2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn Review

The last of a dying breed of sports sedan


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Fun to drive, available with a manual transmission, comfortable ride, solid performance, a grown-up GTI, actually works as a family car.
Negatives: Somewhat low rent interior, automatic can be reluctant to downshift.
Bottom Line: The GLI is a bargain for what you get. Fully loaded in Autobahn trim, it's a comfortable cabin with some of the best performance you can buy in a sedan at this price. The fact that you can get it in a stick shift means it's made for enthusiasts, but how much longer will it survive is the question.
It seems sedans are not long for this world, a world where every form of crossover seems to dominate the industry and the landscape. But the sporty, family-friendly Volkswagen Jetta GLI survives, and the automotive world is better for it. With a cheaper base price than its GTI hatchback sibling, it's also more practical and quite a bit more grown-up. It's also quicker around a track. We drove the top trim Autobahn for a week to see if the unique GLI still plucks our heartstrings. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.9

 

The GLI is a thrill to drive, even though it doesn't have a ton of horsepower. But it still has enough grunt to match the great chassis, steering, and suspension. We're just lamenting the fact that our tester didn't have the six-speed manual transmission.

Ride Quality: The GLI is great over surfaces without feeling bumpy or unsettled. Dial it up into Sport Mode, and things firm up, but it still maintains its everyday composure.

Acceleration: With the DSG transmission, it shifts a tad faster than the manual, hitting 60 mph in less than six seconds, which is plenty quick. The only problem is the transmission downshifts could be faster.

Braking: It borrows its brakes from the last Golf R, which means great bite, progression, and very little fade under hard driving.

Steering: We love the steering in the GLI. It's sharp, responsive, and there's a good amount of feedback. It's a VW through and through.

Handling: The adaptive suspension in the Autobahn trim keeps everything in check when you're in the twisties. There's a tiny bit of understeer, but it's very manageable. You can predict what the car will do, which is exactly what you want.

Technology

8.2

 

The infotainment system is very German, meaning you get what you need with little fanfare or flair. But it is a very good system that's intuitive and easy to read. without all the

Infotainment System: The 8.0" touchscreen is far better than the base 6.5" version, and the proximity sensors that pick up your hand motions work quite well.

Controls: The infotainment buttons from the 6.5" screen are gone, replaced by all touchscreen controls. The climate control knobs are easy to work. It could benefit from larger, more intuitive steering wheel control buttons.

Styling

8.1

 

We like the GLI for its subtle sportiness that the GTI seems to eschew for a bit more juvenile attention. While there's sufficient badging to set it apart from its base sibling, the GLI still maintains an air of mature tastefulness without seeming stodgy.

Front: The dark chrome and black mesh on the fascia are nice touches. There's just the right amount of attitude here.

Rear: The GLI's faux diffuser, round exhaust pipe, and trunk spoiler give it a bit of sportiness that set it apart from the regular Jetta. There is, however, a lot of blank space on the rear fascia that could use a tad more style.

Profile: The GLI is well-proportioned, and we like the fact that there's very little chrome. The black and red wheels that were on our 35th Anniversary Edition were a bit flashy for our liking, so these straight-up alloy versions are much better.

Cabin: The interior is dark but attractive. You do feel some cheapness in the plastics.

Comfort

8.6

 

The GLI is about as big as a Passat from a couple of generations ago, so that means plenty of room for four adults. We love the fact that a sporty car like this is a practical sedan.

Front Seats: Supportive and well-cushioned, the front seats are well-bolstered and comfortable. It's not the highest grade leather, but we're just glad they're not vinyl.

Rear Seats: A tall adult can adequately sit behind another tall adult, and the outboard positions are comfy and nicely angled.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The GLI is quiet at highway speeds, and there's sufficient sound-deadening. Push the engine hard, and you can hear it but not to the point of being annoying.

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

Climate: The climate system works very well, blowing plenty of cold air and hot air, as needed. The HVAC vents are well-sized to move enough volume.

Safety

7.5

 

The 2020 Jetta might not win awards from the IIHS, but it passes crucial tests that should assure owners that it is a very safe car. In top trim GLI Autobahn, it comes standard with great safety features, too.

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

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

Standard Tech: The GLI comes with an Intelligent Crash Response System, a rearview 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

 

There's a good amount of both in-car storage and trunk space, although the GLI doesn't excel at either. Owners won't find it lacking except for a trip for four on vacation.

Storage Space: There's a retractable door compartment in the center stack, large cupholders, a sizable armrest compartment, and a convenient phone slot. Door pockets are also decently sized.

Cargo Room: Cargo room is a decent 14.1 cubic feet, the load floor is flat, and the trunk opening is wide.

Fuel Economy

8

 

We drove in mostly Sport mode the entire time, so it actually did pretty well given our habits. It should have no problem reaching its EPA estimates, especially with the dual clutch.

Observed: 24.0 mpg.

Audio

8.6

 

Our tester came standard with the premium Beats Audio system, and it's a very good one. Strong bass, ample volume without distortion, and good clarity.



Final Thoughts

We'd actually put the GLI on our list of desirable cars for ourselves. It's quick, agile, roomy, attractive, and priced right. Even in its maxed out Autobahn form, it's significantly cheaper than other sports sedans. We love what it stands for, as well as for the driving experience it provides. And, as a family-friendly automobile, you don't have to give up much. It doesn't really have any competitors at the price point, either.
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