When it comes to rolling out special editions of existing cars, Volkswagen is giving Chrysler (think PT Cruiser) a run for its money. The Fahrenheit GLI is one of five special VWs on the market this year. It's a version of the Jetta GLI, and its bright yellow paint job is sure to generate instant love-it or hate-it reactions.
Get past the color, and the Fahrenheit has all the charm of the standard GLI — a compact car that serves up just enough driving enjoyment and premium features to justify its not-so-compact price. My biggest reservation involves the Jetta's reliability history, which is especially bad for high-performance variants like the GLI. If poor reliability doesn't faze you, act soon — Volkswagen will import just 1,200 Fahrenheits, and they're likely to sell out quickly.
Volkswagen builds two Fahrenheit editions, one of the GLI sedan and another of the GTI hatchback. Both have custom paint: The GTI is Fahrenheit Orange, and the GLI is Imola Yellow. Based on its looks, I'd guess that Imola was German for "extreme, like the sun." Actually, it refers to a Formula One grand prix race in Italy — something in which Volkswagen has no claim to fame. Go figure.
A Fahrenheit logo sits below the right taillight, and there's another on the steering wheel, which also lets you know which of the 1,200 Fahrenheits you own. Other interior changes involve the color scheme. Imola Yellow lives on — it's on the trim strips lining the dashboard and doors, as well as the leather stitching on the steering wheel, gearshift and parking brake.
Eighteen-inch wheels, optional on the regular GLI, are standard on the Fahrenheit. The two cars are otherwise mechanically identical.
Going & Stopping
The front-wheel-drive Fahrenheit GLI drives just like any other GLI, and that's a good thing. Volkswagen's direct-injection, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is a remarkably flexible engine, and it makes for entertaining, if not quite breathtaking, acceleration.
The engine delivers 200 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque, but more interesting is where it makes those numbers. Peak torque comes at just 1,800 rpm, and it sticks around until 5,000 rpm. Competitors like the Honda Civic Si hit their stride much higher up the tachometer, which means you have to rev the engine hard to get the desired power. The GLI, in contrast, can dig itself out of most situations without needing a downshift. In sixth gear, I could pull comfortably from 60 to 70 mph on the highway, which is not something most four-cylinder cars can do.
If shifting gears and revving high is your sort of thing, the Fahrenheit does that, too. There's a progressive influx of power as revs build, and the engine won't run out of steam until the needle swings past 6,000 rpm. Torque steer and turbo lag become apparent under hard acceleration, but most of the time the car masks both tendencies well. Put the pedal to the metal, and Volkswagen says the Fahrenheit GLI will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 7 seconds. According to our friends at MotorWeek, that puts this VW on par with the Civic Si and Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V.
The six-speed manual leaves something to be desired. The shift gates are well defined, but the whole setup in my test car felt loosely constructed. Even when the shifter was in gear, there was a lot of wiggle room — and yes, the shift knob was screwed on tightly. I'll attribute some wear to the car's 6,000 miles of journalistic thrashing, but even at that, it seemed excessively wobbly.
The gas pedal could use more sensitivity for easier rev-matching, though the lag doesn't seem as pronounced as it was in the last GTI I drove. The Fahrenheit's clutch pedal has a light effort and a wide, forgiving engagement point, which makes for relatively easy stop-and-go driving.
Volkswagen's Direct Shift Gearbox automatic is optional. It uses two clutches to swap gears much more quickly than a conventional automatic, and it has both fully automatic and manual-shift modes. My Fahrenheit came with the stick shift, but I've driven the DSG elsewhere; when it comes to performance driving, it beats most automatics by far.
Gas mileage is 25/32 mpg city/highway with the DSG automatic and 23/32 with the manual. If you use the EPA's revised 2008 ratings, the figures drop to 22/29 for the automatic and 21/29 for the manual. Volkswagen recommends premium fuel.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The discs in the GLI are larger than those in the regular Jetta. The brakes in my test car were pretty well shot, but once I pressed the pedal hard enough, they delivered acceptable stopping power.
Ride & Handling
The GLI's electric power steering has been tuned for quicker response than in the regular Jetta. It feels markedly heavier — a good thing, as the last base-model Jetta I drove went overboard with the power assist. The GLI's steering strikes a good balance between crisp turning response and easy low-speed maneuvering, though sports-car fans may still find there's too much power assist.
The Fahrenheit's four-wheel-independent suspension has front and rear stabilizer bars. Like other GLIs, it's tuned for sportier response than the suspension in the base Jetta, and it makes for a car you can drive hard through the corners. Body roll is minimal, and although the chassis clearly has more weight up front, the resulting understeer — where the front wheels slip — is both progressive and predictable. In sum, the Fahrenheit will break free of its tracks quite readily, but it's easy to reel back in when you want to straighten things out.
Ride quality suffers on the highway. It's never intolerable, but after a while the road imperfections start to wear through the seat cushions. On the highway, the 18-inch wheels and razor-thin P225/40R18 all-season tires serve up plenty of road noise.
The Jetta doesn't really deserve to be called a compact car, at least not in the sense of a small economy sedan. It's far more upscale, both in features and cabin quality — not to mention in price. My Fahrenheit GLI had all the usual Jetta accoutrements, including a wide range of driver's seat adjustments and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Other niceties include a center armrest that ratchets up and forward for better support, one-touch power windows, and probably one of the best moonroof executions in the business — turn the knob where you want the glass to open, including any halfway increment, and it takes care of the rest while you go back to driving. The dashboard has tight seams and upscale materials, and the manual climate controls are simple and high-quality.
The well-bolstered sport seats keep you in place without squeezing too tight. The thin center cushions wear on you over the long haul, though, and the manual recliner uses a hard-to-reach knob rather than the simpler lever adjustment most cars have. The Fahrenheit's standard leather upholstery has multiple layers of overlapped stitching — the sort of stuff you'd find in a pricey luxury car. The backseat is snug; I'm about 6 feet tall, and headroom was tight.
Trunk volume measures 16 cubic feet, a figure that puts many compact cars to shame. A 60/40-split folding rear seat is standard. As do most Jettas, the Fahrenheit has a center pass-thru.
Volkswagen's safety-themed ads are no marketing ploy. The Jetta scored the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top rating, Good, in front- and side-impact crash tests. Its six standard airbags include side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. Every Jetta also has four-wheel-disc antilock brakes and traction control. An electronic stability system, optional on the base Jetta, is standard on the GLI.
The front seat belts employ pretensioners, a feature most cars include. Rarer are pretensioners for the outboard rear seats, which the Fahrenheit includes in an optional package that also features side-impact airbags for backseat passengers.
Features & Pricing
Without the destination charge, the Fahrenheit GLI starts at $27,880. That's a significant hike over the regular GLI's $24,110 price, but the Fahrenheit comes with a lot more features — among them a moonroof, heated leather seats, 18-inch wheels and more. Add those options to the regular GLI, and the Fahrenheit works out to be only about $500 more.
The DSG automatic transmission runs $1,075, but it seems hard to come by. Cars.com lists just 85 Fahrenheit GLIs on sale nationally with a median price of a little over $29,000. Of those cars, all but one listing said the car had a manual transmission. Volkswagen says it split Fahrenheit production evenly between manuals and automatics, but the DSG may have proved more popular than expected. That explains why the majority of unsold Fahrenheits have stick shifts.
Fahrenheit GLI in the Market
I'd recommend the Fahrenheit enthusiastically were it not for the reliability issue. The Jetta has a dubious past: Consumer Reports lists it prominently under Used Cars to Avoid, and the current generation earns low short-term quality scores from J.D. Power and Associates. More troubling are the results for turbocharged models like the GLI, which CR gives its lowest reliability score: Much Worse Than Average.
If a few extra trips to the shop don't bother you, the Fahrenheit GLI could still be a rewarding choice. It's something of a small-car treat, with plenty of unexpected luxuries and a peppy engine to boot, and its sterling crash-test ratings and large trunk help its case. Volkswagen says all 1,200 cars have already been shipped, so if the remaining listings are any indication, the Fahrenheit should have no problem selling out.
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