Returning to Volkswagen's lineup for the first time since 2010, the Jetta GLI adds some spark to the German automaker's small-sedan offerings. Unlike the 2010 model, however, this Jetta GLI shares little more than its drivetrain with the Golf GTI hatchback.
On the new-for-2011 Jetta platform, the new car is larger in most every capacity than its predecessor. Powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine as the GTI, the GLI is capable of pumping out 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. That power is routed to the front wheels by way of either a six-speed manual or optional six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Unlike its lesser siblings, the Jetta GLI makes use of a four-way independent rear suspension instead of a twist beam rear axle and ditches the rear drums for standard disc brakes all around. Volkswagen has also outfitted the GLI with the same XDS cross differential system that helps prevent inside wheelspin in hard cornering.
Despite being down on power and up in size and weight versus many of its sport compact competitors, Volkswagen has always found a way to go beyond the spec sheet to provide fun, agile compact cars. With three different levels of specification, the Jetta GLI is more or less the same flavor of fun whether choosing from the base, Autobahn, or Autobahn with Navigation.
Body style: Four-door sedan
Engines: Turbocharged 2.0L, I-4
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic
Models: Volkswagen Jetta GLI, Volkswagen GLI
Autobahn, Volkswagen GLI Autobahn with Navigation
Almost everything other than the drivetrain that it retains from the GTI and 2010 GLI. Compared to the standard Jetta, the GLI packs a firmer suspension, an independent rear suspension, rear disc brakes, and more upscale interior accoutrements, VW's RNS 315 touch screen stereo head unit, and an optional Fender stereo, and even the nicer interior materials from the Euro-spec cars. The Jetta GLI is a decidedly higher-class car than the other sedans in the Jetta lineup.
With a wider front air dam, smoked tail lights, and larger wheels, changes to the exterior are unstated. The Jetta GLI comes standard with 17-inch wheels and has 18-inchers available with the Autobahn package. At 182.2 inches long - 2.9 inches longer than the outgoing model - the GLI is nipping at midsize car territory. Its sharp lines are a departure from the previous GLI, boasting an almost Audi-like look to it. Capped by two exhaust pipes that flank either side of the rear bumper, the GLI has a look that's conservative yet aggressive.
In increasing the size of the Jetta, Volkswagen made the interior of its Jetta positively livable for just about any group of four, or five in a pinch. Rear leg room is among the best in its class, and it's more capacious than many larger cars. That said, the Jetta GLI is intended to be a performance car, and there are plenty of upgrades. Red cross-stitching adorns the handbrake lever, shifter boot, and flat-bottomed steering wheel that only comes in the GLI. Available with plaid cloth or leatherette, the sport bucket seats provide more bolstering than the wider, softer standard Jetta buckets. Completing the package are alloy pedals, shift lever, and trim, and the interior materials taken straight from the higher-quality European Jettas instead of the harder, cheaper plastics used in standard U.S. models.
Performance & Handling
Although bigger than its predecessor, the new GLI actually undercuts its forbearer on the scales by roughly 100 pounds. Acceleration to 60 mph should be brisk and in the mid-six-second neighborhood. Judging from impressions of similar GTIs, the ride should be on the firmer side of the spectrum, but not uncomfortable. Volkswagen has tuned the steering and suspension to keep in line with the traditional sharpness the GLI has become associated with. The DSG transmission is engaging in manual mode, but in auto mode shifts are slow and laggy.
The Jetta GLI comes standard with stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System, which shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks all of the doors, and turns on the hazard lights in the event of a collision. The Jetta GLI also features front airbags, side airbags, and side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers.
EPA Fuel Economy
Jetta GLI: 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway (manual); 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway (DSG automatic)
- Steering Feel
- Features and amenities
- Interior quality
You Won't Like
- Droning exhaust note
- Slow shifts in DSG auto mode
VW has delivered a worthy successor to the GLI nameplate
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