March/April 2019

Anniversary Theme

35th anniversary Jetta GLI Debuts at Chicago Auto Show


by Cliff Leppke



The Chicago’s Auto Show organizers claim their show is the largest consumer-focused show. Commercial vehicles are important too. The biggest boast hypes its ample exhibit space, the crowds who attend it, and its role in selling show goers automobiles or trucks.


February’s Chicago-show theme was 30 or 35th anniversary editions: Jetta GLI, Mazda Miata MX-5, Acura NSX and Chrysler’s modern minivan. Subaru’s new Legacy, a midsize sedan, is a notable fresh machine. Limited-run models such as the Alfa 4C deserved a toast as did the NSX. Ford displayed its 2020 longitudinal-engine Police Interceptor Explorer. The latter matters to Chicago; it’s built in Ford’s nearby Torrence Avenue plant. When Ford retools its Chicago facility, it will shelve the front-drive Taurus and current Explorer. Then, the plant produces the 2020 Explorer and Lincoln Aviator. According to a Ford rep, the new unibody Explorer’s rear-drive-style configuration is better tuned to police work. Plus, there’s room for a hybrid power train. This latter version debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.


Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi, Porsche and Maserati showcased their vehicles in Chicago, but not in Detroit. Carmakers believe, for the time being, that the Chicago show boosts their vehicle sales. Audi, for example, displayed its wares. Mercedes presented its commercial vehicles. VWoA sent marketing guru Derrick Hatami, two PR aces, its Mexican team contact and brand specialists and ambassadors to Chicago’s show. Hatami says car shows matter to VW.


 VW took the wraps off the 2019 Jetta GLI. With a more powerful variable valve lift 228-hp engine, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed direct-shift gearbox, revised suspension and well bolstered front seats, it’s a Jetta on steroids. It duplicates the original German-made 1984 Jetta GLI’s role as a fun, yet economical-to-operate notchback sports sedan. Remember when the original German-made GLI’s 90-hp engine was hot stuff? Recall how the GLI’s sports seating,  revised suspension and finer interior seemed classier than a Rabbit GTI? 


Commemorative 35th anniversary trip just ahead of the GLI door.

Things change. The Golf GTI is a tad nicer inside than the Jetta GLI. The latter, therefore, isn’t a GTI with a trunk. VW borrowed the go-train that makes the GTI such fun. Check, the brakes and the wheelbase.


There’s more room between the front and rear axles. The GLI gets the Golf R’s bigger binders with electric parking brakes. Back-seat drivers will pine for the GTI’s finer rear confines. The GTI has soft rear-door card inserts and rear face vents. The Jetta doesn’t. Plus, VW doesn’t provide a rear power outlet. 


VW product marketing expert Adam Reinhardt told the Autoist that the GLI’s price should closely mirror the GTI’s — starting at less than $30,000. Expect more content in the Jetta, though. Perhaps VW saves a few pfennigs on creature comforts, letting it add other doodads to the GLI. The GLI weighs more than the GTI or Jetta. One reason: the Jetta’s beam-type rear axle is lighter than the GLI’s independent rear suspension. Trunk room and gas tank remain the same, however. Reinhardt says the standard 18-inch-wheel GLI comes in two trims: S and Autobahn. He considers the special 35th anniversary black-roof model set up from S. It and the S have cloth upholstery, which enthusiasts like. Autobahn has heated/chilled leather seating. Aerodynamically, the GLI is slipperier than the GTI. 


The new Jetta gets the R’s bigger brakes, highlighted in red.

Jetta lovers rejoice. The GLI’s trunk lid now opens fully when released. On earlier models, it popped up, but required someone to pull past a detent. If you didn’t, it dropped on your head. VW’s Mexican production expert says VW changed the lid’s hydraulic lifts. Thanks! It’s a head-saver now found on all new Jettas. 


Chicago show extras: Mazda sold its 500-vehicle allotment of 30th anniversary orange MX-5/Miatas. Mazda used the Chicago show to speak to those who relish its cheeky sports car. On the first media day, it unveiled eye-popping orange Miatas. During the second media day, Mazda let designers, who developed the original Miata, share their experiences with fans. VW, in contrast, plugged its U.S. Soccer sponsorship during its second-day lunch. 


Audi’s display featured its new all-electric e-tron model.

Ram introduced its heavy-duty Ram Chassis Cab, Subaru its Legacy sedan, Land Rover its new Evoque. Special editions and tributes ruled. We toasted Alfa’s 4C and Acura’s NSX, saw additional Chevy truck models, the new Land Rover Evoque and Chrysler presented a 35-year-old Plymouth Voyager. Kia offered popcorn and a Telluride talk. Hyundai ended the second press day with wine and cheesecake, which complemented its new three-row Palisade crossover. It and its Kia Telluride cousin, feature finer interior trim than VW’s Atlas. Plus, the Palisade’s mid-row seat moves at the touch of a button — a convenience that trumps the Atlas’ wrestling-match setup. 

Chicago show media enjoyed several more perks.


There’s the concept and technology garage the day before the first media day. Journalists drive new models indoors. I chose an old car — the 1967 Mustang Shelby GT500. Its V-8 mill chirped tires when moving the shifter from park to reverse or drive. Its steering was way too light for accurate directional work. And big feet often pumped the windshield washer fluid. Nothing’s perfect. Yet, the wood-trimmed steering wheel and green metallic paint charm.


Further media perks include a Nissan hospitality room, an invite to a Ford reception, Mazda’s annual pizza party and rocking out after hours with Subaru at Revel Row. VWCA


Cliff Leppke |



  • AGAINST THE GRAIN: While other carmakers are ditching sedans, VW is upping the ante with its reworked Passat.
  • TARIFF THREAT GROWS: VW dealers may be facing serious peril as the U.S. threat to expand tarrif grows.
  • SALLY EBERLE: VWoA ambassador was a friend of the VWCA and many other car clubs. She died in February at age 73.


  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Casual Collector – Steve Mierz
  • Small Talk – VW and Audi news – quickly
  • Retro Autoist – From the archives
  • Parting Shot – Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene – A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups – Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski