The Jetta GLI is the performance-oriented, range-topping model in Volkswagen's compact sedan lineup. Whereas the latest version of the normal Jetta sedan was de-contented to lower its price point for the American market, the GLI feels premium inside and drives well thanks to an engine, suspension and interior shared with the European model.
For the latest model year, the Volkswagen GLI gets a redesigned front fascia and a new infotainment system.
Up front, the Jetta GLI borrows styling cues such as a mesh grille, claw-shaped trim on the lower bumper, and red inserts from the GTI. Out back, it has a discreet air diffuser integrated into the bumper, a small lip spoiler and smoked tail lamps.
The cabin of the GLI features sport bucket seats with red stitching and a sport flat-bottom steering wheel with red stitching, the GLI logo and aluminum accents. The overall interior styling consistently follows the sporty exterior lines of the car and includes a soft-touch dashboard and other premium interior trimming that were stripped out of lesser Jetta models for cost reasons.
The GLI is available in cloth or V-Tex Leatherette and also features alloy pedals, shifter, dash and door trim. To increase versatility, the rear bench seatback is split 60/40 and folds.
While lesser Jettas make do with a simple twist-beam rear axle for the latest generation (previously, all Jettas had a fully independent suspension), the GLI benefits a four-link independent rear suspension with an upgraded anti-roll bar. This setup helps the GLI hug the corners like a GTI with a trunk and avoid the somewhat imprecise handling of normal Jettas.
The GLI also accelerates like a GTI thanks to a powertrain taken directly from Volkswagen's sporty hatchback. Underhood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 210 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque that mates to either a satisfying six-speed manual or an optional six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. The DSG comes with steering wheel-mounted paddles for sequential-style shifting and rev-matched downshifts as well as a launch control function for speedy acceleration runs.
Equipped with the DSG, the GLI is rated at 24 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway, while opting for the row-your-own option will mean losing one city mpg.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is available in SE and SEL trim levels.
The GLI SE comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED tail lamps, keyless entry with a push-button ignition, dual-zone A/C, a sunroof, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a rear-view camera, parking sensors on both ends, V-Tex upholstery, a Fender audio system, rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, and automatic headlights.
The SEL model gains a blind spot detection system with rear cross traffic alert, navigation, a bigger touch screen, bi-xenon headlights, and a Homelink transceiver.
The list of options includes summer performance tires.
The Jetta GLI includes several features designed to enhance driver and passenger safety including electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring, a rear-view camera and Volkswagen's advanced Intelligent Crash Response System, which initiates automatic safety protection in some types of collisions -- the electrical supply to the fuel pump is shut off, the doors unlock and the hazard lights switch on.
The GLI also features driver and front passenger airbags, dual side airbags in front and dual Side Curtain Protection airbags in front and rear.
The Jetta GLI's main rivals include the Ford Focus ST, which blends a potent turbo four with hatchback versatility, as well as the Subaru WRX, which features all-wheel drive and the choice of a sedan or five-door hatch configuration.