We got behind the wheel of the all-new Volkswagen GLI on one of the best roads in America to do it.
Volkswagen took us to the mountainous area between North Carolina and Tennessee to test drive the 2019 Volkswagen GLI, on the infamous Tail Of The Dragon road that spans over 18 kilometres of pristine pavement delivering 318 curves to anybody who wants to taunt it.
A perfect place to test a sports coupe, fast motorbike or, in this case, a brand new compact sedan that wants to be different in a world of compact trucks.
Building sedans that people will choose over SUVs in 2019 is a tall order. Volkswagen’s success in North America is palpable, thanks to the Atlas and the Tiguan SUVs who made a killing in 2018. Still, the German car manufacturer clings to the four-door dream, launching the Arteon, Jetta GLI and Passat this year.
The Volkswagen Jetta has always been a staple in the people-and-cargo-conscious driving enthusiast’s eye, delivering both space, driving dynamics and a hint of performance to go with it. The 2019 Jetta GLI is bigger and badder on paper, and we couldn’t wait to see if it could perform to our expectations.
What’s new with the 2019 GLI
All in all, the GLI is physically different from its “base” counterpart thanks to red accents (that were barely distinguishable on our red-coloured tester), more aggressive-looking front and rear bumpers and, more importantly, a sport suspension that makes it sit 15mm lower. Other differences are mostly mechanical and equipment-related.
The new GLI has a 30 mm longer wheelbase and an is 81 mm longer than the outgoing model.
On the Canadian side, two variants are available for purchase. First off, the GLI starts at $31,695, and gets an all-dressed list of standard equipment like new Multi-link rear suspension, the VAQ differential with XDS, variable-ratio steering, 18-inch wheels, LED projector headlights, DRLs & taillights, 10.25-inch screen, heated leather front & rear seats, sunroof as well as a few safety features like Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Traffic Alert.
Canucks also get the 35th Anniversary model, that adds blacked-out elements and 35th Anniversary badging all around for a starting price of $32,445.
If you fancy more safety, an available Drive Assistant Package will run you $995 and will add Light Assist (Automatic High-Beam control), Blind Spot Detection with Rear Traffic, Alert and Lane Assist, Front Assist – Autonomous Emergency Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control (auto trans only).
The GTI’s 2.0 liter turbocharged powerplant now takes place under the 2019 Jetta GLI’s hood. It boasts 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, giving it 18 horsepower and 51 horsepower more than the previous generation. This powerplant can be served with a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 7-speed automatic transmission, offered on both variants for a 1400$ surcharge. Both models get front wheel drive.
So it’s pretty much like a GTI with a trunk? Is it? There are a few differences.
Upon stepping into the 2019 GLI, you’ll notice that everything in the dashboard is focused on the person at the wheel. The 10.25-inch screen is at an angle, inspired by the Audi Q3 and other interiors in the VW empire. Although very comfortable and ergonomic, this interior doesn’t have the GTI feel. Trim-wise, it has a bit too much plastic where it should have aluminium, and finishings are a bit more budget-friendly. However, comfort for the driver is spectacular, room for passengers in the rear is ample and it has plenty of cargo space.
Taming the Dragon
Endeavouring on the Tail Of The Dragon on a Monday morning has a major advantage: there is little to no traffic. On board the 2019 Jetta GLI, the brisk acceleration is met with minimal torque steer in the front with the manual gearbox, while the 7-speed DSG shows a slight lag at start-up, but gearshifts, when the GLI is well underway, are seamless. With either gearbox, the 258 lb-ft of torque put the card on the table.
Getting into the curves of the Tail, the steering showed great feedback paired with a pleasant weight to it. The Jetta GLI stayed gripped to the ground with no body roll, providing the necessary predictability to confidently throw it around from curve to curve. If tempers flared and corners were coming too quickly, braking proved to be phenomenal.
Throwing the gears on your own with the 6-speed is the way to go on this type of terrain. Although the shift stick is a little long for this type of driving, the tranny under it is well staged and you never feel “out of the band”.
One weird detail about the manual gearbox: getting out of the electronic parking brake proved to be puzzling. Upon depressing the clutch pedal, the car would literally squat and almost stall to disengage the brake, maybe some adjustment is required there.
Overall, Volkswagen sprinkled a lot more glitter on the GLI to make it more successful. It is now $3,300 cheaper than the previous generation. Will it sell more? It’s tough to say. Volkswagen has always been about discreet performance, the refinement without the show – and has a following to back up the success of the recipe. But this is a double-edged sword in itself; there is a lot of competition out there with bolder-looking cars AND trucks.
The GLI will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. And for the price, it is definitely a choice to consider if you’re in the market for a sporty four-banger.
2019 Volkswagen GLI Images Gallery