Volkswagen understands that red is the fastest colour. Gleaming in the autumn sun before me is a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, in Tornado Red (yes, capital letters). I’m no bull, but I can’t deny that the colour is working: I do want to drive this red car, fast. My eyes are drawn to the smaller detail of the red-painted brake calipers, subtly hinting that today is going to be a fun day. A fast day.
I’m part of a media group assembled at Mosport International Raceway, near Toronto. (Something else that Volkswagen understands is that in order to appreciate the unadulterated joy that is driving a sport-class vehicle, one cannot be held back by arcane and oppressive restrictions like the Highway Safety Act.) On the confines of public roadways during the two-hour drive up, the Jetta GLI acquits itself with a refined composure that belies a sub-$30,000 base price. Power delivery is smooth and linear, with easy acceleration off the line backing up the rated 207 lb-ft of torque available at a mere 1700 rpm. The ride is controlled; taut yet not unforgiving. Where sport-tuned competitors like the Mini Cooper S punish you for every pothole, the Jetta’s suspension strikes a decent balance between comfort and responsiveness.
While my driving companion takes his turn at the wheel, I play with the intuitive navigation, climate control and entertainment systems. Packing this much tech into a dashboard without sacrificing ease of use requires extra efficiency. The touch-screen infotainment centre, cleanly organized, reacts snappily. Effortlessly, my iPod is hooked in through the glove box media port, and I’m flipping through the playlist via the on-screen controls.
On the test track at the automotive playground that is Mosport, I drop the hammer with no limitations. The Jetta GLI readily acquiesces to my demands, its 200-horsepower, 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder motor growling out of each turn, its tires squealing with glee.
The track experience is capped off with time trials, as Canadian racing icon Richard Spenard guides us through a new course, the journalist driving first, followed by a lap with Spenard himself at the helm. I am a very good competitive driver but, leading by example, Spenard politely points out that I can still afford to learn, as his near-subliminal feel for the limits of the car hurls us around the course at speeds that, at times, defy the speedometer.
The 2012 Jetta GLI is unique in its effortless transition from demure daily driver to ravenous speed demon. There aren’t many vehicles that are as at home picking up the kids from school as they are flying around the corners at Mosport — and can do it with this much style and tech, and check-in at under 30 grand.
Similarities to the 3/5-door GTI cannot be ignored. The longer wheelbase and fully-enclosed boot are perhaps the most prominent distinctions. The GLI forgoes the GTI’s pocket-rocket charm for a classic sophistication, allowing it to hang with the big boys on Bay Street in addition to the boy racers.
Your sig-other may only see four doors, a spacious trunk and all the amenities anyone could want. As for you: You see those Tornado Red callipers, and smile.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Now available, from $27,475
Image courtesy of John Spence.