• Auto123 reviews the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.
• This sedan is a more-discreet alternative to the Golf GTI and R hot hatch duo.
• However, the performance is very similar to that of the dynamic Golf.
• And to its credit, Volkswagen still offers a manual transmission.
The Volkswagen Jetta GLI has often languished in the shadow of the Golf GTI throughout its history. This has been the case since the sedan debuted in the 1980s in North America, and it's still the case in 2022. The Jetta sedan is certainly not as popular with fans of pocket rockets like the Golf GTI/Golf R tandem.
Despite this, the German sedan has earned a following of its own, namely among driving enthusiasts who prefer the discretion of a sedan over the bluster of a sporty looking compact hatchback.
The GLI thus soldiers on in the German brand's lineup, as does the regular Jetta. The irony there is that the more-popular Golf GTI/Golf R models no longer have the regular Golf to serve as their entry-level model.
A more introverted GTI
Admittedly, the Jetta GLI doesn't have the same panache as the latest Golf GTI. The sedan's elongated silhouette is quite nice, but that front fascia with its extra-wide grille is certainly not a hit with the model's die-hards.
Otherwise, there’s the little red stripe that crosses the bumper from left to right, and red accents lower down that help dress up the performance version of the sedan. There's also a small spoiler at the base of the bumper. This treatment continues down the sides of the car and even to the rear where the rear bumper is decidedly more aggressive than that of the Jetta sedan.
On the end of the trunk sits a small black spoiler, while lower down we find on the GLI two ovoid exhaust pipes. Finally, the glossy black 18-inch wheels contrast nicely with the red painted calipers.
Overall, the GLI comes up a little short of Honda's Si sedan, pizzazz-wise. The design lacks a “je-ne-sais-quoi” to make the GLI stand out, in my view.
When Volkswagen decided to adapt its compact sedan to the North American market in 2011, purists were quick to express their displeasure. But let's face it, the redesign of the previous generation allowed it to catch up with the competition, especially thanks to more-generous space in the second row.
Some will find fault with the lack of ventilation nozzles in the centre. On the other hand, the heated seats are a great alternative in cold weather. What's more, the trunk is cavernous and the first row is about average for the class.
Of course, the GLI's sporty nature means that it let you know when it hits potholes, especially when in Sport mode, which firms up the shocks. For a smoother ride, especially in city driving, Comfort mode is the way to go. You can also choose your own settings via Individual mode. As for Eco mode, it throws a blanket over the powertrain, which goes against the car's character.
Also worth mentioning are the front seats, which are more enveloping than those of the regular Jetta. In the back, the seating is more conventional.
The Jetta GLI is a little less technologically advanced than the two Golfs, which have been given the touch-sensitive dashboard found in all the brand's most recent models. But then, its relatively more analog approach actually makes life easier for occupants. For example, there are three knobs for the climate controls and simple buttons under the central touchscreen. Even the Mode button, located not far from the gearshift lever, is easier to use than the touch menus of the GTI and R.
The multifunction steering wheel is quite complex, mind you – but you get used to it, I assure you!
As for the screen, its slightly tilted orientation towards the driver is a big plus, and the responsiveness of the screen and the fairly simple controls of the infotainment system also rate positively.
Behind the wheel
The engine under the hood is no slouch. With 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, the Jetta GLI isn't as equipped for war as the GTI, but this slight shortfall simply doesn't make itself felt during sustained acceleration. The GLI is certainly more efficient in a straight line with the dual-clutch unit, but either way, for driving pleasure, the 6-speed manual is the purist's choice.
That's certainly what this compact sedan is all about. If the Jetta sedan doesn't really stand out in this respect, the GLI delivers better handling. Is it better than its hatchback counterpart? I wouldn't go that far, but the two are similar, especially when it comes to the rumble of the engine.
That rumble, er, rumbles out of the speakers, by the way. Purists don't always appreciate this ploy, but in my opinion it doesn't matter how you get there, it's the result that counts.
The Jetta GLI stands out fromt irregular sibling not only because of its different powertrain, but also because of its independent multi-link suspension on the second axle (instead of a torsion beam with shock absorbers). In this respect, both Golfs do better than the Jetta when it comes to damping, but that's not a criticism, just an observation. The stickier tires available on the GTI's upper trims are responsible for that advantage.
Steering is another of the GLI's strengths. It communicates road imperfections quite well, but also proves to be sufficiently heavy and quick for more sinuous routes. The beautiful flat-bottomed sports steering wheel is still a pleasure to hold. The same can't be said about the gearshift knob. The iconic “golf ball” lever would probably have been more appropriate – but hey, that’s a detail that can easily be corrected.
Overall, the Jetta GLI is more fun than it looks, especially with its relatively easy-to-find driving position, but also with its braking system, superior to that of the base Jetta. This GLI model shares front disc brakes with the previous Golf R, while the rear discs are also larger than on the base sedan.
The final word
This test drive allowed me to reconcile myself with the Jetta GLI. Yes it’s less precise than the GTI in its execution, but the GLI is still worth considering, especially if you're the sedan type. I greatly prefer the dashboard of this version and the huge trunk delivers a ton of cargo space.
On the other hand, the GLI's design is not going to blow anyone away. The eighth-generation Jetta lost some of the model’s previous European charm, something that the Golf pair still retains. Up to you to decide how much that bothers you, if at all.
Driving pleasureA comfortable sedan despite everything
The rumble of the engine
We like less
The finishing is a bit approximate in some areas
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