2008 Volkswagen GLI – We haven’t heard much lately about Fahrvergnugen, that difficult-to-define Germanic character that supposedly separated Volkswagens from other moderately priced cars. That is probably because VW outsiders never did get it, as trying to sell the Volkswagen driving experience to anyone who has never experienced it is like trying to report premium-grade European chocolate to anyone who has not tasted it and thinks the supermarket brand is fine.
So in case you haven’t driven a contemporary Volkswagen extensively, then you are going to must trust us on this: The charm of these cars is that they drive like 8/10ths of of those high-dollar French sedans, while costing less than half the cost.
For 2008, this compact sport sedan drops the “Jetta” part of its name to become known simply as the Volkswagen GLI. Other changes include the deletion of automatic climate control from the options list and the swapping out of last year’s “Fahrenheit” package for this year’s “Autobahn.”
The 2008 Volkswagen GLI bridges the gap between econosport compact sedans (typically of Japanese persuasion) and pricier luxury sport sedans (typically of German descent). Those drawn to classy European styling, a nicely tailored cabin, athletic road manners and spirited performance will find a lot to love in this Vee-Dub.
Based on the Jetta sedan (and indeed, called the Jetta GLI until this year), the GLI should satisfy just about anyone who craves the taut, energetic feel of a German-pedigreed sedan but needs a price that’s not going to cause missed student loan payments. The GLI’s turbocharged inline-4 provides plenty of punch, while a firm suspension and communicative steering bring joy to those who appreciate a strong connection to the road.
Apart from its athletic dynamics, the Volkswagen GLI also boasts impressive build quality and more passenger and luggage room than most of its rivals. The cabin’s high-quality materials and tasteful design impart a luxury-brand ambience, and VW offers the latest features like a navigation system and a dedicated iPod interface.
With pricing (depending on options) in the $25,000 to $30K range, the 2008 Volkswagen GLI is a very good pick for a fun-to-drive small sport sedan. But you might want to take a look at a few other models before signing on the dotted line. We also like the Acura TSX for its refinement and stronger reputation for long-term reliability, though it lacks the Vee-Dub’s power. Other highly rated choices include the turbocharged Volvo S40 T5, the rev-happy Honda Civic Si sedan and the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX and Legacy GT models.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen GLI is a compact sedan that’s available with a choice of a six-speed manual or automanual transmission. Standard features include bi-xenon headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, metallic interior trim, aggressively bolstered front seats, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated side mirrors, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary input jack.
Options include an “Autobahn” package (leather seating, heated front seats with power lumbar supports, a sunroof and an upgraded audio system), an exterior Sport styling kit, 18-inch alloy wheels and a navigation system (which allows the option of iPod connectivity in lieu of the CD changer). Individual options include a sunroof, an iPod adapter and a variety of wheels and rear spoilers.
Powertrains and Performance
The Volkswagen GLI is front-wheel drive and comes solely with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. One may choose either a six-speed manual or VW’s slick six-speed DSG (“Direct Shift Gearbox”) sequential-shift transmission. The latter allows either ultra-quick manual-style shifting or fully automatic operation. The GLI can sprint to 60 mph in about 8 seconds flat. EPA fuel economy estimates for 2008 stand at 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway for a DSG-equipped GLI.
Antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are all standard. Side airbags for rear passengers are optional.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2008 Volkswagen GLI received four out of five stars for protection of front-seat occupants in head-on collisions and five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the GLI earned the top rating of “Good” in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
A sense of premium quality is immediately evident upon entering the cabin. Top-grade materials and exacting fit and finish, along with clean European style, give the GLI an upscale flair. Performance-oriented touches include a thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel and metallic-trimmed pedals. Firm side bolsters on the front seats hold both driver and passenger snug around corners — perhaps a bit too snug for those of wide frame. Otherwise, seating for four adults is comfortable all around, and the rear seat offers a folding armrest and a split/fold feature. Trunk capacity measures an impressive 16 cubic feet.
The GLI’s well-sorted suspension strikes a near-perfect balance between a comfortable ride and sporty handling. Though not as edgy as the previous-generation Jetta GLI, the current VW GLI has a rock-solid feel with a surprisingly quiet ride. Factor in the precise, communicative steering, eager engine and brilliant DSG transmission, and the 2008 Volkswagen GLI makes an ideal, well-rounded choice for enthusiasts on a budget.