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    Old-School Fun in Compact Sedans

    By Philip Ruth–

    Pride season is about looking forward—to the challenges ahead for our community, and it’s also about looking back. Thinking of previous Prides brings up fond memories, even the times when you simply saw friends whom you hadn’t otherwise seen all year.

    A similar view can be cast on our subjects this time around: the Hyundai Elantra Sport and the Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn. If the future is crossover SUVs, electric propulsion and autonomous driving, then these two are anchored firmly in the past; they’re sedans, and they both have amped-up gasoline engines that advertise their revs with sporty exhaust notes. Heck, one of them even has a manual transmission.

    And both feel like old friends. We know what to expect from Hyundais and Volkswagens with a performance twist, and neither moves far from their respective flavors. Whether you’re loping down Market Street or knuckling through the curves out on the coast, the Elantra Sport and the Jetta GLI provide their own unique experiences.

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0

    Before delving into the differences between them, it’s useful to note that the Elantra and Jetta are cut from very similar cloth. The Elantra is 182 inches long, and the Jetta adds three inches there while splicing about a half-inch from the distance between the wheels. Most other dimensions like height and width line up almost exactly.

    The big difference from the driver’s standpoint is weight. According to manufacturer figures, the Jetta GLI is about 150 pounds heavier. That’s not a huge amount, and is that of a semi-petite passenger, but the extra is felt throughout the GLI experience, from the driving to the door slam. In what probably is no surprise to many VW owners, the Jetta feels more substantial overall.

    Hyundai Elantra Sport

    Yes, but what if you’re here just for the fun? Then the Hyundai’s lighter feel will appeal. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine jumps right into the turbo’s boost, and the standard six-speed manual has well-chosen ratios for keeping the power flowing. The Elantra Sport picks right up and is easy to keep animated, even as the control feedback is more deliberate than encouraging.

    The Jetta GLI aims beyond encouraging to land all of the way over in conspiratorial. “OK, easy,” I’d chide myself before hitting the VW’s startup button. “Keep a lid on it.” You have to say these things out loud with the GLI, because underfoot is 258 lb.-ft. of torque.

    That’s 63 lb.-ft. more than the Elantra Sport, and it more than overcomes the Jetta’s extra mass. We focus on torque with the VW’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine for its low-end pull—in other words, the Jetta GLI’s acceleration seems to shotput you and the car far away from where you started. And owing partly to the Jetta GLI’s refinement, a variety of pleasing sounds and sensations filter in as the Jetta GLI blasts off. So, you keep going back for more.

    This justifies the base Jetta GLI’s $3,395 premium over the Elantra Sport. But both of these hot sedans are a hoot.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( ). Check out his automotive staging service at