2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review: In The GTI’s Powerful Shadow

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The VW Jetta GLI’s been part of the brand’s portfolio for 35 years. In order to celebrate, this is the most powerful GLI ever.

Like many car enthusiasts, I’ve been a fan of the VW Golf GTI for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted a GTI but the closest I’ve ever come to owning one is my MK2 1992 Jetta GLI (GTX in Canada) which I purchased 20 years ago. Despite owning a GLI, I’ve long dismissed it as a lesser counterpart to the GTI. I’m wrong. In fact, I’ve always been wrong.


The Jetta, and the GLI

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The new MK7 Volkswagen Jetta is a fine compact sedan. It does everything expected of it and I even enjoyed my time with the car a few months ago but it would not be my first choice in the segment. I equate this in part to the fact that there is now a considerable gap in VW-ness between the Jetta and the Golf – this was not the case going back a few generations.

The 2019 VW Jetta GLI however, is every bit a Volkswagen, more so than the basic Jetta. Point is, my reservations about the GLI, before I picked it up, were completely unfounded. The 2019 Golf GTI Rabbit Edition I reviewed earlier in the summer swooned me instantly and this also played a part in my backwards thought-processing.

The MK7 Jetta is built upon VW’s MQB platform and because of that, the GLI is off in the right direction. This car has a solid advantage over the GTI as Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) is standard – something offered only with the Rabbit in the GTI! These adjustable adaptive dampers widen the GLI’s appeal. With the dampers set in comfort either through the comfort or individual drive mode, the ride quality is perfectly suited to everyday usability.


Thank you DCC and turbocharging

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Like most Volkswagens, excluding the Tiguan, the Jetta GLI provides a beautiful blend of handling, stability and a cozy drive. The speed-sensitive steering is perfectly adapted to the car’s power and chassis tune and I have nothing but praise for the wonderfully responsive brakes.

At the drop of the go-pedal, the car lights up with fervent acceleration and loads of glorious torque. Yes, the 2019 VW GLI is the most powerful GLI of all time as it is powered by turbocharged EA888 TSI 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine which develops 228-horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque as of 1,500 rpm.

Like the GTI, the GLI won’t knock your socks off but the forward thrust is immensely satisfying. Combined with the included 7-speed DSG automatic transmission, the GLI is always in the juicy part of its powerband but this is only one advantage to this transmission. Without trying at all, fuel consumption numbers are incredibly reasonable at 8L/100 km. It is spot-on perfect overall with the sole exception of the typical mild electronic throttle response.


35th anniversary

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

While I’m a complete sucker (on more levels than I care to share) for anything with a hatch, the Jetta GLI 35th anniversary admittedly looks good. The main differences between it at the regular GLI is cosmetics. For an increase of $750 over the base $31,695 GLI, you get 18″ Sevilla black wheels with red rings, a black rear spoiler, 35th Edition illuminated door sill plates, badges and seat flags – a worthy investment, I think.

For the aforementioned $31,695, the GLI includes hugely comfortable and supportive heated and cooled titan black leather seats, VW’s digital cockpit, a Beats audio system, App Connect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the engine, DCC, VW’s XDS limited slip differential, navigation and much more. Even with the $1,400 DSG option and the $995 Driver Assistance package, the final $34,840 tester’s price tag seems inexpensive – it’s almost a bargain.


Space for life

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The easy sell also comes from the fact that the Jetta is impressively roomy. The boot is rated at a relatively shy 399 litres in volume but I managed to slide in my large stroller, three folding chairs, a small cooler and all the diaper bags I own and there was still some room left over.

Same goes for passenger space. The rear bench is surprisingly supportive for two adults and can hold three. Two baby seats leave a fair amount of space between them for more bags of toys and what not. And then, up front, there’s loads of storage areas, wireless charging, an 8-inch touchscreen and plenty of room for various appendages.


GTI or GLI?

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

So, in conclusion, the 2019 VW Jetta GLI is less expensive VW Golf GTI Rabbit as its base price is of $33,995. The GTI’s advantages are Clark cloth seats (always better than leather + they’re way cooler), cornflower blue is available, it has larger rear brakes, fog lights, and is a GTI. However, it lacks power cooled seats, a panoramic sunroof (a clear plus in my mind) and wireless charging.

The final question then is: GTI or GLI?


2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Photo Gallery

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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