Volkswagen boosts its image by attracting active and enthusiastic trendsetters to its Golf GTI. The GTI is an athletic, sporty edition of VW’s Golf hatchback economy car. By outfitting the GTI with a zestier, quicker engine, by giving it a nimble suspension and responsive, fast-acting steering, by equipping it with racing accessories like bolstered seats and sure-grip tires, and by accenting its appearance inside and out with racier, more aggressive flourishes, Volkswagen makes the GTI appealing to drivers who handle their cars with gusto.
That’s good advertising, because other people are drawn to imitate the highly visible hotshots who drive the Volkswagen GTI.
The company takes the same approach with the GLI version of its Jetta compact sedan. The Jetta is a companion car to the Golf. Mechanically they’re the same basic vehicle, but while the Golf wears a hatchback body, the Jetta is shaped as a sedan, with a conventional trunk in the rear. That stretches the Jetta. It exceeds the length of the Golf by about a foot and a half, and rides on a wheelbase that’s two-inch longer to support its added body length.
The Golf’s shorter stance makes it more nimble. Its clipped, hatchback body style makes it appear more sassy and playful. The stretched-out aspect of the Jetta makes it look more refined.
Those differences help explain why the Golf GTI gets more attention from motoring enthusiasts; however the Jetta GLI delivers very similar, well engaged and fast-paced driving. Through a week-long evaluation, I found that the GLI strikes an appealing balance between enthusiastic driving and useful, family function.
As the go-fast version of the Jetta, the GLI carries the sorts of alterations commonly found on higher-performance iterations of ordinary consumer cars. It has a more powerful engine than a standard Jetta. The 228 horsepower beneath the GLI is 55 percent greater than the 147 horses in the standard Jetta. The GLI rides lower to the road, giving it both a more assertive stance, and more certain road holding due to a lower center of gravity. Its steering and suspension are configured for agility and fast response. Its brakes are enlarged for quick stops.
Those characteristics and others made the Volkswagen GLI an action-packed pleasure when spinning around town. At the same time, the sedan performed well as a useful transporter.
Its usefulness starts with the fact that the GLI is a sedan. While the Golf GTI hatchback is more personally sized, the GLI has a spacious back seat. It easily accommodated two kid’s seats, with room enough for the underage passengers to ride comfortably. During long freeway jaunts, the smooth and easy ride of the GLI kept me comfortable and content behind the wheel. Its oversized trunk made cargo transport a snap.
I also found some surprises that showed how Volkswagen works to maintain the GLI’s balance between sporting performance and accommodating transport.
One welcome surprise was the GLI’s superior fuel economy. The official government fuel-use rating for the model is 28 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. That’s okay, but not award winning for a compact car.
During my evaluation, I did 40 percent better, averaging 39 mpg through a week of driving that involved more freeway miles than in-town distances. That’s opposite the driving pattern that the government uses to assign fuel-use ratings: The feds factor in more city driving than highway driving. Still, my test model’s overall performance in fuel economy impressed me a lot. And even during short runs that involved only around-town driving, my evaluation model used gas at a rate of about 34 mpg. That’s still close to 40 percent better than its official city-only rating of 25 mpg.
The engine’s efficiency comes from Volkswagen’s efforts to balance higher output with economical operation. For example, the exhaust gas that boosts engine power – by turning the turbocharger as the vapor exits the engine – is cooled before it reaches the device. That moderates the amount of fuel fed into the engine, while still giving the engine a good goose.
Also, VW electronically adjusts the flow of coolant through the engine during different phases of its operation. By controlling the coolant to allow for a faster warm-up when the motor first starts, the company reduces the amount of time its operates in its choke mode and also in a high-friction, cold state. Both reduce gasoline consumption.
In my case, I also improved the GLI’s fuel economy by selecting “Economy” as a “Drive Mode.” Other choices would have tailored the sedan for normal driving and sportier driving. The model’s drive-mode system subtly adapts gas-pedal response, steering, automatic transmission shifts, and other operations according to a setting the driver selects.
My economy selection also recognized that climate control – especially air conditioning – can increase an engine’s fuel use. Therefore it also tailored the cabin’s climate system for more efficient operation. I probably wouldn’t have achieved 39 miles per gallon with the sport mode. But I’m confident that I still would have traveled economically.
To enhance the GLI’s usefulness, VW equips the cabin with features that assist the driver and make travel more pleasant. Examples include wi-fi device connection, touchscreen information and entertainment control, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net system that lets owners monitor the GLI, obtain information, and activate some functions from afar by using a smart phone.
For drivers who want to enjoy every moment spent on the pavement, while also meeting essential transportation needs, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a sedan worth looking at.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 VW Jetta GLI
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact sport sedan
Price range: $27,165 to $31,665 (plus options)
Warranty: 6 years/72,000 miles warranty; 7 years/100,000 miles corrosion warranty; 3 years/36,000 miles roadside assistance
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4
Power: 228 horsepower at 5,000 rpm; 258 lb.-ft. torque at 1,700 rpm
Base transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city; 33 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106 inches
Length: 185 inches
Width: 71 inches
Height: 57 inches
Weight: 2,888 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Turning circle: 36.4 feet