperature is set high. Easy-reading analog gauges nestle behind the Jetta’s wheel, though they’re limited to basic information. The surrounding area houses a few switches alongside blanks for a half-dozen other rockers, though a couple would have been plenty. Better planning by the binnacle boffins would have provided space for more gauges; perhaps they felt the oil-temp display provided by the multifunction trip computer’s small LCD readout in the instrument pod was sufficient. The computer’s time, speed, distance, economy, oil-temp, and air-temp functions are activated by tapping a button on the end of the windshield-wiper lever. The turn-signal arm incorporates the controls for the excellent optional cruise control.
Nice though it is, the cruise control offers the less appealing way to keep in touch with the benefits of computerization beneath the hood. Your right foot would grin if it could, having the most direct link to the under-hood electronic equipment: Bosch KE Jetronic fuel injection, digital electronic ignition, and a detonation sensor. These components keep the transversely mounted single-overhead-cam engine operating at high efficiency. At any given instant, the front wheels are getting as much from VW’s 1.8-liter, 100-hp four as it’s been told to give, which is more than enough for most tasks. Thanks to better fuel atomization from new air-shrouded injectors, a compression ratio bumped from 8.5 to 10.0:1, and intake valves increased from 38 to 40 mm in diameter, the 1985 GLI makes 10 horsepower more than the ’84. The GLI scampers to 60 in 10.9 seconds, 0.8 second slower than the GTI, which is 150 pounds lighter, and the GLI’s top speed is 6 mph lower, at a still respectable 108 mph.
The power also comes more quietly, thanks to hydraulic valve lifters, and cruising is easier on the ears because a 3.67:1 final-drive ratio replaces a 3.94:1 cog, reducing the revs churning through the close-ratio gearbox. (The transmission ratios are unchanged from last year and are shared with the GTI.) Though the new GLI has longer legs and proves fussless at lesser speeds, the engine still booms at any pace over 80 mph, where it keeps studious time to the beat of a distant droner. The GLI’s gait is so willing, though, that you have the feeling it’s beating along to a Sousa march.
However quick the tune, this is one VW that will rarely have trouble keeping step. We said earlier that we’d report more about the GLI’s German heritage (both design and manufacture). Well, the Germans like a touch of oversteer, and that’s no old wives’ tale. American engineers, on the other hand, typically prefer handling that will keep old wives out of trouble. So the stubby GTI delivers high limits with great stability. The 13.7-inch-longer GLI is different. Oh, it’s very good, its excellent 0.81-g cornering limit only 0.02 g behind the GTI’s, and its overall balance is quite nice, but it lacks the GTI’s determination to keep things utterly in hand. The German engineers have given the GLI a handling balance that suits their driving tastes, and the result is that a bit of lift-throttle oversteer occasionally sneaks into the picture.
Don’t go away in a huff. The GLI may not be as great to drive as the GTI, but it’s still one of the best-behaving sedans on the market. Its fine rack-and-pinion power steering is linear but quick (3.3 turn lock-to-lock for a 34.4-foot turning circle). Its front-suspension struts have been redesigned for 16 percent more travel, for a track increase of 1.6 inches, and for integration of the brake-caliper brackets with the wheel-bearing housings for reduced unsprung weight. The rear track has been increased by a stout 2.5 inches (hence the bulging-booty look), rear-suspension travel has grown six percent, shock and spring rates have been recalibrated, symmetrically shaped bushings keep the tracking true, and a V- section torsion-beam axle with integral trailing arms minimizes rear camber and toe change under cornering load. The GLI is kept on an even keel by an 18 mm anti-roll bar in the front and a 20 mm anti-roll bar in the rear. All four wheels house 9.4-inch disc brakes, and the fronts are ventilated. The brakes are great, hauling the GLI down from 70 to 0 mph in 183 feet, only one foot longer than the stopping distance of the GTI, which enjoys the dry-pavement advantage of Goodyear Eagle GTs. The 6.0-by-14-inch alloy wheels of sporting Jettas are fitted with 185/60HR-14 Michelin MX Vs or Continental Super Contacts, and either alternative is a good all-around choice, especially if you live in a climate known for regular bouts of bad weather.
The Jetta GLI goes down the road as if homing on a distant beacon, and several of us feel it’s a better sports sedan than the Audi 4000 and the Mercedes 190E. It will feed your car lust and give fits to roughly 100 percent of its competition.
First, I didn’t like the Jetta because it looked like a Golf with a dumpster grafted onto the back, which is to say, slightly misshapen. Next, I didn’t like the Jetta because it had four doors, which is to say excessively grown up. Finally, I didn’t like the Jetta because it was heavier than the Golf, which is to say inevitably slower.
Then I drove the GLI. Oops, more prejudices for the pile. This is a sweetie.
Now, given a choice between a GTI and a GLI, I’d take the one with the dumpster and doors and avoirdupois. Both get around fine, but you can instantly tell, from the sheen of the dashboard plastic and the tweed of the cloth and the sit of the seat, that the Jetta is German. It’s more correct. You feel cool capability, same as in those expensive Germans you’d mortgage your future for. And more: a delightful liberation. You can drive the whee out of a GLI, knowing that the insurance company will barely flinch if it has to write you out a check for a new one.
I’ll tell you how much I like this car. When I walk up to it, I no longer notice the heftiness of its butt end. —Patrick Bedard
Volkswagen has gotten its act together again. The new Golf/Jetta line is off to a successful start, one that will likely accelerate as word of the GTI and the new Jetta GLI spreads through the marketplace.
One reason for this success is the emphasis Volkswagen is placing on its German roots. The GLI features clean, understated styling, interior comfort and no-nonsense appointments, and rock-solid constructions. These virtues are backed up by refined road manners, competent flat-out behavior, and a smooth powertrain. And the GLI’s uprated engine and suspension make it one of the most capable small sedans on the market.
In fact, I think the GLI is good enough to assume the title of entry-level premium German sedan. At about ten grand, the GLI is a hell of a good deal, one that could tide over many BMW, Audi, and Mercedes aspirants until their ships come in. —Csaba Csere
I’ve heard altogether too much carping from you readers about how we put German cars up on pedestals, so what I have to say here gives me an extra measure of pleasure. If you go for the idea of a GTI with a trunk, I applaud your good taste. The GLI is a helluva fine sedan, a real driver’s car. Unfortunately, though, it’s second best.
When it comes to racy VW’s, America has finally outengineered Germany. Garden-variety Golfs and Jettas are good pieces to start with. They also drive so much alike that, from the driver’s seat, you can’t tell them apart.
When you pump them both full of vitamins, however, everything changes. The GLI is excellent—no doubt about that. But the GTI is one step beyond. The American engineers took the same basic sedan—minus trunk, of course—and made it drive even crisper, sharper, and tauter. In the pint-size-performer class, the GTI is the absolute boss. To me, it’s magic.
So raise your glasses and join me in a toast to our boys on the front lines. In today’s engineering wars, every little victory counts. —Rich Ceppos
1985 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Base/As Tested: $10,315/$12,695
Options: air conditioning, $725; power-assist group (windows, locks, mirrors), $595; Am/FM-stereo radio/cassette, $575; sunroof, $335; metallic paint, $150.
SOHC inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 109 in3, 1781 cm3
Power: 100 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Suspension, F/R: struts/trailing arms
Brakes, F/R: 9.4-in vented disc/9.4-in disc
Tires: Continental Super Contact CH41
Wheelbase: 97.3 in
Length: 171.7 in
Width: 66.1 in
Height: 55.7 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 46/40 ft3
Trunk Volume: 17 ft3
Curb Weight: 2460 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
30 mph: 3.1 sec
60 mph: 10.9 sec
1/4-Mile: 17.5 sec @ 77 mph
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 11.3 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 12.6 sec
Top Speed: 108 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 183 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.81 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 25 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 26/32 mpg