2019 VW Jetta GLI

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You may remember the commercial for the 1984 VW GTI, which was backtracked by a modified version of the Beach Boys’ classic ’60s song, Little GTO  . . . with GTI subbing in for GTO.

Emphasis on little GTI.

But what if you’d like more? Plus, the same?

With a difference?

How about for less?

Enter the 2019 Jetta GLI.

What It Is

The Jetta is VW’s entry-level compact sedan.

The Jetta GLI is a Jetta infused with the Golf GTI hatchback’s high-performance drivetrain.

It has the same 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0 liter engine as the GTI – and comes standard with the same six-speed manual transmission, a feature almost unfindable in anything new with four doors and a trunk.

Plus some other things.

GLI Jettas sit about half and inch lower to the ground and look more mischievous than regular Jettas. They have different front and rear clips, blacked out grilles, LED headlights and ride on wider (and taller) eighteen vs. sixteen-inch wheels.

Out back, dual rather than single exhaust.

And GLIs cost $2k less to start than GTIs: $25,595 for the base S trim with the manual six-speed transmission – vs. $27,595 for the same thing in a GTI wrapper.

You can option the GLI with an available seven-speed dual clutch (DSG) automatic and it still costs $800 less ($26,795) than the base GTI with the six-speed manual transmission.

A Honda Civic Si sedan costs less than both of them – $24,300 to start. But it’s unrelated to German luxury cars – and you can’t get one with an automatic transmission. Probably because its tweaky turbocharged 1.5 liter engine isn’t torquey enough to work effectively with one.

No such issues with the GLI.

It’s got more power – and the torque.

Plus, a trunk!

What’s New

The 2019 Jetta itself is all new for 2019 – and the GLI’s 2.0 liter turbocharged engine gets an 18 horsepower and 51 ft.-lbs. of torque upgrade (the 2019 GTI’s same-same engine does, too).

In addition, the formerly optional limited slip front differential is now standard, as are the $40k Golf R’s 13.4 inch front brakes and larger 11.3 inch diameter rear brakes.

Also new: A much lower price – vs. the GTI and last-year’s Jetta GLI.

Which stickered for $29,545 to start – without the LSD or the brake upgrades.

What’s Good

GTI performance in a larger – and more upscale – package.

GLI is a whole new car.

Price decrease for all this newness.

What’s Not So Good

GLI isn’t quite as thread-the-needle as the GTI.

GTI is still more practical because it has about four times the cargo room.

New GLI’s trunk is smaller than it was last year.

Under The Hood

Both the GLI – and the GTI – get an uprated version of VW’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. It makes 228 horsepower now – up from 210 last year – and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque – a 51 ft.-lb. bump – fully achieved at just 1,700 RPM and holding throughout most of the powerband.

The non-GLI Jetta comes with a much smaller, a lot-less-powerful 1.4 liter turbo’d engine that only makes 147 hp and 187 ft.-lbs. of torque.

This engine is also standard equipment in the Golf.

Interestingly, the Jetta GLI’s 2.0 engine is much stronger than the related 2.0 liter, 188 hp engine that comes standard in its prestige-badged (and prestige-priced) sibling, the Audi A4.

Which stickers for $37,400 to start.

Audi does offer an upgraded version of the 2.0 liter four in the A4 that makes 248 hp – 20 more than the GLI and the GTI’s 2.0 liter engine – but the price rises to $42,000. That’s almost twice the price of the base trim GLI.

And you can shift gears yourself in the GLI via the standard six-speed manual transmission – which isn’t available at any price in the automatic-only A4.

Or let the dual-clutch DSG automatic – same as the one that’s also optional in the GTI –  shift them for you

Either way, you’ll get the same mileage – GLI vs. GTI. Which is an interesting thing given the Jetta GLI is a much bigger (and 200 pounds heavier) car.

Both cars achieve 24 city/32 highway with the six-speed manual and 25 city, 31 highway with the DSG automatic.

Also of interest, the 3,217 pound GLI is just as quick as the 3,062 pound GTI.

VW says both get to 60 in about six seconds flat.

The A4 – with its optional engine – is quicker. It gets to 60 in 5.6 seconds. But with its standard 188 hp engine, the A4 is noticeably slower.

It takes 7.1 seconds to get to 60, a tepid time for an almost $40k car. Especially given what a $25k car like the GLI can do.

Especially given a 1984 GTI did the same… 35 years ago.

On The Road

It’s not just the GTI’s drivetrain – and performance – that makes the GLI appealing.

It’s the almost-Audi plushness.

Which shouldn’t be surprising given the shared “MQB” architecture underlying the newest VWs and Audis. MQB is a German acronym that’s short for Modularer Querbaukasten – with modular being the key thing to grok.

So much is being shared now in terms of the bones that there’s not that much difference anymore in terms of ride quality, comfort and quiet between the people’s car and the luxury-brand (and priced) car.

But there is a difference between people’s cars.

The GLI’s suspension tuning is a bit softer than the GTI’s; body roll is more noticeable during hard cornering – but the upside is it’s a more luxurious-feeling car when you’re not hard-cornering.

The turning circle of the longer (185.2 inches) GLI is also a little wider (36.4 inches) than the much shorter (168 inches) and shorter-wheelbased GTI, which can cut a U-turn in 35.8 feet.

And of course, the GTI can squeeze itself through holes in traffic (and into parking spots) that are too tight for the GLI.

But the GLI’s turning circle is much tighter than the Honda Civic Si’s (37.8 feet) which is kind of startling given the Civic sedan is also several inches shorter overall (182.3 inches) and has a rep for being “tight.”

But not as quite.

There’s another Jetta quality lacking in the Civic Si – torque – which there isn’t nearly as much of. Just 192 ft.-lbs. from the much smaller 1.5 liter four – and not until 2,100 RPM.

Which explains the absence of an automatic option in the Honda.

One of the charming things about the GLI’s engine is that although it’s very much a performance engine, it isn’t a peaky engine. You can rev it to 7,000 RPM if you like. And you probably will.

But it’s rarely necessary to rev it past 4,000.

The generous (and early) torque spread not only makes it work very well with the optional DSG automatic – you lose no speed or MPGs – it forgives missed or late shifts with the manual – and lets you shift less, if you don’t feel like shifting more.

Very hard to lug this one.

Though it’s a little four, the 2.0 liter engine shares this attribute with big V8s, which are appealing for the same reasons, just a lot thirstier.

The four even sounds like a V8.

Not at idle – but when you’re about a third deep into the accelerator pedal’s travel .The bass tone which rises up will surprise you; a pleasant low-frequency throb that few engines without eight cylinders can summon.

Somehow, this one does.

The light clutch action (and plenty of travel) in manual-equipped models is another element of both the GLI and the GTI’s perennial appeal – and probably one of the chief reasons that the GTI and GLI have not only survived but thrived while other contenders like the Ford Focus ST and RS aren’t even around anymore.

Those cars were great fun . . . for about 30 minutes, on the open road.

But their abrupt clutch take-up (in – or out – with not much in-between) and the higher/peakier power curves of their engines made it harder to drive them smoothly in heavy traffic, much less comfortably.

On longer trips, their rigid suspensions – and even more rigid seats – sometimes made you wish you’d taken another car.

The GLI is a car you’ll be glad you took home.

At The Curb

Back in ’84, hatchbacks like the GTI were the new thing. They were different than the sedans which had been the default practical car and which almost everyone had been driving.

Suddenly, hatches were hip.

Today, it seems everyone is driving a hatchback – if they’re not driving a crossover SUV.

Which makes a sedan like the GLI the new thing, in a way.

Or at least, not the same thing everyone else seems to be driving.

The new Jetta GLI is also different in other ways. Not just because it’s among the few new sedans you can still buy with a clutch. Or because it’s kin to Audis, which Hondas and Hyundais are not.

In looks – and length – the Jetta continues to inch ever-closer to being a mid-sized  “compact.”

It now has 37.4 inches of backseat legroom -which isn’t quite as much as in fully mid-sized cars.

But it’s not far off.

And it’s two inches more legroom than the most definitely compact-sized GTI’s got (35.6 inches).

The GTI does have much more room for cargo: 22.8 cubic feet behind its back seats and 52.7 cubic feet with the backseats folded flat. This is part of what made hatchbacks so appealing when they first began to proliferate and still accounts for the popularity today.

The GLI’s trunk holds just 14.1 cubic feet. This is the one thing you get less of this year.

Last year’s Jetta had an almost full-sized car’s trunk (15.7 cubic feet).

The new GLI offers some other things, too – including things not offered in the GTI –  like the very Audi-esque 10.25 inch LCD all-digital (and configurable) main gauge cluster.

Also a Beats eight-speaker audio system (with 12-channel amp and subwoofer) that’s more powerful than the Fender system that’s optional in the GTI.

There’s one more thing, too.

You can trick out the GLI with a very handsome 35th Anniversary Package, which bundles an exterior/interior appearance package (thin-line pinstripe treatment – including for the wheels) additional LED interior lighting and VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) adaptive suspension system which – like the 10.25 inch Digital Cockpit gauge cluster  – you’d have never found in a Volkswagen (sedan or hatch) as recently as five years ago.

And you can get it all for less in the sedan.

A 35th Anniversary GLI stickers for $26,995 to start. To get the DCC suspension in the GTI,  you have to buy the Autobahn version and the MSRP jumps to $37,095. Insultingly, that won’t get you the Beats audio system or the 35th Anniversary touches, which aren’t available with the GTI.

You can buy a top-of-the-line GLI with the Autobahn package – which gets you the Tenacious D upgraded brakes from the Golf R, plus a larger 8 inch Composition Media secondary touchscreen with glass (not plastic) facing and voice-recognition/pinch-swipe capabilities and the optional dual-clutch automatic transmission for $29,995 vs. $37,095 for the Autobahn-equipped/automated-manual GTI.

You can also order – but not pay extra for –  a “summer” performance tire package. They are a no-cost upgrade.

Just be aware they are terrible tires for winter driving (swap them out in Fall).

The Rest

Another interesting thing about the new GLI – and new VWs, generally – is that they come with better warranty coverage than Audis: Six years and 72,000 miles vs. a comparatively skimpy four year/50,000 mile guarantee for the people’s cars’ much pricier relations.

This is for PR reasons only. VW and Audi are the same company and both sold “cheating” diesels – but VW got tar-baby’d by the scandal much more so than Audi and is offering the upped warranty coverage to take people’s minds off the scandal.

Which never should have metastasized into a scandal – but that’s another story.

The Bottom Line

You can’t fit as much in the GLI’s trunk. But you’ll drive away from the dealership with a lot more cash still in your pocket.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Oh, one more thing about this: notchbacks are automatically better-looking and more American than hatchbacks, so the Jetta has that going for it over the Golf as well.

  2. I was certainly looking forward to this review!

    It about sums up my thoughts too. Seems like a really good car and a really good deal, at least for a new blue collar type car.

    If my 2002 Jetta TDI ever dies, I think this is what I’m getting to replace it.

  3. I have liked the GLIs since the 2011 redesign of the Jetta line. My favorite is likely the 2013. With the 207 HP engine and the fact it doesn’t have some electronic nanny following you around makes me like it more. I would be concerned about overall engine durability, however. I don’t know. The 6 speed manual shifts like butter and the clutch light. Power delivery is rapid and the car is overall solidly built. I would be ware of the cheap plastics and switchgear in the car, as well as cheaply made accessories such as power windows, locks and computer modules

    • Considering how much power you get from a st1 tune alone, think the engine’s fine (read 90+hp on 93, regardless of High or low Tq tunes)

      They left plenty of power on the table for tuners and then people go from the K03/IS20’s (stock turbo) to the K04/IS38 (Golf R’s) all the time with the right supporting mods.

      Can’t speak for the accessories, but my exes Golf Tsi was a beast that handled a 10 state roadtrip and back like a Champ

  4. After just spending a few weeks in Eastern Europe I am firmly convinced that VWOA needs to fire their entire marketing department.
    i have no troubles with two of the local dealerships, I get great service and the sales force is terrific but VW has amazing vehicles in Europe that we never see here. I have heard complaints the VW doesn’t have enough SUV types in their inventory, but in Europe they have the Sharan and Touran (the TDI versions of which get an honest 60+ mpg for a small SUV type car) also the Golf Plus.
    The VW people I talk to always tell me the same old tried nonsense about Americans want this and that, but if Toyota can sell a RAV 4 VW can sell a Touran, if Toyota can sell Corolla VW’s can sell a Polo and a Polo GTI). If Ford can sell a Ranger, VW can sell an Amorak. Yet they keep the best cars from us, for example the GTI convertible.
    It is frustrating to a car guy like me.
    VW needs to start selling the TDI again. How many people would jump on a 60+ mpg car with the shape of an SUV and the room of a minivan that drives like a Golf?

    • I’m all for TDI’s, I loved them even though I never had a chance to own one

      F*** the NWO and their Electric Agenda, bring back the diesels and tell the government’s to go choke on a chode

    • Agreed. The most frustrating thing about buying the A3 was the fact that if I wanted the upgraded stereo I had to buy a bunch of other stuff I didn’t want because it was part of the package. Never mind that I was ordering it as a custom build from the factory. And if I wanted “premium” paint (blue) it was another $400 on a car that was already pushing $40K as it was. This doesn’t happen in Europe. You can order it exactly how you want it. But that makes it hard for the dealerships to make bulk orders for the lot inventory, so we get options packages and paint choices of black, grey and white.

      • Thats one thing I wish was a thing here, ordering things ala carte.

        I want the Navi (I have those friends who call at the worst possible time), the LED lighting, XM, the LSD, and the Manual, I don’t need crap bundled

        Heard companies use to not package things here in the past, what the hell happened to that?

  5. Sportswagon? I guess not in the US market.

    The anniversary version sounds a lot like the Jetta TDI Cup Edition from back in 2010. The next year VW downgraded the suspension and put drum brakes on the back, along with a bunch of other cost-saving measures. But it got a cheaper sticker price and that’s what counts (at least to the dealers). When I was looking I kept seeing used Jettas selling for more than the new. When I asked why this was the explanation. I wonder what this swan song is signaling…

    • Hi RK,

      This Jetta – the GLI – has the good stuff. The Golf R’s brakes – and the GTI Autobahn’s DCC suspension – for less.

      All else being equal, I’d prefer the GTI because I prefer the usefulness of the hatchback and the tighter dimensions. But VW has priced the GLI so aggressively I’d buy it over the GTI without hesitation.

    • A Sportswagon would be a smart offering. Might give this Jetta a chance to gouge a chunk out of Volvo’s market. And that couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of Swedish socialists. 🙂

  6. Is it me, or are they having trouble wringing more power out of these 2.0’s? We’ve got a 2008 Saab in the household (2.0 of course) that has 210hp 221tq.

    The GLI has always caught my eye, don’t see them very often.

    • I think it’s Wheel HP they’re citing, hear Germans like BMW and VW use Whp as their figures, so accounting for drive train loss on a manual, be really around 264 (Don’t quote me on the actual #, used a guestimater, https://www.mk5cortinaestate.co.uk/calculator4.php)

      That and if you were to do an APR tune (One of the more conservative tuners), a St1 would increase it by over 90+hp on 93 (https://www.goapr.com/products/ecu_upgrade_20tsi_gen3_mqb.html)

      Think Why VW keeps the #’s where they are is it’s usually more than enough for some and those who want more won’t be disappointed when they spend the $750+ ($50 for labor, + If it’s manual, since you’ll need a new clutch to handle the power increase)

      Ex had an ’18 Golf TSI (1.8t, not the gimped 1.4), a tune really woke her car up, and though we never got past that, a drop in filter and a trans mount, really was noticeable.

      Next to Mustang’s and Jeeps, VW’s are one of the most customizable and modded vehicles out there. Hope that answers your question as to why

    • Forgot to add, GLI’s done right are sleepers, since they’re GTI’s with Trunks, thus more under the radar.

      My A4 ever gets to the point where it’s not worth it anymore, I’d consider one of these

  7. Hey Eric, is that 2.0L Direct Injection?

    I LOVE the Jetta. I DESPISE the local Stealership. This, then, is in general, VW’s problem, IMHO. Excellent cars, lousy dealers.

    There was a time when VW had dealership standards, routinely tested by VWoA/VW AG, enforced, real…back in the Heinz Nordhoff days. Service standards, parts department stocking standards, etc. etc. Since then, it’s been a progressively worse crap-shoot. And, dealer standards have slipped even farther since The Great Dieselgate hit.

    VW is not the only one with awful dealers, but due to their size in the US, and their product lineup and likely clientele, the awfulness is truly killing VWoA. They need a Nordhoff at the helm in Wolfsburg again.

    • I agree with the sentiment about their dealerships. The one I dealt with when I had my 1995 Jetta GLX (loved that VR-6!) was a failure in all three departments – sales, service, and parts (Sales: “8 thousand dollars for that piece of s***?” Service: “Oh, you wanted us to use the oil you left on the passenger seat with a note on it?” Parts: “Yeah, but we’d have to order it.”)

      When I decided to give them another try about 4 years ago, at a different dealer in a different *state* even, I ended up getting into an argument with the finance manager, who claimed that all cars depreciate equally. Tell that to Toyota owners and watch them cringe.

      VWOA has moderately acceptable products now (I’d consider keeping one past warranty), but the dealership experience is the worst kind of 70’s throwback.

    • I agree with you about bad dealers messing the cars. We had bad experience from the local one that caused more issue than repair.


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