Despite its contemporary, business-appropriate skin, the Volkswagen Jetta has always been one of the more playful compact sedans. This is truer still with the latest-gen model, which now boasts a spunky 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaced the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder (the strong and efficient turbodiesel is awesome, too; skip the old and middling 115-horsepower base gasoline engine). 

The Jetta that jets

At the top of the Jetta pack is one even more striking in its performance-oriented attitude. It's the GLI, and you can consider it the GTI of Jettas. Like that Golf sibling, the 2015 Jetta GLI gets its own engine and special tuning that enable it to sing when slung. The hotted-up hardware includes a 210-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, sport suspension and VW's XDS Cross Differential System that offers enhanced grip during spirited cornering. 

Like its lesser siblings, the Jetta GLI is front-wheel drive, but when configured with a manual transmission it uses a satisfying 6-speed vs. the 5 cogs employed in other gasoline models. The test model I had over a recent weekend used VW's optional 6-speed DSG automatic. In general this dual-clutch system played very well with the engine. When overtaking slower cars on the highway and romping around canyon back roads, the DSG proved exceptionally smooth and pleasing. 

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Not so smooth were initial starts when the vehicle was cold or when put in reverse. In these instances the DSG felt more like the quasi-manual that it is, taking a moment to get in gear and transfer power. This isn't a deal-breaker, but is a characteristic of which to be aware. Besides, in just about every other aspect regarding drivability, the Jetta GLI is exceptionally well-sorted. The turbo power is satisfying (pop it in Sport mode to prevent initial lag), and the suspension deserves high marks for its ability to keep this sport sedan well-planted in hard cornering without breaking your back on the freeway.

Higher price, higher features

With a starting price of $27,740, the 2015 Jetta GLI comes at a several thousand dollar premium over its lesser siblings. In addition to its more powerful engine and other performance-oriented features, that money also includes standard equipment like a Fender premium audio system, sunroof, dual-zone climate control and power driver's seat. The price also brings some exclusivity, as GLI models account for less than 10 percent of the Jetta range, according to VW. Is it the model for you? If you're seeking a well-equipped sedan that can be serious for the commute to work yet really knows how to let loose on the weekends, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI is eager to satisfy both needs. 

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