While the 2019 Jetta is all well and good, the variant that most likely appears to the majority of R&T readers is this, the quicker Jetta GLI. Our man Zach drove it on the Tail of the Dragon this week so you can learn all about it. - Ed.
It comes with a manual.
The last-generation GLI , but the clutch is back for 2019. Volkswagen says that while making the argument was tough from a model-wide standpoint, the move made sense in the context of the trim, where historically around 30 percent of GLI buyers have opted for a stick. That’s a big number in the age of the automatic.
There’s still an optional DSG seven-speed dual-clutch for those who prefer to leave the shifting to the car. Both are great, with the manual offering near-perfect ratios for the coiling tarmac on the Tennessee/North Carolina border and the DSG delivering the lightning-quick shifts we’ve come to know and love. Like the GTI, the GLI gets a VAQ limited slip differential and Volkswagen’s XDS electronic differential lock, which manages torque to each front wheel via the brake system.
It has Golf R front rotors.
The GLI gets the massive 13.4-inch front discs from Golf R, same as the GTI. Rear discs are also larger than a standard Jetta at 11.8-inches. The set up takes an impressive amount of abuse. Volkswagen flung us at the infamous Tail of the Dragon with its 318 turns in 11 miles. This road is a brake system’s worst nightmare, with serious grades, plenty of speed, and tight radii. At no point did the brakes fade.
The multi-link rear suspension is back.
The Jetta rides on Volkswagen’s MQB architecture, which means it was made to accept both torsion beam and mulit-link suspension designs. While the standard Jetta uses the former, the company turned to the latter for the GLI. Engineers robbed the GTI toy box for parts, and the two share spring rates and front sway bars, though the GLI gets its own specific rear bar that’s 1.7 mm smaller in diameter.
Volkswagen’s building 3,500 35th Anniversary Edition versions of the GLI, and those cars get the company’s swank DCC adaptive damping system. It’s great, but so are the standard struts and shocks. Both suspensions are softer than you’d imagine, but are happy to hustle when you grab the car by the scruff. Volkswagen says that even more so than the GTI, the GLI is made to be a performance-oriented daily driver, and that means it needs to get you down the road without jouncing your internal organs from their homes.
It is effectively a GTI sedan. No, seriously.
The theme here is take everything we love about the GTI and shove it into the Jetta. The two cars weigh about the same and share a laundry list of parts, including a brilliant turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s good for 228 horsepower, about 18 more than the outgoing GLI, and 258 lb-ft of torque. The old engine made do with 207. That means the car is properly quick. We don’t have official numbers just yet, but our guess is the GLI will stick close to the GTI’s 6.0-second 0-60 time. As usual, the torque is the star, giving the car more muscle across a broader swath of the rev range. We found ourselves leaving the car in third, and letting the low-end grunt pull us out of everything but the tightest corners.
And, because the GLI doesn’t look like a slammed Euro hatch, that makes it a proper sleeper. Look, we will always be hatchback people, but there are plenty of buyers out there who prefer a sedan, and if you want GTI fury with four doors and a trunk, the GLI is your car.
It’s bigger, but weighs the same.
The 2019 GLI is larger in every direction than its predecessor. Engineers added 1.2-inches to the wheelbase, 3.0-inches to the overall length, and .8 inches of width over the previous generation GLI. That all adds up to more head, shoulder, and legroom than before, but we have to wonder why. The old car had plenty of room inside. Despite the growth, the new car doesn’t weigh significantly more than its predecessor, about nine pounds.
If we were buying, we’d have a base S model, which starts at $25,995. That’s $1,600 cheaper than an equivalent GTI. You won’t find any tartan plaid inside, and the car still suffers from a less-attractive dash than its hatchback twin, but you do get a pile of nice kit, including full LED exterior lighting, automatic climate control, and a great steering system. The GLI uses a variable-ratio electromechanical power steering system. The further you turn the wheel, the quicker the ratio gets. It feels both natural and progressive, and with 2.1-turns to lock, it’s part of what helps the GLI feel light on its feet.