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2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI does its part to #savethemanual


The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI does not compromise. While thrashing through a seaside test routes full of twists and turns, Lisa found the car stable, with excellent smooth braking and direct, responsive steering. - Lisa Calvi
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI does not compromise. While thrashing through seaside test routes full of twists and turns, Lisa found the car stable, with excellent smooth braking and direct, responsive steering. - Lisa Calvi

Ahhh. A sunny Sunday morning in late June. That time of year when the air finally softens, the leaves on trees are fully unfurled and gentle breezes caress the skin. Naturally these conditions turn my thoughts to manual transmissions. This train of thought has a lot to do with my beloved 1999 Volkswagen Golf GTI VR6, currently still in winter hibernation.

Alas, my white beauty lives in storage about 400 kilometres away. Busy summer work schedules over the past several years have prohibited me from seeing my GTI-love. This year looks much the same.

Luckily, my press tester for the week, courtesy of Volkswagen Canada, has the ability to make me forget this longing for a stick shift in my hand and three pedals below my feet.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI awaits in my driveway, looking sculpted in its Pyrite Silver Metallic paint with spicy red GLI accents sprinkled around the exterior, on the front grille, rear and side badges. Red brake calipers peek out from the racy 18-inch Polanko alloy wheels and the body-coloured rear spoiler adds a subtle sportiness to the back end.

It’s the 35th year for the GLI model. In 1984, Volkswagen introduced the first Jetta GLI to the North American market. The first GLI was essentially a GTI wrapped in Jetta sheet metal. The sports sedan got the same 90-horsepower fuel-injected 1.8-litre engine, close-ratio five-speed transmission, sport suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars, and vented front disc brakes as the Golf’s GTI hot hatch.

Last year, the GLI lost its manual transmission much to the chagrin of a small but mighty group of ardent MT aficionados and aficionados. So passionate are devotees of the manual transmission that dozens of social media channels and groups dedicated to promoting three pedals and a stick shift exist online.

Save the manuals, a Facebook group lead by Car and Driver editor, Eddie Alterman, has more than 35,000 followers. Alterman makes some good, basic points about the virtues of the manual transmission: “It’s about do-it-yourself,” he says. “It’s about actually having a connection to the mechanical part of the car.”

I couldn’t agree more. Thank goodness, Volkswagen feels the same way, came to their senses and brought back the manual for the 2019 Jetta GLI. It’s so much more tempting to jump out of bed after a hectic week on the go for an early Sunday morning drive when there is a stick shift involved.

Why did Volkswagen bring back the manual transmission on the 2019 Jetta GLI? “Volkswagen has traditionally done very well with manual transmissions on all the cars we offer,” says Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada spokesman. “It seemed a natural, as we’ve seen upwards of 40 per cent of our customers opt for this transmission in past years.”

That’s a large percentage of people that prefer being mechanically connected to their ride.

Happily, the manual transmission is not as dead as one might think. In Canada, no less than 18 manufacturers offer models with manual transmissions. Some go above and beyond a token one model, like Nissan with five, and Chevrolet with four.

Nay, these row-your-own models range from sporty sedans, like the BMW 2-series, to topless roadsters, like the Porsche Boxster, to bottom-of-the-line hatchbacks, like Mitsubishi’s Mirage, to go-anywhere utility vehicles — a Jeep Gladiator with a stick? Yes please! — and even a midsize pickup truck — Bravo, Toyota Tacoma!

Many offer the three-pedal version without compromising air conditioning or heated seats, usually features that are among the missing when ordering a model equipped with a manual transmission.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI does not compromise. While thrashing through one of my favourite seaside test routes full of twists, turns, climbs and descents, varying surface conditions and speed zones, the car was stable, with excellent smooth braking. The flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel with jaunty red stitching felt meaty and provided direct, responsive steering. The Titan Black leather sport seats held me in place.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 228 horsepower (18 more than the previous gen GLI) and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, an added 51 lb.-ft. Each model comes with Normal, Sport, Eco, and Custom drive modes, which let you tailor steering, shift points and throttle. Sport mode with its pleasurable exhaust rumble was obviously my preferred mode.

Driving a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission may seem old-fashioned in today’s world where nanny systems help you park, keep you in your lane, alert you to rear cross-traffic and even drive the car for you in some cases.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI with six-speed manual transmission is by no means old-fashioned. Besides technology that holds you in place when starting off on a steep hill and suggests when to shift gears, the Jetta GLI is equipped with a sleek 8.0-inch touchscreen with proximity sensor, ambient interior lighting that’s customizable in up to 10 colours, automatic high beams, autonomous emergency braking and blind spot detection.

The Rail2Rail power sunroof in my tester let all the June warmth and goodness into the cabin, adding to the sense of well-being and delight I felt with a stick shift in my hand and three pedals at my feet. Thanks, Volkswagen, for doing your part to save the manuals.

MSRP: $31,695.00

Price as tested: $32,690.00

Follow Lisa on Instagram: @FrontLady

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