Seventh Generation VW Jetta GLI: “A More Practical Choice” than Golf GTI?
The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, the sportiest of the seventh generation VW Jetta models, has received
raving reviews from top auto review magazines including ‘Car and Driver’ and TopSpeed. In fact,
according to Car and Driver, the present sedan comes with similar performance acumen as its more
popular (and expensive) hatchback counterpart, VW Golf GTI. Further, the renowned auto review mag’s
verdict is that the Jetta GLI is actually a more practical choice compared to GTI, not only since the former
comes with an easier price tag but also because it fares slightly better than the GTI when it comes to
real-world mpg. Granted that aesthetically, it does fall short of the beloved hatchback, thanks chiefly to
the upscale interior and stunning visual appeal of the latter. However, even that is somewhat
compensated by the fact that the Jetta model sports a more spacious trunk and back seat.
The 2020 Jetta GLI Model
There is not much of a difference between the 2020 Jetta GLI and the 35th anniversary Edition that was
released in 2019. However, VW has equipped the new model with a Wi-Fi hotspot (subscription-based)
as well as with the latest edition of Car-Net infotainment software. More significantly, however, the
Autobahn model has now been equipped with high-end features such as wireless charging and trim-
level adaptive dampers. Apart from that, the Autobahn model wins over the base model thanks to
features like ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof, rich leather upholstery, all-digital gauge cluster,
larger touchscreen and enhanced audio. And if that was not enough, the Autobahn also provides the
buyer the choice to fit the model with the new Black package that will add the package’s signature hue
to the spoiler, the roof, the side-view mirror caps and finally, to the set of wheels. All this, of course,
makes the Autobahn a more appealing choice for consumers. However, performance-wise, both the
base and the Autobahn model perform equally well and if a smooth and fun-to-drive sedan is your chief
priority, you may just as well settle down for the base model and save some significant coins in the
Major Specs: Transmission, Engine, Performance
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual one, although both the Autobahn and the base model
come with an optional dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission. Car and Driver reports that in their
testing, they found it was somewhat easier to row with the automatic’s stick-shift version and the latter
was also able to get to 60 mph a bit quicker than its manual counterpart. Other than that, there was not
much of a difference. As for the engine, the sedan is fitted with a turbo 228 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder
with 258 lb-ft of torque (quite a difference from the 147-hp engines used for standard Jettas). It is the
same engine that is used for both Golf GTI and Golf R. Apart from the engine and transmission, the
sticky summer tires, the fine-tuned suspension and the upgraded rubber all play a big role in making the
GLI just as athletic and agile as the golf GTI, according to Car and Driver. In fact, the magazine maintains
that in their recent Lightning Lap, the Jetta model was actually able to outrun both Golf GTI and Golf R!
The mag’s final verdict was that the latest GLI model will provide great experience to drivers thanks to
its strong brakes and great steering, regardless of whether it’s on the adaptive dampers (exclusive to the
Autobahn) or on the standard base model shocks.
VW Jetta GLI: How It Fares with the Competition
Car and Driver also tested the new GLI with its closest competitors—Kia Forte GT and Honda Civic Si.
And again, the VW compact sedan came out on top with Civic and Forte grabbing the 2nd and 3rd place
The test was conducted by the famous auto reviewer Joey Caparella and he found the Jetta, at 6
seconds to 60 mph, to be the quickest of the three. However, his verdict was also based on the fact that
the VW sedan provides the most satisfying driving experience with its deft wheel control, great body
motions and swift, crisp steering. According to Caparella, the Civic Si comes with a livelier handling
compared to both Kia Forte GT and Jetta GLI. That apart, the VW sedan excels in pretty much all
departments. In addition to being the quickest, the model is also the quietest of the three. In fact, the
reviewer maintains that the cabin is so well isolated from the four-cylinder turbo that everything is
almost eerily quiet and it can make the driver almost oblivious to the fact that he is driving! Add to it a
tested real world 36 mpg on the highway (25 mpg in the city); user-friendly advanced infotainment
system that includes Wi-Fi hotspot, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and more; and its set of safety and
driver-assistance technology (blind-spot monitoring, automated emergency braking and forward-
collision warning) and, Caparella says, we can well consider the new Jetta GLI as a “budget Audi A4.”
Now, of course, given the price tag of Audi A4, it won’t be quite fair to compare the GLI with the iconic
compact sedan. However, the former’s Autobahn model does share the same 7-speed dual-crutch
automatic transmission with Audi A4. In fact, what Caparella actually says is that the GLI “drives like a
budget Audi A4.” Whether it’s damping impact from cracks and expansion joints, tracking straight,
cruising or spirited cornering, the GLI does everything right and all of this while keeping an entirely
hushed cabin (as we’ve mentioned already). And it is this that actually prompts the analogy from the Car
and Driver reviewer.
UPDATE: The 2021 Jetta GLI has received almost no significant alterations from the 2020 model. You’ll
have to pay a little more for both trim levels and that’s about it.
Executive Director, Hillside Imports
Krista Rodriguez is a Portland native working in the automotive industry for the past 18 years. An active member of the community, Krista volunteers within Tigard Tualatin School District and serves as the Treasurer for the Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools.