2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition Review

The sedan with hot hatch DNA


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: More distinct than the regular Jetta, more mature than a GTI, excellent driving dynamics, powerful brakes, sweet 6-speed manual shifter, no-nonsense interior.
Negatives: Should come with leather seats, some interior trim feels cheap, wheel design is too busy for our liking.
Bottom Line: The Jetta GLI is a seriously affordable sports sedan that's properly old school and pretty great to drive for a FWD car. It's got ample room for four, one of the best suspension and chassis for the price, and a flavor not often seen in the industry.
The last Jetta GLI was decent, but it was clear VW lost its way with it since it seemed like a bit of an afterthought when it lost its manual transmission. Well, the brand hasn't given up on the GLI as evidenced by the new one. Bigger, more powerful, better composed, and with more features than ever before, the GLI is the smart man's affordable sports sedan. We drove it in 35th Anniversary trim for a week to see if we could reignite the spark.
 

Driving Experience

9

 

We didn't quite know what to expect from the new GLI, and we were blown away by how much fun it was to drive and how composed it felt in just about every situation. That's quite a bit to say about a front-wheel drive sports sedan, but this is VW we're talking about. They infuse most of their vehicles with a fun-to-drive factor that typically gets ignored by most brands.

Ride Quality: The suspension feels great under normal driving condition, absorbing bumps remarkably well. Dial it up to Sport mode, and the suspension tightens up, and you can push the GLI hard without upsetting it.

Acceleration: There's 18 more horses in the turbo four this time, and you notice it. Virtually no torque steer is present, and the car takes off to 60 mph in a hair less than six seconds. It also lays down great torque and spreads out the power across the range remarkably well. 3rd gear is magic.

Braking: The brakes from the Golf R strut their stuff with strong bite and fade-free performance. There's no mushiness in the pedal, and everything feels linear.

Steering: The GLI's steering is crisp and precise with some good feedback. It feels natural and intuitive, a great pairing with the manual transmission.

Handling: The adaptive suspension is superb, and it's the ideal mate for the chassis. The car corners with minimal body roll and only a hint of understeer.

Technology

8.2

 

No one will ever call VW infotainment systems sexy, but they work really well. The system in the GLI is clean, easy to read, and remarkably intuitive to use. It may lack the fancy graphics of other systems, but those tend to be distractions more than anything else.

Infotainment System: The 6.5" screen is on the small side, but it's easy to read, and the menus are intuitive.

Controls: There are physical infotainment control buttons that flank the screen. They're large and easy to use, but the audio knobs need to be bigger and wider to make operation easier while driving.

Styling

7.4

 

The regular Jetta is attractive enough for us, but it's still not as noticeable as some of the competition. The GLI version (especially in 35th Anniversary trim) amps things up nicely. Though red isn't really our preference in terms of paint colors, it make the GLI look properly sporty.

Front: The chrome on the regular Jetta gets replaced by dark chrome and black mesh on the fascia. The GLI also gets the dark fog-light strakes from the GTI, giving it more aggression.

Rear: The GLI gets a faux diffuser, round exhaust pipes instead of trapezoids, and a thin lip spoiler atop the trunk. It looks great from this angle.

Profile: Not even the base Jetta has a lot of chrome trim, and the GLI has virtually none on the side of the body. The dark wheels are bit busy pattern-wise, but the red accent on the rim is a sporty touch. The GLI fender badge is a bit much for our liking.

Cabin: Though the cabin is on the dark side, it's teutonically tasteful. Too bad some of the surfaces feel cheap, including hard plastics and less than thrilling seat fabric.

Comfort

8.4

 

There's a lot to love about the GLI's cabin in terms of comfort. The fact that it grew in size means it's even bigger inside than before, and it really didn't need it, to be honest.

Front Seats: Supportive and well-cushioned, they're quite comfortable. We actually would've preferred vinyl (or leather, of course), but we mostly wish they'd swap out the dark cloth for the GTI's plaid seats.

Rear Seats: Plenty of legroom and headroom for the outboard positions with a nice contour to the seats. Tall adults can sit back here without squishing the front occupants.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The GLI is quiet at highway speeds with only the engine under hard driving coming through.

Visibility: Visibility is good all around, and the seating position helps, as well.

Climate: The climate system is a good one that fires up quickly. Vents are well-sized, too.

Safety

7.2

 

The 2019 Jetta is a very safe automobile and ranks near the top from both testing bodies. It also comes with a good set of standard equipment that includes the coveted automatic emergency braking.

IIHS Rating: It misses getting top scores because of the headlilght performance. It gets "good" in all crash tests, though.

NHTSA Rating: The Jetta gets five stars from the government.

Standard Tech: The GLI comes with an Intelligent Crash Response System, rear view camera, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Forward Collision Warning & Autonomous Emergency Braking, and a Blind Sport Monitor w/ Rear Traffic Assist.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8

 

Despite the fact that the trunk space drops from the last generation, there's still plenty of space in the Jetta GLI to keep families happy. Interior cubbie are plentiful and very convenient.

Storage Space: There's a good cubby with a retractable door in the center stack, big cupholders, a sizable armrest compartment, and a nice phone slot. All of them are within easy reach.

Cargo Room: The trunk space decreases from 15.7 in 2018 to 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space. The load floor is flat, and the trunk opening is wide.

Fuel Economy

8.2

 

The Jetta did pretty well even under hard driving. We have no doubt we can hit the EPA estimates while driving more conservatively, but the manual transmission tempts us.

Observed: 23.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 132 miles

Audio

8.4

 

Our tester came with the stock 6-speaker audio system, and it's actually really good. We were pretty surprised by the clarity of the sound. Bass is also very good, and there was no distortion. We don't think there's a need to upgrade to the premium Beats Audio system, though we hear it's very good.



Final Thoughts

If we were looking for an affordable sports sedan, the GLI is what we'd choose. It's fun with a mature look, and it will transport grown adults in comfort all day. The fact that you can drive it hard with rewarding results means it appeals to the enthusiast. The manual transmission is icing on the cake. We love the GLI, and it's so much fun that we'll put up with black fabric seats and some cheap plastics to own it. This sedan is a true gem.

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