• this 1988 vw jetta gli has an alluring exterior color scheme, a pristine interior, and delightful driving dynamics.
• our fondness for the '88 gli dates back to a road test we did in 1989, where we praised the sedan's german engineering.
• this mildly modified example currently has a bid of $7500 on bring a trailer, and the auction ends on sunday, april 3.
there's nothing especially special about this 1988 volkswagen jetta gli. collectors will likely quibble over its minor blemishes and mild modifications, and the fact that its odometer currently shows around 48,000 miles but carfax reports a "mileage inconsistency" in 2016. however, as soon as i saw this gli listed on the bring a trailer auction site—which, like car and driver, is part of hearst autos—i was instantly smitten with the small, sporty sedan and declared it our auction pick of the day.
i must admit that i've never driven a second-gen jetta gli, which spans the 1985 through 1991 model years. still, that hasn't stopped me from admiring them from afar, and this '88 example on bat has all the ingredients that make me want one for myself. i'm a big fan of white cars. i think the paint color looks classy and sporty. fight me if you disagree. anyway, this gli's alpine white paint job with red and black accents strikes me as the quintessential combo. i also like the look of its 15-inch bbs wheels. the car has a good stance, too, with the seller mentioning that it rides on aftermarket shocks and springs.
what i think i love most about this specific jetta gli is its pristine-looking interior, specifically the two-tone materials on the seats and door panels. the mix of black leather and gray cloth looks appropriately racy, and the quality doesn't appear to be any worse than what's inside a brand-new gli. the power-adjustable recaro front seats from back in '88 are definitely more supportive than the loose-fitting chairs in the 2022 model that finished last in a comparison test versus the new honda civic si and hyundai elantra n.
in stock form, the 1988 jetta gli was powered by a dohc 1.8-liter inline-four that pumped out 123 horsepower. that power was sent to the front axle through a five-speed manual transmission. back in 1989, car and driver tested one that went from zero to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds. while that's ungodly slow by today's standards–a stick-shift '22 jetta gli did the deed in 6.1 ticks–the '88 model doesn't need to be quick to be fun. plus, its 0.80 g of cornering grip and 180-foot stopping distance from 70 mph (on tire technology that's 30-plus years old, no less) are only 0.06 g and six feet shy of the new car's marks.
when our predecessors drove the '88 jetta gli back in the day, they applauded its german engineering and said, "the whole jetta is greater than its individual parts." that new gli remains a really good sport-compact sedan, but it's also oversaturated with tech and upscale features that can distract from the driving experience. for what should be considerably less money—the current bid on bat is $7500 with four days to go—i'd rather drive and own an '80s gli than a brand-spanking-new one.