The Jetta GLI has long lived in the shadow of its slightly older, much more successful big brother, the Golf GTI. The previous generation offered a taste of the GTI driving experience, but did not have the same level of performance or handling characteristics. However, 2019 marks a brand new generation for the Jetta, and thankfully, the GLI has seen many improvements as well. In this article, I will explain what makes the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI essentially just a sedan version of the GTI, finally.
Styling, ironically, is one area where the GLI does (and should) remain different from the GTI. It looks like a more aggressive version of the 7th generation Jetta. You get the ‘red lipstick’ in the grille, a more aggressive front bumper, and LED headlights with LED daytime running lights standard across the range. Around the side you spot the 18-inch alloy wheels (wrapped in stick Hankook tires), and some special side skirts. In the rear you get a small decklid spoiler, special rear diffuser and twin-pipe chrome exhaust tips. Overall, the styling isn’t anything crazy. But, the combination of small updates gives you the clear indication that this is the ‘sporty’ one.
This is where the GLI almost exactly matches the GTI. In some ways it is slightly better, even. Under the hood is the same exact 2.0-liter turbocharged EA888 inline four cylinder you would find in a GTI. Here it makes the same 228 Horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque as its Hatchbacked cousin. There is a distinct difference in the way these two engines make power though. The GLI gets to its peak torque and peak horsepower figures 300 RPM later than the GTI. My initial ‘butt dyno’ readings told me this was due to longer gears, but no, it is simply in the tune of the engine.
Transmission choices are the same as the GTI by the way, with your option of a 6-speed manual, or for $800, a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Both send power to the front wheels only. However, every GLI comes standard with the VAQ limited-slip differential and the larger front brakes from the Golf R. On the GTI, you need to select the Performance Package for those go-fast bits. That differential can do some amazing things in terms of putting the power down. Mid-corner, full throttle on a twisty road and the GLI just shoots out of a turn with unbelievable speed.
Ride & Handling
Here again, the GLI gets upgraded to share a lot of components with the GTI. This generation Jetta is now on the MQB platform, VWs modular chassis architecture that provides a lot of torsional rigidity while losing weight. Furthermore, the GLI gets independent rear suspension over the standard Jetta. The end result is a car that drives much like the GTI, in the best way possible. The car feels exceptionally balanced, with good turn-in. The GLI is slightly longer than the GTI in wheelbase and overall length, due to the trunk. So, the GLI feels like it has more booty to carry through a corner, but boy do they feel similar back to back.
One cool option in terms of ride quality is what VW calls DCC – dynamic chassis control. This is a variable dampening setting that allows you to select different ride stiffness settings: Comfort, Normal or Sport. You would think Sport is the best, but after speaking with some VW guys, I learned that Normal mode stiffens up just as much as Sport mode. However, it only stiffens up based on wheel speed. So, when cornering at speed, the body is just as controlled, without losing comfort during normal driving. Sadly, this option is currently only available on the limited 35th Anniversary Edition trim level. (Though that could change in the future).
Obviously, the GLI isn’t nearly as practical as the GTI which has a hatch. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t fit stuff, or people in the car. The trunk has 14.1 cu-ft of storage space. Plenty of space for me to fit in the trunk. The rear seat is comfy for big guys as well. I am 6’2″ tall and I can comfortably sit behind myself in the back seat. Overall, the interior is very spacious and comfortable for you and your friends.
Otherwise the interior is fairly nice. You get sport seats that feature plenty of bolstering, available in cloth or leather (which can be heated and ventilated). The 35th Anniversary Edition gets a special cloth fabric with 35th edition seat tags. Sadly there is no golf ball shifter for the manual option but, still the interior remains a nice place to be.
The GLI comes with a fair amount of standard tech, and some intriguing options in the tech department. In terms of infotainment, you get a 7-inch touchscreen standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Hop up to the top-end Autobahn trim and that screen gets 1-inch bigger and a nice glass insert. Plus, the gauge cluster turns into a 10.25-inch digital cockpit. This is a customizable screen that is a really cool feature to have on a Jetta.
This is where the GLI beats the GTI by a longshot. The pricing is pretty unreal:
Keep in mind, these prices do not include VW’s $895 destination charge. However, the fully-loaded 2019 GLI comes in just under $30,000. A loaded GTI will run you over $35,000. The value on the GLI is pretty amazing considering you get almost the exact same performance.
Gone are the days where the GLI has to live in the shadow of the GTI. It has the exact same engine, very similar performance, and in some ways better standard equipment for less money than its hatchback counterpart. If you don’t need the hatch for extra storage, the GLI is an extremely compelling package from VW.
To see this car tackle the famous Tennessee road, Tail of the Dragon, be sure to watch the complete video review. Stay tuned to TFLcar.com for the latest news, views & real-world reviews. Plus, when we get one here in the office, we will be sure to do a complete comparison review between my 2015 base GTI and the brand new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.