Project Jetta V GLI: Part 1

When Volkswagen announced the new Golf V/Jetta V platform we knew we had to get our hands on one right away and start digging into it. A number of our readers will remember that last summer we toured around the country with a German-spec Golf V GTI and a pre-production Jetta GLI, so we were already quite familiar with the new models and looked forward to taking delivery of our own.

Our Deep Black Jetta GLI arrived late last fall with Option Package 2 (sunroof, leather, dual-zone Climatronic, XM radio and heated front seats), the optional six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) and 18″ wheels. The only option lacking on our car (and not critical in the least) is the DVD Navigation system.

The GLI is virtually identical to its GTI brother – essentially a GTI with a trunk. It wears the same exterior treatments- a blacked out grille, honey comb grille inserts, front and rear valance and side skirts in black, and HID headlamps- giving the GLI a much more aggressive, and overall more German, look compared to the standard Jetta models. Inside you’ll find the same real brushed-aluminum trim, unique gauges, a killer flat-bottom steering wheel covered in leather, and GLI logos sprinkled tastefully around the cabin. Overall we spec’d out a pretty well-equipped car with a good mix of sport and luxury items.

We’ve been very happy with the car in stock form, and in over 5,000 miles we’ve not had a single hiccup. The 2.0T engine is a honey of a motor and makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of the old well-regarded 1.8T. Our last long-term test car was an R32, and we filled that car up with gas nearly every week. The 2.0T four-cylinder, by contrast, gets a fill up every 2-3 weeks, a nice bonus considering no one around here babys this car.

So far the interior is holding up just fine. as those. Amazingly, we have yet to experience any squeaks or rattles in our interior. Even the large side bolsters on our leather seats, which have a tendency to wear quickly, are holding up to our 200-pounders’ ingress and egress.

Compared to the old Monsoon audio system in the Golf/Jetta IV, the new radio leaves a lot to be desired in the sound-quality department. We’ve noticed the system has clipping protection built-in, where at very high volumes it will actually dial back the volume levels by itself. Simply turn the bass adjustment lower and the volume comes back to where you had it originally. Adjusting the fader to the front speakers makes the system almost sound like the front speakers are out of phase as well. At normal balanced front/rear levels it is fine (albeit with what seems like slightly better sound from the rear), but adjusting it to the front completely makes the whole system sound very flat.

The head unit itself is loaded with nice features including a six-disc in-dash CD-changer and satellite radio support for either XM or Sirius. We activated XM service in our car and making this our first test car with satellite radio. If the fact that not a single CD has been put in the changer so far is any indication, it seems all of us here are really enjoying the XM programming, clarity and variety. Quite frankly we’d have a hard time giving it up.

We optioned our car with Volkswagen’s unique and very trick Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) six-speed transmission to see what it would be like to live with day in and day out. After living with DSG for the last 5,000 miles, we have to say it has won us over, and we enjoy driving it every time we get into the car. The transmission is just ever-so-baulky once in a while, particulary when the car has been sitting overnight in frigid weather. Because DSG is a wet clutch system, Volkswagen told us that a little bit of this is normal until things come up to normal operating temperature. Outside of that nitpicking, DSG is really impressive and while we respect anyone that still wants to row his own gears, you should definitely test-drive a GTI or GLI with the DSG setup at least once.

Our two biggest complaints with the GLI are the stock ride height and brake feel. Understand that even stock the new GLI, with its fully-independent suspension, handles far better than the outgoing Jetta IV GLI. But the stock ride height is just awful. We worked closely with VW on both the U.S. GTI and GLI, and while we hoped there would be a way to ensure that the Golf/Jetta V cars didn’t suffer from a 4X4 ride-height, the battle was ultimately lost due to U.S. 5-mph bumper requirements and the need/want for the new cars to have a 5-star side impact crash rating.

Here in the U.S. we have a new taller “SUV” side impact test that hits a vehicle over a larger area and a bit higher. To make absolutely sure that the new Golf and Jetta V get a full-five star impact rating, they ride slightly higher than their European cousins. Trust us when we say that the engineers at VW would love to just send the German-spec cars over with no changes, as the U.S. requirements for both EPA and crash testing as a whole are ridiculously complex (as if cars built for the German Autobahn would be any less safe?). Since we’ve spent so much time driving the German GTI we’re looking at ways to get our GLI ride height under control *and* improve the handling – stay tuned.

Our last complaint (it may sound like we’re bitching a lot, but most of this is actually fairly minor stuff) is brake feel. Overall the brakes stop the car really well, but we can’t help but feel the pads lack bite, and the pedal requires a bit more effort to stop the car than we would prefer in a car like this. In the past, Volkswagen owners have complained about excessive brake dust on J.D. Power surveys and our guess is that VW went with a less dusty pad compound that therefore has less bite than performance drivers, like us, might want. We’re going to swap out the brake pads and upgrade to high-performance fluid to see if we can improve the overall brake feel. We’ll keep you up to date on that one.

Stock Power and Upgrades

In an effort to find out what kind of power our GLI is putting to the ground, we hooked our car up to a Dynapak wheel hub dynamometer. The Dynapak dyno measures the horsepower and torque being delivered to the wheels. Engine power is inevitably reduced by driveline loss – things like the transmission for example – and your car is actually only capable of putting a percentage of the crank horsepower to the ground. For that reason we’re always curious what kind of power vehicles are making in their stock configuration. This also gives us a baseline to work from if we attempt to extract more power from our car.

We took our car to GRD Performance Tuning in Naperville, Illinois, and spent half a day on the dyno making multiple runs bone-stock. Once we had our baseline figures, we replaced the stock ECU programming with an aftermarket program from APR. The APR software increases boost, fueling, timing and other parameters to increase horsepower and torque. Below is a chart showing wheel horsepower both stock and with APR’s 93-octane chip tuning. The solid lines are stock power and the dotted lines are chipped power – green is horsepower, blue is torque. The chart has been flattened to get both torque and horsepower on similar scale.

In stock form our GLI is putting out just under 200hp (some runs it spiked just over 200, so we averaged our four pulls together). Torque is about 225 lb-ft if you ignore the spike around 2,400 RPM. After looking at numerous other dyno charts and talking to Volkswagen it is clear that VW has underated the horsepower of the 2.0T, as there is no way the engine is putting out 200hp at the crank if we’re seeing nearly 200hp to the wheels. The 2.0T appears to be pumping closer to 225hp stock at the crank (or better).

Chipped, our car is putting around 215hp and roughly 255 lb-ft of torque (ignoring the spike again at 2,400 RPM). Overall the car feels very strong and the power delivery is smooth throughout the range. Looking at power under the entire curve, it is obvious the car is going to pull quite a bit more. We’re happy with the gains so far and look forward to downpipe and exhaust mods for the 2.0T in the future. Thanks to Gensis Racing and Development (GRD) for helping us with the dyno time and chip flash.

Overall we’re happy to report that our new GLI has been problem-free for more than 5,000 miles now and still continues to put a smile on our faces. The super-stiff structure, better handling, increased ride comfort and roomier inside dimensions are all welcome changes and help elevate the new GLI above the outgoing model dynamically. We still wish the exterior styling was more “Volkswagen-like” but it has grown on us quite a bit.

In the next installment we’ll be covering suspension modifications and a wheel and tire upgrade to 19″ Phaeton Helios wheels. Stay tuned…

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