Ah, the Jetta GLI. It’s pretty much the sedan version of the Golf GTI. Both have Volkswagen’s fantastic 2.0 turbo four cylinder engine, same transmission options, but the Jetta’s sedan configuration offers slightly more rear seating space at the expense of the convenience that comes with a hatchback.
If you’re curious to hear what’s new with the 2021 Jetta GLI over the previous model year: nothing anyone would care about. So if you must buy a Jetta GLI, save yourself the cash and buy the 2020.
Our test vehicle came in this neat gray color unique to GLI trim. You can also tell the GLI models apart from the rest by the GLI badging and tell tale red trim across the front grill.
The color scheme carries over on the interior. Volkswagen has give then GLI red stitching throughout the interior to remind you that you’re in for a good time.
From my week behind the wheel, the driver’s seat is really the only place you really want to be — albeit for not too long at a time. The seat is nicely bolstered, heated, and with plenty of adjustments. This Autobahn trim also gets the ventilated seat option. Critical touch surfaces all had a supple feel, aiding in the Jetta’s illusion of premium.
When I review a car, one of the things I like to do is feel around the less common touch areas to see how a manufacturer has skimped. In the Jetta, there were plenty of hard plastics on the door panels, dash and center console. Granted, the Jetta isn’t a luxury car, so we shouldn’t be expecting soft touch materials everywhere. I think most owners will appreciate the soft touch materials and likely not notice where they are not, unless you constantly bump up against the door cards. Would have liked to have seen the use of other materials there.
Making up for the hard plastics is a rather intuitive and responsive 8 inch touchscreen that supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sound is pumped through a 400-watt BeatsAudio sound system. I was thrilled to see two USB-C ports for quick charging.
Focused on The Driver
Volkswagen’s bread and butter has been their 2.0 turbo four cylinder, which is found across the range, including the GTI hot hatch. It’s a fantastic engine that produces 228 horsepower and 258 pounds feet of torque. That’s plenty to sprint to 60 MPH in about 6 seconds and easily get into trouble with the law. I did not enjoy the hanging revs in between shifts, but those shifts did go buttery smooth with the six-speed manual transmission — my choice for any sport sedan.
The engine also delivers great fuel economy. Volkswagen advertises the six-speed manual at 25 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. Even with my heavy right foot, I averaged 27 MPG.
Toying around the back roads, the GLI felt well composed and always welcomed my right foot down. The GLI’s larger roll bars and increased spring rates and stickier tires helped it eat up the corners and the limited slip differential applied the power to the road. Understeer was noticeable only at the most aggressive of entries.
The Autobahn trim also receives Dynamic Chassis Control, which allows the driver to customize their preferences for steering, engine sound, suspension, differential, and more. There are pre set values to get you started. DCC in Sport is quite noticeable over Comfort and Normal, without being harsh. It tightens up the steering inputs and dramatically reduces roll. Bravo, VW.
Mostly Fun Family Sedan
As great as the Jetta GLI is for carving up the back roads, it’s equally suited to commuter and family duty with a few small caveats.
If you’re cross shopping the Jetta and Golf, know that the Jetta offers 2 inches more rear legroom, and while it doesn’t have the convenience of a hatchback and can’t match the Golf’s 17 cubic feet of trunk space, it does have a surprisingly 14.1 cubic feet available.
On the safety front, the Jetta GLI includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and the Autobahn receives lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
In my opinion, the GLI is a fantastic sedan if not for the rattles and hard seats.
Even with all of the seat adjustments, I found them to become uncomfortable after an hour of driving and had to get to walk and stretch. My wife was more critical, and absolutely hated the passenger seat. I can’t speak for the passenger seat.
More disappointing, were the rattles. With just a thousand miles on our tester vehicle’s odometer, there were two curious rattles. One seemingly originating in the passenger side rear C-pillar area. The other more easily replicated, was the vibration and from the engine bay that transmitted through the dash and into the steering wheel at idle.
If you’re all about sporty driving dynamics, but need good fuel economy, space for a small family, and can forgive or ignore a few rattles, I recommend giving the Jetta GLI a chance to earn a place in your parking spot.