The Volkswagen Jetta and its performance-oriented GLI counterpart have long been offered as sedan versions of the venerable Golf and GTI hatchbacks. This changed with the introduction of the sixth-generation Jetta for the 2011 model year, as Volkswagen repositioned the vehicle as a more value-oriented alternative to other mainstream compact sedans, which served to differentiate it from the GTI with its upscale interior and chassis components. This led to a lot of criticism, and in designing the all-new seventh-generation Jetta and GLI, VW opted to walk things back a bit, instilling within the new version many of the handling characteristics and driving dynamics that were found on Jettas of old.
What’s New for 2019?
Along with the rest of the Jetta lineup, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is all-new and should improve upon the shortcomings of the outgoing model, which was criticized for being a de-contented, cheapened version of what the Jetta has traditionally been: a somewhat upscale take on a mainstream compact car. The new Jetta is built on Volkswagen’s relatively new MQB platform, and the GLI version shares its powertrain and a lot of its major components with the current Volkswagen GTI. As a result, like those that came before it, the all-new GLI offers a driving experience that is comfortable and refined but also engaging, fast and fun. See the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta models for sale near you
What We Like
It’s all-new with premium components, a spacious cabin, a great powertrain, two available transmissions, and 6-year/72,000-mile warranty.
What We Don’t
It lacks active safety tech offered on the basic Jetta and doesn’t feel as premium as a GTI. Evidence of costcutting still abounds, and the long-term reliability of VW products is still a concern.
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the competitors, who only offer a manual transmission, VW offers both a 6-speed manual and a fast-shifting 7-speed dual clutch automatic, which VW calls the DSG, or "direct shift gearbox." This comes with paddle shifters and launch control. Both transmissions return the same fuel economy, with the EPA rating the 2019 Jetta GLI at 25 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 28 mpg combined. Acceleration is brisk, with the new GLI making the sprint from 0-to-60 mph in about 6.1 seconds.
While the redesigned Jetta is available with just about all of the active safety features a buyer could want, Volkswagen, for whatever reason, doesn’t make them available on the more premium, more expensive GLI. We suspect that this is to wring an even greater profit margin from the performance trim, but nonetheless, the GLI is only offered with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic detection. Other common active safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high beams — all of which are offered on the Jetta — are unavailable on the GLI.
The redesigned 2019 Jetta earns good crash-worthiness scores in all categories of testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it misses out on a Top Safety Pick designation due to low scores for headlights and ease of use for the Latch child safety system.
Standard Features & Options
At launch, the GLI is available in three different configurations: the S (which is currently listed as having "late availability"), the 35th Anniversary Edition, and the Autobahn. One major option offered on all three trims is the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which comes at an $800 premium.
S – $26,890
The entry-level GLI is the S model, which comes with a good array of standard features, including automatic LED headlights, LED taillights, a mechanical front differential, different selectable drive modes, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 18-in wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a basic 6.5-in infotainment screen, and stainless steel pedal covers. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic detection along with automatic emergency braking comes standard.
35th Anniversary Edition – $27,890
Volkswagen seems to like offering ‘Anniversary’ editions of GTI and GLI and the GLI 35th Anniversary Edition is the latest iteration. In addition to everything offered on the basic S trim, the GLI 35th Anniversary edition comes with the ‘DCC’ adaptive chassis control system, unique dark gray 18-in wheels with a subtle red ring running around the outer edge, and special 35th Anniversary Edition badging.
Autobahn – $30,090
At the top of the GLI range is the Autobahn trim, which adds items like a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, an 8-in infotainment screen, and VW’s ‘Digital Cockpit,’ which consists of a fully digital gauge cluster that allows for better dissemination of information and notifications along with added configurability.
Behind the Wheel
When you sit down in the driver’s seat of the GLI, you’re greeted by a thick, leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, a center stack tilted slightly toward the driver, and a variety of tastefully chosen surfaces and materials. Sure, we’d like to see higher quality plastics used in areas like the door panels and center console, but overall, Volkswagen has prioritized the areas that matter most when it comes to quality. Sticking with the standard 6-speed manual transmission gets you three stainless steel pedals at your feet. Choose the optional 7-speed dual clutch automatic and one of those pedals is exchanged for a pair of paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel. Whether you opt for cloth or leather seating surfaces, every GLI comes with red stitching on the seats and the center console box lid. While models from previous generations that were equipped with fabric seats used fun plaid inserts, VW has downplayed the iconic plaid on the new GLI — although the fabric seats on the new model do come with subtle striping that seems to be an homage to this unique interior element from the GLIs of yesteryear.
Reviewers praise the GLI for offering great handling, a confidence-inspiring ride and great acceleration. The 6-speed manual is said to deliver smooth shifts and an easy-to-use clutch pedal, which makes it a breeze to pilot, even for those just learning to drive a stick shift. While it may not offer the same link between man and machine, the DSG dual-clutch automatic is an engaging drive in its own right, but only when you want it to be. The DSG’s paddle-shifters make changing lanes in traffic a blast, and the integrated launch control feature can be fun to play with at stoplights.
While the new Jetta is slightly wider and longer than the outgoing model, it shrinks a bit when it comes to interior dimensions. Still, the Jetta is plenty spacious as far as compact cars go, and it starts to approach the midsize segment in overall size.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Volkswagen GTI – the GTI uses the same engine and comes with the same transmission options as the GLI. While it’s priced a little higher, the GTI comes with added practicality thanks to its hatchback design, a more upscale interior and all of the active safety features that are oddly left off the GLI.
2019 Audi A3 – If you’re set on buying a sedan and hoping for something more premium than the GLI, consider an Audi A3. Built on the same MQB platform as the Golf and Jetta, the A3 is a more upscale vehicle than either of its VW counterparts. While it uses a similar powertrain to the GLI, the A3 can be had with all-wheel drive, and it offers a slightly faster 0-to-60 time than the VW, coming in at 5.8 seconds. Expect to pay more for an A3 though, as the sticker prices fall between $30,000 and $45,000.
2019 Honda Civic Si – VW charges more for a GLI than Honda does for a comparable Civic Si, but the GLI comes with a lot more: more power, more transmission options, a panoramic sunroof, adjustable suspension and multiple drive modes. While Honda reliability has a leg up on VW, VW’s great warranty counteracts some of this, and the GLI is overall the more appealing vehicle.
2019 Mazda3 – While it lacks the performance credentials of the GLI, the newly-redesigned Mazda3 offers a more premium cabin at about the same price. Additionally, the Mazda3 is offered in hatchback and sedan body styles, comes with more available active safety features and can be had with AWD.
While we prefer the GTI for its more practical hatchback design — and are a bit puzzled by the GLI’s omission of the active safety features offered on the basic Jetta — the GLI is simply a less expensive vehicle than the GTI, and when compared to the alternatives, it makes for a great sport sedan bargain. Still, with an interior that is a bit on the cheap side, the GLI justifies its existence in the VW lineup by undercutting the price of the GTI by a few thousand dollars in most configurations.
So if you’ve got no use for the hatchback body style and you don’t care about active safety features, opting for the GLI will help you save a few dollars. While they don’t offer exactly the same content, a loaded GTI comes in at about $38,000, while a loaded GLI comes in at around $31,000 — and that $7,000 savings is nothing to sneeze at. The GTI still remains one of the best performance car bargains on the market, but we think that buyers who are turned off by its relatively high sticker price or who are considering mainstream compact sedans but want more in the way of performance and excitement will find much to love about the new GLI. Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale