O Opinions & Commentary

Motoring Bliss: A lil Vee-Dub on a skinny road in Cali

Jetta GLI is a winner thanks to supreme chassis balance and peppy engine

These weren’t just good roads; these were certifiably great/phenomenal/otherworldly roads. Some people go for a job first thing in the AM, some people grab a bike; if I lived here, however, I would take my car—preferably one similar to what you’re about to read about—and drive them every day, sun/rain/sleet or snow. Well, I’d have to add an AWD drivetrain for the snow, perhaps, but you get my, ahem, drift.

In this case, “here” is the edge of a network of gloriously undulating and perfect-camber roads through Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and ‘round Mount St. Helena (no, not St. Helens, St. Helena) just north of Napa in California.

The car? Well, there were a few as I was attending a Volkswagen 2014 full-line drive program (that’s every VW available for ’14, including a couple of Euro-spec models, some we’ll soon see, some we probably won’t) but for me, the standout was the 2014 Jetta GLI, which returns pretty munch unchanged from ’13.

But after a rip like this, why would you change it?

Yes, yes; it’s got GTI numbers (210 hp, 207 lb-ft) all going through a six-speed manual transmission to the front wheels but you won’t really be pushing the power limits on these roads because there just isn’t enough room to do so thanks to the numerous switchbacks and hairpin turns.

Which is fine, because here was yet another example of why you don’t need big power for big fun. The GLI features a beautifully balanced, immersive chassis while the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel, the nicely bolstered front seats and well-spaced pedals make for a drive quality that is almost unrivalled in this segment.

Bendy roads required

Just imagine it; birch trees flying by on either side of a two-lane road that only has two lanes because there’s a line down the middle; the entire ribbon of tarmac is no wider than a single lane on even an average highway.

So it was here that the me, the GLI and the road danced; starting just a little towards the centre line for a turn, flicking the gear lever for a quick drop from three-to-two and diving to the apex with maybe a wheel or two on the shoulder, pulling out again on pretty much full throttle. You can do that with this car, while a Mustang GT on even slightly damp roads may just have you the wrong way ‘round.

Then maybe a break for a small straight, letting the turbo-four (and yourself) breathe a little before clipping yet another apex on perfect camber, traversing roads so bendy that you can almost take the turns straight on if you place the car properly and have the stones.

It was there, on the sun-drenched and vine-lined roads of Napa Valley at the wheel of a little German/Mexican tinbox that I reached motoring bliss.


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