(Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) For nearly 40 years, the GLi’s mission has been to revitalize the Jetta’s overly slick image.
An inspiring formula
Rarely have so many angry little cars been unveiled. Oh, these aren’t high-end sedans, far from it, but caffeinated versions of mainstream models. Dean of this category, the GLi must now repel the onslaught of more lively and modern competition while infusing an extra soul into the Jetta.
The small car with a strong temperament is a tradition at Volkswagen. The genre established itself in the mid-1970s with the GTi in Europe. It then spread to North America with the GTi again, but also the GLi, designed around the Jetta. Volkswagen has ensured continuity ever since.
Its nervous character, the GLi conceals it under a discreet look, without any provocation. Connoisseurs will certainly notice the scarlet threads that enshrine certain bodywork elements, the design of the rims or the size of the tires that coat them. Only, no doubt, the GLi monograms soberly announce the color: this sedan is a ball of nerves.
On board, the GLi makes little more effort to detach itself from the Jetta. With the exception of black trim with red scratches, specific upholstery for the seats or the steering wheel whose lower portion is flattened, many will struggle to distinguish the GLi from a Jetta. Rather cold (some will prefer the adjective “classic” here), the presentation undoubtedly lacks cohesion, but the amateur doesn’t care. The driving position is more important to him, as is the support (moreover very average) of the bucket he or she occupies. In the rear seats, passengers will appreciate the clearance offered as well as the luggage that will be sleeping in the huge trunk.
It’s not just the acronym that titillates
Under the hood, the German manufacturer still houses a 2 L pushed by a turbocharger which allows it to produce 228 hp. The exhaust sound of this four-cylinder has been carefully worked on by the acoustic engineers, and all you have to do, in Sport mode, is to caress the accelerator pedal to feast your ears on its ample melody. This mechanism makes it possible, without effort, to shoot down the 0-100 km/h in 6.5 s, as long as it is paired with the dual-clutch gearbox, with seven gears. Proponents of tradition will prefer the manual transmission under the (false) pretext that it allows the 2 L to give its full potential. To these people, it is important to point out that the clutch is easy to modulate, but that the command remains lazy and soft.
Modified, the running gear gains in firmness, but also in dynamics thanks to electronically adjustable shock absorbers. Unfortunately, the steering lacks responsiveness and does not amplify this feeling of driving a car that is one with the road, as is sometimes the case with the competition (see the “Competition” screen). This is not quite the case, but it is undoubtedly what makes the charm of this GLi. It requires more commitment and more talent than those sports cars that can go very fast even with a chimpanzee behind the wheel.
Covered with electronic crutches, the GLi displays a less playful character than before.
Despite more than doubled power and easy handling, let’s not forget that in almost 40 years, the GLi has grown by 43 cm and weighed down by 574 kg. Much more measured than the original version and its 90 hp, the current version does not however choke with indignation if one adopts a quiet driving.
At the wheel, we like that the suspension does not impose any real sacrifices in terms of comfort. We appreciate the bite and endurance of the braking system borrowed from the previous generation of the Golf R.
Far from its origins
Despite these pledges of orthodoxy, the new GLi only evokes the founding myth far enough. Very – a little too much? – smooth, the acceleration is formidable (for a gasoline engine of this displacement, of course), but never brutal nor particularly flexible. We have known VW 2 Ls that are quicker to jump, more linear, more aggressive and, it must be admitted, necessarily more thirsty than this one.
More stirring than truly fiery, this GLi is not Spartan and does (alas) no nostalgia for the time when it first appeared. And, as in the past, the suggestive GLI will first and foremost help sell virtuous Jettas.
Hosting costs related to this report were paid for by Volkswagen Canada.
Volkswagen Jetta GLi
From $31,895 to $33,295
Visible in dealerships
Enhanced driving pleasure
Attractive price and guarantee
We love less
Rubbery box control (manual)
Cannibalize within its range
It ticks almost all the right boxes, except for emotion.
- L4 DOHC 2.0L turbocharged
- Power: 228 hp at 6500 rpm
- Torque: 258 lb-ft at 4000 rpm
- Weight: 1484 kg (estimated)
- Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 6.5s
- Ground clearance: 146mm
- Standard: 6-speed manual
- Optional: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drive mode: traction
Tank capacity and recommended gasoline
- Wheelbase: 2681mm
- Length: 4747mm
- Height: 1471mm
- Width: 1799 mm (excluding exterior mirrors)
The one we nicknamed “the Golf with a trunk” is doing quite well on the Canadian market. It occupies the fifth position of the best-selling compacts. The partial overhaul it is undergoing this year will not allow it to leap to the forefront, but to maintain its rank, which seems to correspond to the expectations of Volkswagen leaders. Redesigned shields, an expanded color palette and new accessories sum up the aesthetic changes brought to this model.
When more power means more savings
To discover the piece de resistance of this partial redesign, you have to lift the hood. It is obviously not obvious, but the engine has a larger displacement (1.5 L instead of 1.4 L) than that of its predecessor. It is the same engine as the Taos. Between the new and the old, there is a difference of 11 hp, but the torque remains the same. More power, but also more savings at the pump. It is in association with the automatic transmission that this engine proves to be the most frugal.
The opinion of the owners
This is my third Jetta, but my first 2021 GLi. What a pleasure to drive! Power, handling, powerful braking, very easy to position in traffic. It currently has 18,000 km on the clock. Fuel consumption is reasonable (about 8 L/100 km with premium gasoline). I took advantage of a trip to Florida to treat myself. I’ve always loved sports cars and my 2021 GLi with new technologies makes my life easier.
Oh, the red!
I’ve owned a GLi since June 2020 and love it! The comfort, the solidity of its driving (the engine is not anemic, as you sometimes say) and the loading capacity are strong elements. And what about the red inserts that spice up the interior and the exterior a bit! However, I must tell you that I am a fan of Volkswagen products. I’ve had several, including a GTi. We can say of the GLi that it is an anonymous GTi. Besides, you have to know Volkswagens to know that the GLi has most of the components of the GTi and even some of the R. A defect perhaps, it is automatic… I did not manage to have a manual. On the other hand, with the traffic problems in the greater Montreal area, I don’t regret it too much.
A second anyway
I own a 2021 Jetta GLi with manual transmission. I had a 2013 GLi that I liked before, but a year after the end of the warranty, I resigned myself to replacing it for lack of reliability. So far, only positive things to say about this car. Performance, handling and fuel economy are all there. And plenty of interior space for our two children. It’s not easy to find a high-performance family car with a manual transmission and the GLi is one of those exceptional vehicles. Too bad the heated steering wheel is not offered. For the rest, we take advantage of it while it is still possible. It remains to be seen if the reliability will be better than that of my previous GLi.
Nothing to report
I have owned a 2019 Jetta GLi with manual transmission for almost three years now and I am very satisfied. It’s extremely difficult to find a sports sedan at this price that comes with a manual transmission that’s as fun to drive, comfortable and spacious, well-equipped and fuel-efficient as the GLi. Also, for those fearful of the builder’s poor quality reputation, I can assure you that I haven’t had any issues to date.
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