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2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review – Potent, Painted, Pricey

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, DOHC (210 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm; 207 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm)

Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive

24 city / 33 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.8 city / 7.4 highway / 8.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

34.1 mpg [6.9 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $28,715 (U.S) / $36,740 (Canada)

As Tested: $29,815 (U.S.) / $38,140 (Canada)

Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,745 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

I was lost. Rather, I was about to be lost.

As I drove an eye-catching white silver metallic 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI onto the MV Confederation in Caribou, Nova Scotia, it dawned on me. I had never driven across Prince Edward Island by myself. But I was about to, if I could find my way.

Mrs. Cain and the kids had already made it to Prince Edward Island, having departed earlier in the week to begin our house hunt after our Nova Scotian home sold in 24 hours. Sunshine and a quick car made me realize that the MV Confederation’s perfectly timed departure would allow for some sorely needed blood pressure reduction, sitting on the deck of a ferry for an hour in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

But I left my iPhone charge cord at home on the dining room table. My phone’s battery was below 5 percent with pictures yet to be snapped. I couldn’t use my phone for directions. I didn’t trust the island signage to be sufficient — we’re not big on signs around these parts. And then a light came on: the ferry’s tourist bureau would have maps. Maps! Maps, my dear Watson. Maps. I studied that arcane sheet for, well, it had to be minutes. In the belly of the ship, with everybody else back in their cars, I spent a few more minutes folding that sucker up with every ounce of dexterity my parents’ genetics afforded me.

Not until I arrived at my Summerside destination did it dawn on me. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI has a navigation system.

Maybe that’s why it costs $29,815.

Gulp.

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport we reviewed a few weeks ago can be navi and DSG-equipped, like this Jetta GLI, at $25,150, nearly $5,000 less. The Elantra is also, dare I say it, more fun.

Thankfully, the Jetta GLI certainly doesn’t want for power. Although distinctly less torquey than the 2.0T-powered Volkswagen Golf GTI – the GTI produces the same 210 ponies but 51 additional lb-ft at 200 revs sooner — the Jetta’s 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four is nicely suited to the dual-clutch automatic, particularly in sport mode; less so at low revs.

After I got off the boat and realized supper at my mother-in-law’s was quite likely in the offing, the Jetta GLI made exceptionally quick work of slow-moving traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway. (Yes, I should have taken a shortcut across Route 23, but that map was a distant memory by the time it was folded up. And I found myself entranced by the dulcet tones of Karen Mair on CBC’s Mainstreet, unconscious of the NAV button to the right of the touchscreen.)

The Elantra Sport, by comparison, is powerful enough, but its 1.6T never feels especially energetic, like it’s champing at the bit and egging you on.

Unfortunately, compared with the supple Elantra Sport, this particular Jetta GLI specimen traversed rough island roads quite roughly indeed. I’ve been in Jetta GLIs before — they’re not supposed to ride like this. But on winter run-flats, even smooth surfaces begin to feel like cobblestone streets.

This negated much of the fun one could have on twisty, rural two-lanes. Turn-in isn’t what you’d expect, mid-corner bumps turn into annoying disruptions, and the Jetta GLI’s chassis is exposed for what it is: not a GTI.

Fine. Entirely acceptable with the right tires. A pleasant daily driver.

But not a GTI.

And not an Elantra Sport.

That’s not to say that in 2017, in the months before an all-new Jetta’s reveal, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI doesn’t have a number of redeeming qualities. Forget those early criticisms of the Mk6 Jetta. Cheap and decontented? Material quality now, especially in this top-spec car, is leagues beyond what it was seven years ago. That torsion-beam rear suspension of early Mk6 Jettas is long gone, as well. This is a mature performance sedan, if not an outright athlete like its hatchback sibling.

It’s also huge inside. There’s midsize-aping space in the back of the Jetta, a car that stretches only 182.2 inches from bumper to bumper, 10-inches shorter than a Passat. The official trunk capacity specs of 15.7 cubic feet are belied by a shape that permits the loading of a vacation’s worth of stuff. Observed fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon is outstanding. Aside from the roaring tires and some pleasant 2.0T burbles, it’s a quiet and generally refined car. It’s a Mk6 Jetta with enough subdued style to turn heads but without the boy-racer cues that shout for attention. [Maybe Mazda should take note. –Ed.]

Nevertheless, price matters. Admittedly, Volkswagen is in a discounting kind of mood, but other automakers aren’t opposed to incentivizing their products, either, especially in 2017’s challenging sedan arena. With 2017 Jetta GLI pricing starting at $28,715, to which you’ll add $1,100 for two-pedal operation, the Elantra Sport and Golf GTI aren’t the only cars standing in the Jetta GLI’s way. Besides, it’ll take a bit of a leap for many sports sedan enthusiasts to consider a Hyundai, however unfair. And the $26,415-37,110 GTI’s hatchback and tighter rear quarters are definitive no-nos for many sedan buyers.

But the Subaru WRX has a lower base price and substantially more athleticism. The upcoming Honda Civic Si stickers for only $24,775.

Those are inexpensive and enticing opponents for a Mk6 Jetta that debuted in late 2010, otherwise known as the year you last looked at a map.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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