From the Armchair – GLI Expanded

Funny thing about the GLI. It’s an American phenomenon and a non-issue everywhere else. Jettas are for old people says a German friend of mine – a transplant who is now living in the USA. And that’s the case really. America’s GTI-spec Jetta sells solely in the USA – no surprise as the Jetta is the best-selling European car Stateside. Still, maybe expanding the GLI sub-brand in America and Europe might be a shrewd maneuver as performance enthusiasts also begin to feel the bite of fuel prices and the guilt of global warming.

The GTI name and the heritage that goes with it are an asset to be sure for Volkswagen. Thing is, be it Golf, Rabbit, Polo or Lupo, the GTI is a hot hatch pure and simple. Days of slapping that moniker on cars outside the hot hatch spectrum such as the rare Scirocco GTI are long gone. The ground is now too hallowed.

Not so with GLI. GLI is a sedan to Americans and an enigma to everyone else. But, GTI owners often grow up, make babies and grow out of their GTIs. Enter the Passat.

This generation Passat has been a bit less loved by Volkswagen’s loyal owner group. Lackluster equipment packages except for the Euro-only R36 haven’t helped things and it can no longer boast being the “affordable Audi” as was the B5 generation with its Audi chassis and drivetrain sharing. Nevertheless, this car is a solid package underneath and I suspect it might be a bit better received if it had a younger spin.

That brings us back to the GLI name. Imagine, if you will, a Passat sedan and wagon that subscribe to the same philosophy as the GTI. Blacken the car’s chrome snout, add a red border to its grille and give it a more aggressive chin – maybe lifted wholesale from the R36. Throw in some bolstered sport seats with the GTI’s trademark plaid surfaces, along with the Jetta GLI’s flat-bottomed sport steering wheel and accenting red stitching. Ditch the car’s Tiptronic transmission for DSG and offer a manual. Fit a set of 19-inch GTI-design 5-spoke alloys and tune the suspension to handle more like a GTI and I suspect you’d have a real winner.

If Volkswagen wanted to get really trick, they could opt for the 280hp 2.0T variant now fitted to the Audi S3 and federalized with DSG transmission for future sale in the US in the upcoming Audi TTS. Add the electronic limited slip differential that VWoA has been playing with in some of their own in-house GTIs and this’d be the icing on the proverbial cake.

Want to play the green card even more? Volkswagen could take their Jetta TDI Sport model, basically a GLI with a TDI engine, and expand on that as well. With a Passat GLI sedan and wagon in the lineup, this sort of sporting diesel expansion would offer even more possibilities.

If you think about it, Volkswagen is probably the best placed brand to capitalize upon such market expansion. Sporting models of the Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry simply aren’t credible to those growing out of the sport compact car market be they GTI owners or drivers of Japanese cars like the WRX or Lancer. A Passat GLI, on the other hand, would be perfect for those looking for honest-to-goodness performance without the gluttonous fuel consumption that comes with more cylinders. Even Europe and its retirement home understanding of the Jetta might accept the badge were it adorned to the Passat and especially Passat variant.

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