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The avant-garde car is a abstruse wonder. Quiet, connected and smooth, it’s the rolling agnate of a soothing, cyberbanking pop song.

But sometimes I get cornball for a blatant rocker with a cord guitar.

I was reminded of that activity as I flogged a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI about the hills of Oakland County this summer. The Rabbit GTI (and its auto stablemate Jetta GLI) are the 1980s ancestors of the all-new Golf GTI/Jetta GLI — performance versions of the German brand’s entry-level hatchback/sedan.

I had a adventitious to analyze 36 years of advance aback I activated a roomy, high-tech 2020 Jetta GLI afresh as well. It’s not a hatchback, but the GLI auto is contrarily the 2020 Golf GTI’s accompanying authoritative it acceptable for this week’s comparo. It shares the Golf GTI’s 228-horsepower engine, chassis and suspension, giving them austere bite over the abject 147-horse Jetta/Golf.

The 2020 VW Jetta GLI sports a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 228 application and a able 258 pound-feet of torque.

The ’84 Rabbit GTI, of course, was the aboriginal abridged rocket, advancing to our shores in 1983. The additional bearing of the car adopted the Golf name in 1986.

The 1984 GTI was the aboriginal car I anytime owned. It was a hoot. And a revelation.

Taking a bunched car and capacity it with a achievement engine, the Rabbit GTI was the automotive agnate of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was affordable, built-in four — yet could instantly transform into a Tasmanian Devil acrimonious on affluence cars alert its price. The V-dub inspired a anarchy of abridged rocket including the Mazda3 Speed, Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si.

Getting abaft the caster of the ol’ ’84 with its hot red autogenous (VW keeps it in its Virginia ancestry collection, occasionally letting it off its alternation to comedy with journalists) brought the memories hasty back.

The Rabbit GTI was my post-college daily driver. I flogged it for hours from my Charleston, West Virginia, home to cloister the approaching Mrs. Payne in St. Louis. On the odd weekend, I would arena its close at a bounded autocross. We bonded.

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We alike aggregate some hillbilly DNA, as Rabbit (and affinity Jetta) anatomy stampings were fabricated in Charleston before accession to Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, for assembly. The Pennsylvania factory — which punched out VWs from 1978-87 — was the first modern foreign “transplant” in the USA, to be followed by Honda and others.

The ’84 GTI still acquainted relevant. It was the additional celebrated VW I’d apprenticed this year — a 1964 Beetle.

America has gone arbitrary for trucks and SUVs -but bunched cars like the 2020 VW Jetta GLI accept kept up – accouterment autogenous admeasurement that accurately fits four.

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2020 Vw Jetta Gli Interior

But the Bug acquainted like a building piece, like an old-fashioned typewriter. For sure, the Rabbit GTI lacked the abstruse diabolism that makes the Jetta so abundant added adequate today. But I didn’t feel like I’d be absolute off the alley by a casual Chevy Suburban as I did in the (72 mph top speed) Beetle.

Not that the Rabbit GTI was a Brink’s armored truck.

Tipping the scales at aloof 2,100 pounds, it is appreciably lighter than its 3,200-pound Jetta GLI and Golf GTI successors. Credit that aberration not aloof to added technology, assurance systems and complete insulation, but to simple dimensions. The Jetta GLI wheelbase is 105 inches compared to the 95-inch Rabbit.

Today’s bunched cars accept gotten fatter, aloof like its drivers.

I had to stuffed into the Rabbit while the Jetta was a Barcalounger by comparison. But that additionally agency the Rabbit acquainted whip-quick. Its 90-horsepower 1.8-liter four-banger seems button by today’s standards, but so does its one-ton weight.

With an intuitive 5-speed manual, the GTI was a amusement to drive fast. Abacus to the fun was a bratty agent note that adored adamantine driving. The GTI is a VW icon, its aboveboard appearance and red highlights as apparent as the Beetle’s annular contour and annular headlights. I got added than a few accede from motorheads as I sped about town. 

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Four decades on, the accepted Jetta GLI has a more establishment feel.

The 1984 VW Rabbit GTI aggressive a beachcomber of abridged rockets including the Honda Civic Si (right).

In accession to its size, Jetta is loaded with assurance and tech appearance that would accept seemed out of a sci-fi atypical in 1984: blind-spot assist, auto rain-sense wipers, anti-lock brakes, automated windows, rear camera, automated headlights, push-button start, acrimonious seats and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity are accepted for aloof $26,890. As is a 10-color, LED ambient lighting arrangement that changes depending on which Drive Mode you’re in (Eco, Normal or Sport).

Yes, the 21st-century car is a curiosity of cyberbanking advances. But Jetta GLI is hardly a algid experience. Ford may accept alone out of the pocket-rocket chase aback it ditched the Focus, but the Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N are austere articulation challengers. Jetta GLI (and brother GTI) are up to the challenge.

GLI’s 228 application is 150% more than my ol’ Rabbit GTI, added than authoritative up for its added heft. Power-to-weight arrangement in the Jetta is 1:12 compared to Rabbit’s 1:23. Combine that with a whopping 258-pound anxiety of torque, and the turbocharged, 2.0-liter Jetta GLI apace goes.

A limited-slip cogwheel up advanced assures stability, so I could absolutely accumulate my bottom on this barbarian out of corners.

Fastest toaster in town. The rear appearance of the 1984 VW Rabbit GTI includes a loud little tailpipe.

Establishment it may be (check out the bourgeois atramentous interior), but GLI is accurate to the GTI’s aboriginal mission as a driver’s car. In accession to the accepted power, Jetta GLI has a chiral manual option. The shifter is one of the best in the business with its notchy throws. It even adds a sixth accessory over the ’84 model, enabling 32 mpg highway compared to the Rabbit’s 26 mpg.

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Readers of this cavalcade apperceive my alternative is for the hot-hatch GTI (just as in 1984) over the GLI auto — but the GLI’s $1,800 cheaper sticker amount can’t be ignored.

2020 Vw Jetta Gli Research New

2020 Vw Jetta Gli Exterior

When I awash my Rabbit GTI in the aboriginal ’90s it was starting to blight forth the rocker panels. Modern, galvanized animate steeds like the Jetta are bigger protected, abacus to the GLI’s added able-bodied feel. And yet. …

There was no abstinent the GTI’s personality. Like a admired blatant rocker’s soundtrack, the loud GTI left me with a lot of memories.

That’s the claiming of affairs avant-garde cars in the cyberbanking age. Jetta GLI has its predecessor’s achievement appeal, but will you bethink it in 30 years?

The front-wheel-drive, 2020 VW Jetta GLI starts at aloof over $26 admirable and brings a stronger agent and abeyance than the abject Jetta.

Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, five-passenger, bunched hatchback

Price: $8,350 ($21,232 in 2020 dollars, adapted for inflation)

Powerplant: 1.8-liter, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 90 horsepower, 105 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.7 abnormal (Car and Driver); top speed, 104 mph

Weight: 2,100 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/26 highway/23 combined 

Report card

Highs: Quick handling; bratty bankrupt note

Lows: Tight cabin; loud interior

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2020 Vw Jetta Gli Overview

Overall: 3 stars

The 1984 VW Rabbit GTI brand to affair on Oakland County’s arced roads.

Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, five-passenger, bunched sedan

Price: $26,890, including $895 destination charge

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, inline turbo-4

Power: 228 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 abnormal (Car and Driver); top speed, 126 mph

Weight: 3,225 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined 

Report card

Highs: Ample interior; endless of torque

Lows: Sleepy exterior; lacks personality

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto analyzer for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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