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BMW 318i
VW Jetta GLI

Is There Really An $8700 Difference? both cars

VW & Porsche , August, 1984, p41

by C. Van Tune
photos by C. Van Dune & Stephanie Wolfe

The philosophy of price (and what is considered to be a "good deal") is something bandied about within virtually every faction of society. Whether the topic be tires, tools, furniture or even French cuisine, the equation of "which is the best deal" ultimately enters the picture. Obviously, many elements are purely subjective ("I like the pastry at Jaques better than that at Chez Moir"), but others, such as the qualityof machinery, can be evaluated quite objectively. Automobiles, therefore, fall into the same schema. The old maxim of "you get what you pay for" is still basically true, but there are a few variants to that rule that make outstanding values.
Thus we came to devise this test:
The $9900 VW Jetta GLI vs the $18,600 BMW 318i... very similar automobiles in design and purpose, but in two very separate price classes. Both are specially tuned to perform and handle excellently, opperate economically, and deliver outstanding value to their owners.
The BMW is world renowned as a standard of driving excellence... but is it really worth the $8700 difference?

Jetta dash BMW dash The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is one of the best bargains in the performance sedan market today. Priced down there with mere oatmeal-mobiles ($8690 base price), the five-passenger Jetta is a flat oustanding performer ... both in straight-line aceleration and through twisty chicanes.

The secret behind the Jetta GLI's performance prowess is its close family ties to the Rabbit GTI. All the stuff that turned the lazy hare into a field runner also worls on the Jetta, and transforms the sedate sedan into a real driving machine.

The most important item is the high-output, 1.8-liter (1780cc) in-line Bosch K-Jetronic fuel-injected four-cylinder powerplant lifted from the GTI. Producing 90hp @ 5500 rpm and 100 ft-lbs of torque # 300 rpm, the willing little motor combines with the close-ratio five-speed (also from the GTI) to deliver some really outstanding acceleration figures. The car is very happy in virtually any driving situation, whether it be zipping through rush-hour traffic or pounding out the miles in a cross-country jaunt, although during the latter the relatively short (3.51:1) final drive ratio causes the motor to rev a bit high for optimum fuel economy.

The most important item is the igh-output powerplant lifted from the GTI

Other benefits of the GLI package are found underneath in the form of 16.5mm front and 20.5mm rear anti-sway bars. Stiffer springs, recalibrated shocks, ventilated front disc brakes and larger 185/60/SR-14 Pirelli P6 radials on 14x6 alloy wheels are also part of the deal, contributing greatly to the econo-sedan's go-turn-stop maneuverability.
The Jetta GLI is one of the best bargains in the performance-sedan market today.

The BMW 318i, on the other hand, is much more subdued in its quest for accelerative pleasures. Equipped with a slightly smaller 1.8-liter (1766cc) four-cylinder fitted with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, the 318i actually boasts more horsepower and torque than the larger-motored Jetta (101hp @ 5800 rpm and 103 ft-lbs torque @ 4500 rpm), although the engine must be revved higher than the Jetta's to achieve them. Redline on both vehicles is 6200 rpm, although the Jetta seems to run out of power around 5800 rpm while the BMW buzzes willingly to redline every time.

Jetta rear seats BMW front seats BMW rear seats

Jetta's interior offers much more luxury and richness than that of the more expensive BMW. BMW's seats are much firmer with less side-bolstering for support, but include shoulder belts for rear passengers.

The Bimmer's five-speed transmission is the smoothest shifting manual we've ever sampled, and an absolute joy to use, although the jump in ratios from first to second gear (3.72:1 to 2.002:1) seems a mite long, causing the engine to fall out of its power band during the change. To eke maximum performance out of the 318i requires judicious use of the shifter, and the willingness to run between 4500 and 6000 rpm, but the car loves every minute of it. Open road cruising in fifth gear is more realistic in terms of engine rpms than the Jetta, with the BMW's 2.95:1 final drive ratio accounting for the difference.

BMW drag strip On the test track, however, it was the Jetta that impressed us. Although the BMW bettered its performance from 0-30 mph (3.0 sec. vs. 3.3 sec., due mostly to the Jetta's loss of traction), once the VW hooked-up it was all over for the 318i. Zero-to-sixty mph times for the Jetta of 9.1 seconds outshine the BMW's best of 10.0 seconds, while the quarter-mile test showd an outstanding 16.40 sec/81.10mph pass for the Jetta as compared to the Bimmer's good-but-not-great 17.12 sec/79.36 mph pass. Jetta drag strip

The difference in gearing is very apparent in quartermile-testin, with the BMW going through the traps at 5900 rpm in third gear while the Jetta is hitting 6000 rpm in fourth. Ironically, tip speed for the pair is not that far apart, with the Jetta ending at 106 mph while the BMW tops out at 109 mph. BMW engine bay

Fuel economy is quite good with both vehicles, although the 318i came out on top with a 28.9 mpg test averate over the Jetta's 27.7 mpg showing. Both cars will far outdistance those figures during open-road cruising, returning 33-35 mpg with ease.

In the handling department, however, the cars are as different as understeer and that's exactly what they tend to do.Jetta engine bay

The Jetta is as easy to drive through the turns as one can ask from a front-drive automobile, exhibiting moderate throttle-on understeer and a fair amount of body roll; however, both are very controllable and easy to make work.

The BMW on the other hand, dives through corners much like a rear-engined Porsche ... requiring judicious use of throttle and brakes to keep from seeing the wrong side of the guardrail. Once mastered, corners can be taken with great aplomb (and certainly at as high of speeds as with the Jetta> but all of the braking must be accomplished before the apex. Then it's "stand on the throttle and steer it through". This method is a lot of fun, although requires a warrior's bravado to safely make it through closing radius twisties (left-foot braking seems to help).

On the skidpad the Jetta will body-roll to a point, then lift the inside-rear wheel off the ground. This trait (common to front-drive VWs) looks somewhat unstable, but actually feels fine from the driver's seat. The BMW, meanwhile, generates much less body roll but doesn't feel as stable from behind the wheel. Ironically, the vehicles were very close in ultimate lateral acceleration, the BMW taking the edge with 0.78G to the Jetta's 0.76G showing. Steering inputs from both cars (rack and pinion) are very good, allowing the driver a fairly precise notion of what's going on up front.

Jetta specs BWM specs

It should be noted that due to the tremendous demand for Jetta GLI's, wome cars are beind delivered without the GTI's wheel/tire combination mentioned above. Our test car was one such vehicle (oufitted instead with skinny 175-70x13 Michelins mounted on 13x5.5 wheels) which is a fact that should be taken into consideration when reviewing the skidpad data.

In the handling department the cars are as different as understeer and oversteer

Our BMW 318i came to us with 195/60 HR-14 Pirelli P6 radials on 14x6-inch cast aluminum wheels, along with powr disc/drum brakes, and although weighing slightly more than the four door Jetta (2360 pounds to 2204 pounds) would stop shorter everytime. The Jetta's brake pedal exhibited a spongy feeling on the top end, making modulation more difficult... creating the longer stopping distances (145-ft BMW; 157-ft Jetta, from 60 mph). Brake fade was not a problem with either vehicle.
Jetta cornering BMW cornering
Skidpad testing shows difference in handling characteristics of the two cars. Jetta lifts inside-rear wheel while BMW, although exhibiting more body roll, keeps all tires on pavement. Jetta, ironically, feels better from driver's seat.

In terms of utility, the two cars are still pretty well matched. Although the BMW is only available as a 2-door, and the Jetta only as a 4-door (* in US markets *), their interior person-carrying capabilities ae about the same: ample room for two up front, while anything more than two normal sied humans in the rear is cramping things a bit. The Jetta's two extra doors make rear seat entry much easier than in the BMW, but the overall esthetics of the coupe are much more pleasing to the eye.

While interior fit and finish is outstanding on both cars, the lesser-priced Jetta actually exudes a greater feeling of luxury than does the BMW. More comforable and richer appearing seating areas greet the Jetta passenger, as opposed to the hard, stark, almost antiseptic look of the Bimmer's seats. Certainly well-designed for long-term comfort, the BMW's seats are still decidedly lacking in some of the "posh" that should go along with a car in its price range. Both cars' front buckets sit to high for our tastes, however the Jetta's units feature far better side bolstering support.

The BMW's five=speed is the smoothest shifting manual we've ever sampled.

The dashboards of both vehicles are logically laid out, but the curve-around design of the 318i is easier to work with when driving. Four-spike padded steering wheels stand out from instrument panels with well-grouped gauges on both cars, however the BMW is terribly lacking in engine-monitoring devices. Only engine coolandt temperature, miles per gallon and fuel level instruments augment the 140 mph speedometer and 7000 rpm tach ont he 318i, while the Jetta boasts coolant temp, oil temp, oil pressure and voltage gauges by VDO to back up its 120 mph sppedometer and 7000 rpm tachometer. Unfortunately for the Jetta driver, VW has seen fit to mount the ancillary gauges on the lower edge of the insrument panel where they require a lengthy look away from the road to read.
Jetta trunk BMW trunk BMW tools

Abslutely cavernous Jetta trunk will swallow enough luggage for three-week trip and then some.

The BMW's shifter, as previously mentioned, is like a Samurai sword through 20-weight, although the Jetta's cog-changer is only the slightest bit notchy...either of which are very easy to manage. Pedal arrangement is best on the Jetta, allowing easier heel-and toeing maneuvers than with the 318i.

Starting at a base price of $16,430, our test BMW had been outfitted with a fair amount of optional equipment, including AM/VM/cassette stereo ($505), dual-position manual sunroof ($520), Luxux Package ($720 -- which includes cruise conrol, power windows, and central locking system) and limited slip differential ($370)...for total price of $18,595.

The VW Jetta GLI bases at a very reasonable $8690, our test car having been ordered with manual sunroof ($315), air conditioning ($700) and Blaupunkt Frankfurt 2-speaker AM/FM radio ($185)...for a total price of $9890.

Quite a difference in price for two such similar cars. However, like the pastries at Jacques, value is often a subjective decision...and for many people the BMW will represent the best vehicle. For those to whom nameplate status is paramount there's no choice but the Bimmer. But for those who are able to look past the demure "VW" grille emblem, there's a marvelous performance sedan with no peer. -VWP

(* *) Dave's comments/original article errors
Posted for public interest, not for profit.
Volkswagen, Jetta, Rabbit, GTI, GLI and any other registered trademarks or reserved trademarks are property of their respective owners and appear without permission.

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