Car Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
In 1991, budding gearheads who were walking around with a slingshot in their back pocket while telling people Dont have a cow, man were encouraged by those in the know to cut out then-new reviews of the Nissan Sentra SE-R and stash them under their bed along with those MAD magazines and that long desiccated frog. Why? Because we knew, even then, that the plain looking car with the heart full of tomfoolery was the ticket to having fun while staying under the radar.
Fast forward 28 years and we find that while the details have changed the slingshot is replaced by a deadeye shot in Fortnite while yelling Cant tell me nothin much remains the same in terms of getting away with fun while no ones looking. Volkswagen has produced a sedate looking sedan thatll make quick work of 401 traffic while wearing a set of clothes thatll attract all the attention of a paint-drying competition.
The 2019 VW Jetta GLI you see on these digital pages pegs the grin meter without letting anyone else in on the secret. Starting at $31,695, the GLI build sheet presents customers with only a brace of options: a seven-speed automatic for $1,400 and a Driver Assistance package that adds safety nannies and hoovers $995 from your bank account. Our tester was fitted with neither of these things and was better off for it.
Making a familiar 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, this engine shared with the GTI hatchback cranks out 18 more horses and 41 more units of twist than the old GLI. Its the latter that you really feel, providing a punch when merging onto the highway, for example. It wont dispatch a Civic Type R, nor is it meant to. Stirring the six-speed manual pot keeps things on the boil and while the available seven-speed DSG is a world class unit, your author recommends passing on it in favour of the stick.
Why? Two reasons. While the DSG undoubtedly shifts faster than a human, it doesnt provide as much driver engagement, a critical puzzle piece to the enjoyment of this car. Think of it this way the Borg can perform starship maintenance much faster than a squidgy Starfleet officer but few would want to serve on such a vessel. Additionally, DSG-equipped cars are fitted with a fuel saving start/stop system which shuts down the party at idle more quickly than even Buzz Killington.
GLI wont abuse your wallet at the pumps. We drove 363 km in the span of seven days along roughly an even split of in town and highway driving, some of it ok, a lot of it with vigour. The direct-injected 2.0L turbo drank 26 litres of gasoline, working out to a back-of-napkin-math consumption figure of just 7.2 L/100 km. The in-dash computer gauge was slightly more optimistic.
Volkswagen has produced a sedate looking sedan that’ll make quick work of 401 traffic while wearing a set of clothes that’ll attract all the attention of a paint-drying competition.
Speaking of, what a superb set of gauges indeed. Looking for all the world like the Virtual Cockpit found in high-zoot Audis, the display allows more customization than you can shake your sptzle at, serving up enormous maps or interactive infotainment displays. If all that is too much for you, it is possible to call up a set of large and easy-to-read gauges, ya friggin Luddite.
Underneath, one will find an independent sport-tuned suspension with a strut-type setup at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Stopping power comes by way of 340-mm diameter vented front discs and 300-mm diameter solid rear discs. Yes, you can brag to your parking lot buddies that they are Golf R units. Like the GTI, the GLI is fitted as standard with Vee-dubs electronically controlled, torque-sensing limited-slip diff. This helps to eliminate understeer, a problem afflicting many powerful front-drive cars which head for the weeds under hard straight-line acceleration.
Ze Cherman engineers haff also programmed in a trio of driving modes, ranging from Eco to Sport, plus a Custom mode which allows drivers to mix and match different characteristics as if they were selecting shirts and slacks at the tailor. Surprisingly, it was the Custom mode which your author found most pleasing, since it allowed everything to be placed into Sport save for the exhaust sound. On long slogs, and even around town on occasion, the most aggressive note droned like a high school geography teacher.
The GLI dresses like a geography teacher, or at least one who wears snappy UnderArmour polos to class instead of old rumpled ones from Sears. This is great for scything through traffic undetected. It does sit lower than a regular Jetta by 15 mm, a difference no one will notice unless they are parked side by each. That black honeycomb grille with a red accent line recalls the GTI hatchback while its larger brakes and red-painted calipers peep out from behind GLI-specific wheels. A raft of LEDs pepper each end.
Having vanished from the Canadian market last year, its good to welcome the sporty but unassuming GLI back to the Great White North. This is not a car thatll set anyones hair on fire but it is a great way to have a ton of fun while remaining inconspicuous. Its like sneaking a smoke behind the gym while coach goes to get the equipment: those who know simply nod sagely while letting you have your fun
Your author still has that SE-R review, by the way. The frog, however, is long gone.