I’ve always reckoned the Golf GTI is one of the best all round cars available for the money on the market today and in fact for as long as it has been around. It’s point to point quick, economical and has a versatile hatchback configuration and best of all it’s a hoot to drive. The Jetta meanwhile, has been missing out on its siblings great MQB chassis and the more powerful 2.0 turbo engine. Not anymore as the 2019 Jetta GLI is now pretty much a Golf GTI with a trunk.
The Volkswagen brand is dropping its Jetta sedan completely from European markets as it looks to the latest generation of the sedan to revive its U.S. sales. The Jetta is VW’s top seller in the U.S. but in Europe, where customers prefer hatchbacks over sedans, it is one of the brand’s lowest-selling models. VW said the seventh-generation Jetta was designed to meet the needs of customers in overseas markets and there are no plans for a European version.
To me the 2019 Jetta GLI is the best looking Jetta yet, especially the 35th Anniversary tester I received in a very fetching Pure Gray and red piping on the front and back and on every wheel rim. Add to that the GLI 35 badges on each fender and it certainly looks the part. This Jetta has the beating heart and soul of the GTI and has the performance add-ons to prove it and a lower price to boot.
Along with sportier looks, revised suspension tuning, and brake components borrowed from the Golf R, the GLI has the familiar turbocharged, 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. As in the GTI, this engine makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, bumps of 18 and 51, respectively, over the outgoing model.
The Jetta comes in 3 flavors, the base S, the 35 and the Autobahn. With the Autobahn you get leather seats but you don’t get the adaptive suspension (DCC) which allows the driver to select options like normal, comfort, and sport. Custom mode lets you go one step further and you tweak the drive modes to your individual taste, including exhaust, steering and throttle response. Playing around with this option does require you to be standing still since it won’t let you adjust this when you’re on the move.
To help the GLI stand out from the cooking Jetta, Volkswagen fitted the sedan with 18-inch aluminum wheels, good-looking unique front and rear fascias, red brake calipers, a black grille with honeycomb inserts, a rear spoiler, and dual exhaust outlets.
On my typical road course, which consisted of some deserted back-roads East of San Diego the GLI is incredibly impressive for a front-wheel drive car, thanks the front diff and setting it in Sport/Individual mode it resolutely held its line and refused to under-steer. Just as in its GTI sibling torque steer has been virtually eliminated. It simply bites into the corner, gets its power down early and powers out, ready for the next one.
I am sure the 18-inch tires help a lot, but it is hard not to be utterly impressed with this car. Even in the wet (yes we had rain in July) it felt super secure and even though my speeds were lower, was just as much fun. 0-60 is identical to the GTI in a rapid 5.6 seconds, but it’s the torque that really makes this car shine.
In Sport mode uneven pavement can cause some jarring but I was grinning too much to notice. Of course I kept it in Sport mode with everything dialed and only steering in Normal. Steering is also the best I have come across, with a great sense of feel of what the front wheels are doing and extremely direct.
What defines the GTI is it point-to-point pace and the capacity to engage the driver, it simply doesn’t beg for more power such is the composure it offers. Even in Sport mode there is some suppleness, and the car is superbly stable and settled at all times. Weird cambers, sharp corners it takes every single one in its stride. The chassis is so capable it simply filters all this kind of stuff away so you can drive one of the most well balanced and confidence inspiring cars on the market today. It’s simply grin inducing.
The interior will be familiar to Golf GTI owners, having that typically Teutonic style, slightly somber but with all the controls in the right place. My tester had the standard 6.5-inch touch screen system (the Autobahn gets the configurable 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster as well as a nicer-looking 8.0-inch touch screen) and one USB port, which really isn’t enough. Fit and finish is very good and it seems very well put together, my only gripe is I wish the GLI had the GTI’s iconic plaid seats, however, the cabin is spacious with lots of room for front and rear passengers, and the seats, although covered in a rough somewhat low rent material are comfortable and have adequate bolstering.
You’re not going to fit as much in here as you can in a GTI but the Jetta’s trunk is quite large offering a generous 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space.
The GLI’s closest competition comes from Honda in the form of the Civic Si sedan but this is the more engaging car to drive and the six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty is not to be sneezed at. I personally would still buy the GTI but for folks who like sports sedans and want to pay less then this is the way to go.
2019 Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition Numbers
BASE PRICE: $27,795
AS TESTED PRICE: $28,985
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
ENGINE: Turbocharged and inter-cooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4,
POWER: 228 hp @ 5,000 rpm
TORQUE: 258 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
CURB WEIGHT: 3,217 lb
0-60 MPH: 5.6 sec
EPA COMB/ CITY/HWY: 28/25/32 mpg
OUR OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 24.5 MPG
PROS: Gutsy and torquey engine, ride and handling, superb fun,
CONS: Some cheaper cabin materials, needs GTI seats