2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
You may remember the ’80s-era commercial for the original Volkswagen GTI, which was backtracked by a modified version of the Beach Boys classic ’60s song “Little GTO” … with GTI subbing in for GTO — emphasis on GTI.
But what if you’d like more? Plus the same? And for a lot less?
Enter the 2019 Jetta GLI.
What It Is The Jetta is VW’s entry-level compact sedan.
The GLI is a Jetta sedan infused with the compact-sized Golf GTI’s high-performance drivetrain.
It has the same 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and comes standard with the same six-speed manual transmission, a feature almost unfindable in anything new with four doors and a trunk.
You can also get it with the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s optional, just for a lot less money.
The Jetta GLI with the manual six-speed transmission costs $25,595 to start versus $27,595 for the base-trim GTI with the same engine/transmission.
A top-of-the-line GLI with the Autobahn package, which includes VW’s DCC adaptive suspensions system and the optional seven-speed automated manual transmission, costs $29,995. The same package in a GTI costs $37,095.
You also get about two inches more back-seat legroom and the option to buy some high-end features that aren’t available in the GTI, like an all-digital dash.
The 2019 Jetta itself is all new for 2019, and the GLI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine gets an 18-horsepower upgrade.
The new price is lower, too. Last year’s 210-horsepower GLI cost $29,545 to start — almost as much as the new GLI Autobahn — with everything.
It’s GTI performance in a larger and more upscale package.
The GLI is a whole new car.
It gets a price (SET ITAL) decrease (END ITAL) with all this newness.
What’s Not So Good
The GTI hatchback still has more cargo room.
The GLI, being a larger/heavier car, isn’t as quite as nimble as the GTI.
The new Jetta has grown a couple of inches, but its trunk has shrunk.
Under the Hood
Both the GLI and the GTI get an uprated version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which now has 228 horsepower — up from 210 last year — and 258 foot-pounds of torque achieved at 1,700 rpm holding through most of the powerband.
You can shift gears yourself via the standard six-speed manual transmission or let the dual-clutch automatic shift them for you.
Either way, the GLI gets to 60 mph in six seconds, the same as the GTI.
The cars get the same gas mileage — 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with the six-speed manual, and 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with the optional seven-speed automatic — which is interesting given that the GLI is about 200 pounds heavier.
On the Road
It’s not just the GTI’s drivetrain and performance that make it appealing. It’s the almost-Audi plushness, which shouldn’t be surprising given the shared MQB architecture underlying the newest VWs (SET ITAL) and (END ITAL) Audis. MQB is a German acronym short for “Modularer Querbaukasten,” with modular being the key thing to grok.
So much is being shared now in terms of the bones that there’s not that much difference anymore in terms of ride quality, comfort and quiet between the people’s car and the luxury-brand (and priced) car.
The GLI’s suspension tuning is a bit softer than the GTI’s; body roll is more noticeable during hard cornering, but the upside is it’s a more luxurious-feeling car when you’re not cornering hard.
The turning circle of the longer (185.2 inches) GLI is also a little wider (36.4 inches) than the much shorter (168 inches) and shorter-wheelbased GTI, which can cut a U-turn in 35.8 feet.
And of course, the GTI can squeeze itself through holes in traffic (and into parking spots) that are too tight for the GLI.
At the Curb
The new Jetta is almost midsize in terms of length and almost Audi in several ways, including available luxury-car features, such as the all-digital dashboard.
You can also get a 35th-anniversary package that isn’t available with the GTI. It includes the DCC adaptive suspension system, blacked-out grille treatment and a unique-to-this-model 18-inch wheel package with thin-line pinstriping around the lip of the rims.
Another difference between the GLI and GTI is the optional Beats (in the GLI) versus Fender (in the GTI) audio system. You’ll have to listen to both to decide which is better.
The main functional difference between the GLI and the GTI is cargo-carrying capacity.
Though much stubbier — just 168 inches long versus the GLI’s 185.2 inches — the GTI has 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space because it’s a hatchback.
Being a sedan with a trunk, the larger GLI only has 14.1 cubic feet of cargo-carrying capacity.
This is slightly less than last year’s Jetta’s 15.7-cubic-foot trunk.
For even more performance but no more money, upgrade to the Summer tires. Just be aware they are terrible tires for winter driving (swap them out in fall).
The Bottom Line
If you always wanted a GTI — with more, for less — now you can have one!