Volkswagen is a mass-market brand, but there’s nothing cute, cuddly or cheap about any of its models.
On the contrary. The typical VW car or SUV (sport-utility) is designed and executed more like something you’d expect from VW’s Audi upscale brand. And pricing reflects that.
Case in point: the 2020 VW Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition. The as-tested price of the grey four-door with the fancy wheels (18-inch Sevillo alloys in black with red rings), the black painted rear spoiler, the sport bumper and the delightful badging and such (including 35th anniversary illuminated scuff plates, seat flags and floor mats) is $34,840. Add in freight, PDI, fees and taxes, and you’re well north of $40,000.
Forty-large for a Jetta with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-banger (228 horsepower) that asks for premium fuel. A Jetta? A Jetta for this coin?
Some of you will recall that there was a time when the Jetta was a tidy and affordable small car. No longer. The cheapest one now starts at about $21,000. What happened to the sub-$16,000 Jetta of a few years back? Sacrificed on the alter of an up-market march that VW hopes will end with not world leadership in gasoline- or, God forbid, diesel-powered vehicles, but pure electrics.
I’d argue that you can draw a direct line between the ever-inflating pricing of VWs in general and the tens of billions VW is spending digging itself out of the Dieselgate-scandal hole. But that’s another story.
This special version of the Jetta is a delight, a handsome one at that. While not inexpensive, the design details of the exterior are close to genius and executed with precision — not just wheels and badging, but that aggressive front fascia, the lower lip spoiler, the blacked-out window trim and a lovely red-accent line across the grille. The various bits and pieces are subtle and tasteful, yet strong.
But it’s the inside that takes your breath away. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is racy, the 10.25-inch touch screen is useful and modern, the dark, leather-clad seats with red stitching are heated AND cooled and the embroidery matches the red accents throughout the cabin. You can customize the 10-colour ambient lighting, and the 400-watt BeatsAudio system is amazingly clear and crisp.
Perhaps best of all, the GLI is rewarding to drive. The engine may be small, but it has boatloads of torque (258 lb-ft). So responses are quick, quick, quick and I was in personal control via the paddle shifters that allowed me to manage the seven-speed clutchless manual shifter. The basic suspension layout is tuned to be firm, not punishing and the limited-slip differential puts torque at the front wheels where it is most likely to do the most good.
I was left not exactly reeling from this Jetta’s $40,000 price tag, but we should all remember that the least expensive Jetta is as basic as basic gets in VW Canada’s lineup. VW, then, has become a mainstream premium brand.
An oxymoron? Yes. With this Jetta GLI the star of the show.
2020 VW Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition
Base price: $33,845. As tested: $34,840. Freight and PDI: $$1,645.
Engine: 2.0-litre I4, turbocharged (228 horsepower/258 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: seven-speed DSG automatic.