Just like with the heavily updated Golf GTI, that’s cause for a sigh of relief.
Perhaps even more so, since the Jetta GLI doesn’t get the same high-falutin’ interior treatment. Thank God for keeping it old school.
Indeed, this Jetta GLI is a lot like the previous one, at least in terms of persona. Just like with the GTI, Volkswagen managed to make necessary updates without screwing things up.
(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Asheville, North Carolina, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the Golf R, GTI, and Jetta GLI, plus any other current VW I wanted to. They offered socks in the same pattern as GTI seats and I left them behind.)
The changes to the GLI are minor – a reskin of the front and rear, new wheels, and new available paint finishes. The interior is “revised” but not as thoroughly as that of the Golf R/GTI. The GLI is now available in only one trim – the top trim.
The Jetta also gets reskinned and picks up a new 1.5-liter engine. One was on hand in North Carolina but I had no chance to drive it.
GLIs retain the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and power is unchanged at 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, with a seven-speed DSG automatic available. Power goes to the front wheels – no AWD option here.
Inside, the biggest change is that a digital gauge cluster is now standard. As noted above, however, the GLI does NOT get the haptic-touch control treatment that the hatchback Golfs do. Yes, that means there’s a volume knob. Rejoice!
Because the car doesn’t change much, it retains the Jekyll/Hyde character that draws fans of sleeper sedans. Drive it sedately, and it’s a quiet commuter that hardly feels different from the “regular” Jetta.
Throw it into Sport mode, however, and the car comes alive. Hell, you can even surface the dark side while in Comfort – ask the tourists I surprised when I pulled out of a scenic lookout and punched the gas. The car went from whisper quiet to providing a head-turning, booming exhaust within seconds.
To be clear, the GLI’s handling is more limited than that of the smaller, sportier Golfs. I came closer to the limit sooner, and I managed to squeal tires at some pretty slow speeds while second-gear cornering on the famed Rattler highway. The car was predictable, with understeer showing up.
Those minor flaws aside, the car remains more fun than the standard compact commuter, and it’s a better urban runabout than the high-strung Honda Civic Si (outgoing, anyway, haven’t driven the new one yet) or the downright rude Subaru WRX (which is also redone for this year, and again, we haven’t laid hands on the new one). The GLI remains the choice for the hot-compact intender who wants to be relaxed during the daily grind.
The strut-type front suspension remains, as does the multilink rear with anti-roll bar. GLIs ride 0.6 inches lower than other Jettas and are more stiffly sprung. DCC adaptive damping is part of the package.
Despite that, comfort is mostly not sacrificed. The car rides nicely in sedate commuting. There is some body roll when pushed.
It can be a tad noisy, though. Tire noise was noticeable, and the engine makes its presence known above 3,000 RPM or so. And the exhaust note can get a bit boomy and echoey.
The clutch/shifter in the manual work well enough. The gearbox isn’t a true joy to row, but it’s no chore, either, and it’s just fine for the back-road blast.
I’d also recommend it over the DSG. Not because of any nostalgia for stick-shifts, but because the DSG sometimes decided to shift up when I didn’t want it to, even when I was using the paddle shifters to override its logic. It also tended to revert back to automatic mode before long if I didn’t touch the paddles. It’s a fine transmission for commuting, at least, but if you plop down GLI money, you’re likely planning to drive in anger at least once in a while, and if that’s your plan, you’ll be best served by the manual.
I’m glad VW left the cabin mostly alone. I like the digital gauges but I also like the ease of use of old-school knobs and buttons. Interior space remains roomy, and most materials up front seem class/price appropriate, though some cheap stuff sneaks in, mostly in the rear and/or below the beltline.
The reskin is so minor that most folks might not even notice. I certainly didn’t get chased down by a curious (and knowledgeable) enthusiast the way I did when piloting the Golf R a few minutes later. The car remains handsome in a conservative way, and very much NOT a head-turner. Which is good, if the sleeper aspect of this car appeals to you.
Since GLIs are essentially sharing equipment with top-trim Jettas, they get LED lighting, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, cooled front seats, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch gauge display, USB-C ports, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, wireless phone charging, wireless smartphone mirroring, premium audio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. One feature that they don’t get – heated rear seats. Wheels are 18-inch, as opposed to the 17s that other Jettas run on.
Options are limited to a rear spoiler and a Black package that gives you black wheels and other exterior trim bits.
VW’s IQ.DRIVE suite of driver-aid systems is standard. It includes lane centering, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, active blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and more.
Fuel economy is listed at 26/37/30 for the stick and 26/36/30 for the DSG.
Pricing starts at $30,995 for the manual and $31,795 for the automatic, with the destination fee adding $995.
What we have here is a car that’s mildly changed but mostly staying the same. The biggest change – the digital gauge cluster – is nice but not a major improvement. And that’s fine, since the car remains a delight to drive when pushed and a quiet commuter the rest of the time. The GLI’s dual personality suits it just fine.
What’s New for 2022
The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI gets a minor exterior refresh, new gauges, and other minor tweaks and changes.
Who Should Buy It
Someone who wants a sporty compact that isn’t high-strung during daily commuting.
[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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