Over the years, we have had a couple of opportunities to have a week with the Volkswagen Jetta. However this week was special as our test ride came in the GLI trim level. This is important, being the sixth generation for VW of the “hot sedan” and after 35 years of refinement, this new sedan is just as hot as the folks at Volkswagen claim.
In fact, when it debuted back in 1984, it was called a GTI with a trunk — getting that name from the infamous Golf GTI that has been in the “hot hatch” category for VW since its inception. The competition is fierce in this segment, with the likes of the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra Sport and the Subaru WRX, all extremely hot sedans in their own right.
Our first experience with a GLI came way back in 2008 when we were looking to replace one of our own vehicles and happened one Saturday on a bright yellow VW Jetta GLI Fahrenheit. Back then, VW had made a limited production run of the bright yellow Jetta of just 1,200, with each receiving a production number stamped into the steering wheel.
The timing ended up being perfect for us to purchase a new vehicle, as it was right in the middle of the economic downturn. Our Fahrenheit was number 86 of 1,200 in the line, and we kept the vehicle for over five years. Just like the 35th anniversary edition, it came with a 2.0-liter engine, a six-speed manual transmission and had a very unique red line that transverses the honeycombed grill.
We did enjoy that vehicle and had many great adventures in it, only to be outdone by our middle son JaCoby who thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. We sometimes allowed him to drive it to high school.
The new sixth generation GLI continues to be a very “hot sedan” as the engineers have upped the horsepower again, which now sits at 228 ponies with 258 foot-pounds of torque. This is a huge upgrade from our old GLI and even up 18 ponies, and 51 foot-pounds of torque, from the previous generation. The new version of the GLI will get to 60 mph in under six seconds. Not too bad for a “hot sedan” and coming in very close to the Subaru WRX!
Couple this with the progressive variable-ratio steering system that is unique to the Jetta lineup, making a very nimble sedan. This system requires only 2.1 turns from lock to lock when steering and makes parking almost effortless, quick and easy. It also remains very responsive and driver centered when at highway speeds.
This new version of the GLI also comes standard again with a six-speed manual transmission, which of course is also very unique in this day and age of mostly automatic gearboxes. However, there is an option to upgrade for those who don’t want to always be shifting.
We would have to ask why take out the fun factor? After our week of re-familiarizing ourselves with the new Jetta, we found it invigorating and energizing to get out and drive the manual transmission. It just seems proper and right to shift through the gears in such a sporty sedan; it only took us each about five miles of driving to become completely familiar with the transmission.
On the outside along with a completely all-new look for the Jetta, the GLI comes complete with LED lighting all around, including projector headlamps, parking lights, turn signals and taillights. The GLI has also been lowered 0.6 inches to give the Jetta a more planted look.
New is a lower front bumper spoiler that allows for a larger air intake and also a rear spoiler and dual chrome tailpipes, all intended to give the GLI a very sporty appearance. In our humble opinion, the designers have a done a great job as the Jetta has grown into its sixth generation as it continued to garner attention no matter where we were.
On the inside, the red grill stripe theme continues with red stitching on the steering wheel, armrests, seats and also the shift lever, adding a personal touch to the 35th anniversary edition. We found the seats to be very comfortable, even though they were made of cloth they did include heat as a standard feature.
The seat adjustments were also manual, something we also had in our GLI of the past. One would have to opt for the Autobahn trim to get automatic seats, adding almost $3,000 to the starting price.
One of the coolest additions to the GLI was our ability to change the colors of the ambient lighting inside with 10 different colors on tap. These will coordinate with the driving mode selected, blue for Eco, red for Sport and white for normal. Or they can be set to any of the 10 colors offered in a custom mode. In addition to that, the door seals were also backlit in red continuing the theme.
Volkswagen Car-Net is also standard on the GLI with app connect allowing drivers to interface through smartphones to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is also available and upgraded Car-Net System that works through Verizon Telematics, a subscription type service that will allow the owners to have all kinds of different access to their Jetta.
It will call emergency responders if needed, unlock the car, find the car, alert owners when in valet mode if the car travels more than 0.2 miles, so much for the valets going on a joy ride. It will even provide a curfew limit and area limit for those teens that want to take the GLI out. Oh how we could have used a system like that when JaCoby was going through his high school years!
The new GLI turned out to be one of the most captivating sedans we have had this year and at a price point that anyone can afford. For a great choice in the “hot sedan” market don’t pass up the chance to drive the new Volkswagen GLI.
Base price: $26,995
Price as driven: $26,995