Competes with: Honda Civic Si, Subaru WRX, an S2000 with more than a hundred grand under the hood
Looks like: A 2019 Jetta. Charitably, it's a sleeper; uncharitably, it's a bit boring for a sporty version.
Drivetrain: 228-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
Hits dealerships: Spring
The sportier flavor of Volkswagen's Jetta, the Jetta GLI, returns to the lineup for 2019 following the introduction of the vanilla Jetta at the 2018 Detroit auto show. For those looking for a sportier driving experience without paying premium or luxury prices, the GLI — appearing at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show — has been a strong option since it was first introduced for the 1984 model year.
Related: More 2019 Chicago Auto Show Coverage
The Jetta GLI will be available in three trim levels: base, Autobahn and a special 35th Anniversary edition. As part of a dying breed of sporty, lower-cost non-hatchback cars, the Jetta GLI's chief competition is sparse. Only the Honda Civic Si sedan and Subaru WRX offer similar combinations of performance and relative affordability.
The Jetta GLI doesn't look much different than regular Jettas, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. The grille is black and divided by a red line with red GLI badging near the passenger-side headlight. Blacked-out intake surrounds below the headlights and red GLI badging on the front fenders join unique 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels as the other main giveaways. Jetta GLIs also have dual exhaust tips and a very subtle rear spoiler.
The interior of the Jetta GLI follows the black-and-red theme, with red stitching on the steering wheel, shift lever, armrest, floormats and seats. Base models get black cloth seats with gray piping, while Autobahn models get black perforated leather seats. Anniversary models have unique tags on the seats, as well as special floormats and door sills. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit and a premium Beats Audio stereo are available, as is a sunroof.
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- 2019 Volkswagen Jetta First Drive: Reconfigured to Take on Civic, Corolla
- 2019 VW Jetta Offers More Features for Less Money
Under the Hood
The Jetta GLI, as we had hoped, co-opts the Golf GTI's powertrain. The 228-hp engine also produces 258 pounds-feet of torque — increases of 18 hp and 41 pounds-feet of torque over the previous GLI. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for those who like to row their own gears, and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission is optional. The GLI also borrows the brakes from the Golf GTI and Golf R, as well as the GTI's limited-slip differential. An available adjustable damping system — standard on the 35th Anniversary edition — lets the driver adjust suspension firmness.
Standard safety features abound on the Jetta GLI, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and an automatic braking system that engages post-collision. LED headlights and taillights are also standard.
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