In this its 6th generation, Volkswagen’s Jetta GLI marks nearly four decades of production for this iconic and popular model that debuted in 1984.
For 2019, the Jetta GLI underwent a complete makeover. It’s a bit larger in size and squats a lower stance, has LED lighting and now offers Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/Mirror Link connectivity, adaptive cruise, blind spot warning and emergency braking, to name few. Added too was a sportier R-Line version.
As a five-passenger compact sedan, GLI has a slippery, svelte design that adds a sporty touch with a red grille strip. And it retains all the German engineering and handling characteristics VW vehicles have been noted for.
GLI is offered in base S, 35th Anniversary and Autobahn trim models. We tested the top-line Autobahn, a most appropriate name for this sporty sedan.
GLI’s interior sports perforated leather seats that are set off with red stitching on all seams. An 8-inch, customizable touchscreen offers all the features of audio, navigation, apps, rearview camera and a variety of operating controls such as GLI’s Driving Mode Selection that offers Normal, Eco, Sport and Custom modes. Upon selecting any one of these, the screen background changes colors. For Normal it’s a white lighting background, Sport a red and Eco a blue. And HVAC controls are large and easy to use.
The gauge cluster is all digital and includes a driver’s information display between the speedometer and tachometer. The latter is an eye-grabber and is impressive and is generally used in more expensive cars. So VW went one-up on the competition in this feature. Add a flat-bottom steering wheel and it really boasts a sporty image to go along with faux carbon fiber trim on doors and dash. The only criticisms on the interior are that the sides of the console could use some soft padding and a wireless phone charger would have been nice to have.
GLI’s back seat can seat three in a pinch, but more realistically, two adults due to the high transaxle hump intruding on a middle seat passenger.
Trunk space is especially spacious. It can easily hold a pair of large rollie-bags and then some. Flip the 60/40 seatbacks and two golf bags can easily be carried.
Two powertrains are offered for the GLI. For the base model, a 1.4L, turbocharged inline-4 producing 147-hp and 184 lb/ft of torque that earns EPA mileage estimates of 30 city, 40-highway mpg. On the Autobahn version, it comes with a potent 2.0L, turbocharged inline-4 putting out 228-hp and 258 lb/ft of torque for EPA estimates of 25 city, 32-highway mpg. This engine was coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission although a 7-speed DSG automatic with start/stop technology is optionally available.
With the slick shifting 6-speed manual, performance was exhilarating. Under heavy throttle and quick first to second gear shifts, tire squeal is easily produced. With VWs VAQ limited slip front differential lock and XDS Cross Differential System, GLI, tracks straight and true. It’s also helpful on snow covered roads.
At a time when more and more car makers are eliminating manual transmissions, VW maintains a manual – so far.
Handling wise, GLI’s Euro tautness and precise stability was much like a true sports car. But it does so with sedan riding comfort on Hankook 18-inch tires. Added to this, it’s fun to drive and parks easily with a tight 36.4 turning circle that only requires 2.1 steering wheel lock-lock turns.
GLI’s window sticker came with an extremely long and exhaustive list of standard features such as electronic stability control, electronic diff lock, intelligent crash response, heated side mirrors, rear cross traffic alert, keyless ignition/entry, hill start assist, rain sensing wipers and much more. Now get this. There are no extra cost options. GLI’s base price of $29,195 increased by only $895, and that was for delivery. That took the bottom line to $30,090.
As added incentive, GLI comes with a 6 year, 72K bumper-bumper warranty. And it’s transferable. Very few car makers offer this.
That, plus GLI earned a full 5-star overall government safety vehicle score; four for driver/passenger frontal crash; five for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover. All impressive scores.
To that end, Jetta GLI is a lot of car for the money. It’s a compelling competitor in the front drive, compact sedan class.