Mountain Wheels: Souped-up VW Jetta GLI thrills. Say so long to the Beetle |

Mountain Wheels: Souped-up VW Jetta GLI thrills. Say so long to the Beetle

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

Today’s look at a trio of Volkswagens is a bit of a blast from the past, with updated anniversary models (the 35th birthday of the large and speedy Jetta GLI, based on the newest Jetta) and a fond farewell to the Beetle.

The somewhat conservative nature of that new Jetta is almost entirely transformed with the 35th anniversary edition, 228-horsepower GLI, which is definitely more than just a GTI with additional real estate. Jetta may seem a little bland as it gained American Passat-styled size, but all of that goes out the window with a cool-looking redo that adds gurgling exhaust and moderately head-snapping performance.

That engine swap is the biggest deal, though the 30 real-world mpg I got during my careening is quite different than the 40-plus you might get out of the 147-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo found in regular machines including the $25,265 SEL model. GLI is a pretty good deal for an upgrade, selling for $27,890.

GLI gains the full power boost if you load it up with premium gasoline, but the experience absolutely revolutionizes the car. Light it up and the forward pull is remarkable – maybe not quite as jarring as the smaller GTI’s thrust, but given the car’s size and stature, it makes for a much more fun experience. Cornering takes on an appreciable intensity and the overall ride and response is a load of low-cost fun. It’s so sporty that a six-speed manual is the go-to choice, though a seven-speed DSG automatic also is available. A five-mode adaptive chassis control also allows you to amp up the motoring.

Part of the appeal, to a certain segment, is GLI’s sport-centered looks, with red outline trim on the grill, wheels (very cool), flat-bottomed race wheel, displays, seats and shifter sack. That and blacked-out, 18-inch alloy wheels help create quite a striking vehicle, even more so in the white-with-black-roof model I drove. That black roof gives the car almost an AMG Mercedes or Tesla-style appeal, plus black mirror caps and window trim, red brake calipers in the front from the high-performance Golf R and a black splitter on the tail. The twin exhaust is real, and it sounds great.

Front and rear LED lighting is standard, plus ambient lighting, a dual-zone climate system and basic fore-and-aft safety aids. You also can upgrade to the Jetta’s digital instrument display, a sunroof, improved seats or the BeatsAudio sound system. In the meantime, you do get aluminum pedals, some upgraded trim and a single USB outlet; your passengers get no plugs or amenities of their own. Standard cloth seating is oddly squishy, looking super-rigid but not feeling that way, though the extra bolstering will suffice until you install Recaro race seats.

At the same time, we say so long to what might be called the new old new Beetle, the ever-revised and modernized version of VW’s perennial low-tech classic, sold in the U.S. since 2011 – replacing the actual New Beetle, which debuted in 1997, itself replacing the original Beetle, which first appeared in the U.S. in 1949. The long-running purveyor of retro automotive lineage bows out with a Final Edition edition, though some ancient variant undoubtedly lives on in spots such as Mexico and Paraguay.

Minus a couple of current era, Jetta-esque updates, including some timely red, white and blue mood lighting and a single USB and RCA plug in the rubberized cellphone bin, the end-of-the-road edition of the Beetle is indeed much the same as it has been in recent generations, minus maybe the recent peculiarity of the not exactly off-road gold-colored Dune edition.

Power was upped in 2018, and the wide, heavy and tub-shaped machine, with a 2.0-liter turbo here making 174 horsepower, connected to a six-speed automatic. I found that adequate for steady cruising but strained on passes (or passing). The tradeoff to its old-school solidity being relatively competent winter handling.

Beetle was always all about the style, and this Final Edition, priced at $23,940, got a few extras including a cream-colored dash plate and seat inserts, some upgraded fabric trim and a full-cabin sunroof. Otherwise, she’s as basic as the cars of history, with stretchy straps for bottle holders and a dark and quiet interior. Sentimentalists may take some interest, at least until a new and likely electrified Bus shows up to blow their minds.

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at

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