The formula has been simple from the start: Pair a four-door, affordable compact sedan designed for everyday usability with the engine and handling prowess of a hot hatchback. Volkswagen first deployed this formula in 1984 when it created the first Jetta GLI, and the 2019 Jetta GLI unveiled today proves the old recipe still has a kick.
Redesigned with American drivers in mind, the new GLI has more power, more technology and more handling prowess than its predecessor, in a package that’s within reach of the compact-sedan market. While some automakers have either made their enthusiast offerings more expensive or eliminated them entirely, Volkswagen knew some car owners need a bit of fun from their vehicles.
“Volkswagen has long been synonymous with small, sporty cars,” said Scott Keogh, CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “The 2019 GLI takes the redesigned Jetta foundation and adds performance features from the Golf GTI to give buyers a true sport sedan that’s the best blend of European and American flavors.”
Start with the engine: the 2019 GLI borrows the GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI engine, good for 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel, an increase of 18 horsepower and 41 lb-ft from the previous GLI. That power gets to the road through a choice of either a six-speed manual or an advanced seven-speed DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission – a type of transmission usually reserved for high-end performance vehicles.
To keep the 18-inch wheels planted, the GLI uses a strut front suspension and a new multilink independent rear suspension. The front brakes are shared with the Golf R, while the rears are upgraded from the regular Jetta. And the GLI also employs the VAQ torque-sensing limited-slip differential, a key part of the GTI performance package that helps to mitigate understeer while powering through corners.
Over the past three decades, the GLI models have typically played down their sporting capabilities on the outside. For the 2019 edition, Volkswagen designers turned the wick up a bit, beginning with a 0.6-inch drop in ride height. From the red GTI-themed line in the grille to the red brake calipers and integrated spoiler, finned diffusor and dual chrome exhaust tips, the GLI has more signs of the performance under the metal – but in a restrained, timeless way that’s more grown-up enthusiast than boy racer.
All of the performance enhancements are standard across the Jetta GLI trims. So too are several new driver assistance features, including Blind Spot Monitor, Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.1 And the Jetta GLI also comes with other popular features as standard, such as App-Connect cellphone connectivity,2 10-color ambient lighting, automatic climate control, keyless access3 and heated front seats.
For those who want something extra, the GLI’s options include the 400-watt BeatsAudio system, a sunroof, ventilated seats and the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. For 2019, there will also be a Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary edition, with unique, dark gray-painted wheels, a black roof, mirror caps and spoiler, and badging. Inside the 35th Anniversary edition has unique seat tags, floormats and sill kickplates. This model also features the DCC adaptive damping system.
New to the GLI, a standard Drive Mode Selection allows drivers to customize their vehicle’s dynamic behavior. This system includes four modes: “Normal,” “Sport,” “Eco,” and “Custom.” Normal mode gives a balanced drive experience, while Sport is tuned for more dynamic throttle and shift responses, tighter steering, and a more aggressive exhaust note. Eco mode optimizes shift points, throttle response and climate control settings for improved fuel economy.4 And the Individual setting allows a driver to tailor the steering and throttle and climate control settings: on the 35th Anniversary edition with DCC, it allows the driver to change the damping as well.
The new Jetta GLI is scheduled to hit dealerships this spring. While pricing isn’t ready to be announced yet, the Jetta GLI will continue in the tradition of affordable performance it’s built over the past 35 years.