Volkswagen's high-performance 2019 Jetta GLI, reintroduced at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, is an attractive proposition — the new Jetta's stylish and well-thought-out interior, now with the Golf GTI's engine and transmission? Sign me up. But the more I think about it, the more I'm just sort of "meh" about the whole prospect. There are other sedan options out there, but my main issue is that the Golf GTI is right there.
Related: More 2019 Chicago Auto Show Coverage
The Jetta GLI looks better than its vanilla counterparts, at least to my eyes. The subtle rear spoiler helps, as does the slightly lower stance thanks to its sport suspension. The black roof, spoiler and unique wheels on the 35th Anniversary edition are also handsome even if black wheels are derivative at this point. The front styling looks appropriately aggressive with its black honeycomb grille and red accents, but the rest of the car is something of a sleeper and a little too subtle for my "Fast and Furious" tastes.
The important stuff is under the hood, and it's exciting. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the GTI is a significant upgrade with 228 horsepower, a boost over the 147-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four that powers all the other Jetta models. Some 80 more horsepower and 74 more pounds-feet of torque will definitely provide a performance boost. In other Jettas, putting the car into Sport mode was necessary for a satisfying driving experience; in the GLI, hopefully Sport takes things from good to great.
Other things "borrowed" from the GTI include its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and electronic limited-slip differential. The GLI also has the same brakes as the Golf R and GTI. Most important, the standard transmission is a six-speed manual.
Inside, the same positives and complaints from other Jettas remain. The front sport seats are the place to be — they're comfortable and not over-bolstered, even for my larger frame. The GLI has a driver-friendly cockpit and is available with Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, the brand's customizable digital gauge cluster. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. In back, though, materials quality still drops off, and amenities for passengers like air-conditioning vents or extra USB ports are lacking.
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The downside of all this borrowing from the GTI, of course, is ... why not just get a GTI? Especially given that the GTI could be less expensive — though we won't know pricing for the GLI until closer to its on-sale date in the spring. If you want a sedan, maybe the Civic Si sedan will satisfy your sportiness needs, but it doesn't come with an automatic transmission. The Subaru WRX is another option worth considering. But if you simply must have a Jetta, the GLI looks like it will be the one to get — and we'll know more once we drive it.
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