WHAT IT IS: You are likely much more familiar with the GLI’s brother, the GTI. The GTI is Volkswagen’s hot hatchback that has been an easy recommendation for the decades that it has been produced in. The GLI is the sedan version that is based on the Jetta platform. Most of the mechanical bits are the same, with both being powered by a 228-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque. Controlling the engine is either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed DSG automatic ($800). Both are wonderful. What isn’t as wonderful is the interior. The GLI is priced almost $2,000 less than the GTI, and some of those cost savings come in the form of lower-quality materials in the interior. They’re not bad, but they aren’t as good as the GTI.
One part that wasn’t scrimped on was the marvelous steering wheel. It’s D-shaped, leather-wrapped, sporty and a joy to touch. The steering is quick and electrically assisted based on what driving mode you are in. Large 13.4-inch front brakes are on the front of the car and 35th Anniversary models get in-cabin adjustable active dampers on all four corners. When you add in the independent rear suspension from the GTI, you get a very well-rounded driving experience.
One of my favorite ‘new-era’ car features is a fully digital dashboard, and that is available if you go for a high trim GLI. Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit uses a 12.3-inch high-resolution screen to replace the various gauges and speedometer. It allows the integration of infotainment content directly in front of you. Navigation information can appear right in front of the steering wheel, providing a faster glance to find your next turn. I love it, but you do have to step up to the Autobahn trim (from $29,125) to get it. The $3,200 premium over the base ‘S’ trim does provide a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, special wheels and the aforementioned adaptive chassis control, so that is money well spent.
MPG: 28 combined/25 city/32 highway
PRICE: $25,995 base. $30,090 as-tested with destination.
UPSIDES: Lots of fun but also sensible.
DOWNSIDES: Interior a slight letdown.
WRAP-UP: The Jetta GLI is fun, affordable, sensible and mostly handsome. If it was a crossover, they would sell 200,000 per year, but alas it is “just” a sedan. If you want something fun with four doors and a manual transmission, your choices are very limited, but this is a good one.