Quick Drive | Quick Review: 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn
In a world dominated by SUVs, it’s great that there are still a few sporty subcompact vehicles. The small amount of these is hatchbacks and sedans. Volkswagen is known to make the Golf lineup really fun. Both the Golf GTI and Golf R have different styling, upgraded engines, suspensions, and a few styling cues to differentiate them from the regular Golf. As good as the Golf is, it’s still a hatchback and some people still want sedans. That’s where the Jetta and the Jetta GLI come in.
This Quick Drive is a little different. I own a 2016 Volkswagen GTI and tested a 2020 Volkswagen GLI. There are two things I wanted to see: how well the Jetta GLI is in general and how it compares to the GTI. When looking at these, I’m going to look particularly more at the driving experience as well as build quality and options. Since the GLI has some upgrades a 2016 GTI couldn’t have, I took a look at them apart from the comparison. These are the infotainment system and digital dials.
I’m going to start by looking at the Jetta itself. As you can see, the Jetta is a sedan which is quite obvious. The Jetta is larger than the Golf lineup in general so it does feel larger. The trunk is a great size for a sedan. There are five trim levels for the regular Jetta, with the GLI slotting under the SEL Premium. Unfortunately, the Jetta does feel a bit cheap inside. Many hard plastics can be felt and it doesn’t feel as upscale as a Golf. That said, models such as the GLI do come with some good standard features.
Since I drove the top-of-the-line GLI Autobahn at around $30,000, there are a few features not available on the entry-level S model. Some of these include wireless charging, digital dials, a bigger infotainment system, and surprisingly, ventilated seats. A sunroof and leather seats also come standard, yet navigation isn’t available. Really, the only option you can get is the transmission. Standard is a six-speed manual while my test-care had the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. In terms of safety features, the GLI Autobahn comes with standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear-cross traffic assist. Unfortunately, you can’t get adaptive cruise control.
The GLI is all about the upgraded engine and suspension. Powering the GLI is a 2.0-liter producing 228-horsepower and 258 lb-ft. With these and the automatic, the GLI can go from 0-60 MPH in a good 6.1 seconds. There are adjustable drive mode settings where you can modify the transmission, suspension, steering feel, and the silly in every car piped-in sound of the engine. Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual are the settings you can use in the GLI, which are similar to what you can get in a GTI. At first glance, the GLI can be a GTI hiding in a sedan body. Let’s see if that’s true!
First, using the basic controls. Volkswagen does a great job with the steering wheel for music and sound. The 8.0” infotainment system is relatively easy-to-use while driving. Even though there is no navigation system, I just used Google Maps on my iPhone. My favorite part of the controls is the dead easy climate controls. This also includes turning off the start-stop system and going into the different drive modes since they’re next to the gear shifter. It’s so easy to set the temperature and use the heating or ventilating seat functions.
Basics done, it’s time to look at the GLI as a performance sedan! The engine is the same as the GTI but is a bit heavier so it is slower. That said, having the same seven-speed automatic as the new GTI helps in both performance and fuel economy. I used both the automatic and manual-shifting on the steering wheel. Since the paddles are on the steering wheel instead of separate, you’ll always be able to shift whenever you want. Putting the GLI into Sport mode transforms the GLI from a tame Jetta to a much more enjoyable sedan to drive. The acceleration feels similar to the GTI and that helps it to feel sporty.
Chuck the GLI into a corner and...wait a second. It feels like my GTI! Volkswagen, great job! It doesn’t matter which drive mode you’re in, you get the sharp handling. Although Sport mode is fun, I changed everything up in the Individual Mode. I changed the steering and front differential lock to Sport to make it go through corners better. The Drive system was put into normal so it wouldn’t hold gears as Sport does. Climate control was also in Normal since Eco mode isn’t as powerful. Finally, the DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) and Engine sound were put in Comfort. I’m not a fan of any car with pipped-in engine sound so there isn’t any reason why I wouldn’t put it in Comfort.
Verdict time! Is this a GTI posing as a GLI. In terms of dynamics, yes. The engine and transmission are quick and it corners the same as the GTI. Interior quality isn’t up to par with the GTI with more cheap materials throughout the cabin. I enjoyed my time in the GLI, especially as an owner of a GTI. When I bought my GTI back in 2016, the then 2016 GLI wasn’t even close to being similar to the GLI. This time, Volkswagen nailed it. I wish the cabin felt more upscale and adaptive cruise control was an option. Even though those are some negatives, the GLI is one of the best subcompact sedans. If you’re looking for a subcompact sedan, put the Jetta GLI at the top of your list.