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DRIVEN: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLi all about sport


It’s back. The Jetta GLi took a brief vacation last year as Volkswagen shifted production of the Golf to the new modular platform known internally as MQB.

The Jetta now makes the transition to the same new platform for 2019. The GLi version once again echoes the Golf GTi as the performance-oriented version.

The 2019 Jetta is only subtly different visually from its predecessor. VW fans will no doubt pick it out, but Joe or Jane consumer would be hard pressed to do so.

The GLi trim gets a distinctive honeycomb-like black grill, skirts beneath the doors and unique, 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Jetta GLi has always been closely linked to its Golf GTi cousin. But that link was stretched with the last GLI, which used an older platform than the MQB-based Golf GTi.

The new seventh-generation Jetta GLi (Grand Luxury injection) having migrated to the same platform, shares its engine and transmission(s) with the GTi. It has bigger ventilated brakes clamped by red calipers, shared with the Golf R and an independent rear suspension, while lesser Jetta’s have a beam-type rear suspension.

You can think of the GLi as a GTi with a trunk. The Jetta is much larger than the Golf — 45 cm longer.

Most of that additional length has been allocated to the rear seat and trunk. Second-row occupants benefit from five centimetres more legroom than the Golf and the GLi’s trunk is huge.

The interior is handsome and more refrained than some of the competition. There is some hard plastic but the fit and finish are first rate.

The configurable instrument panel is a model of legibility, there are large buttons and knobs for all major functions and the 20-cm multimedia screen and centre console are canted toward the driver.

The thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel has red stitching — a theme that dominates the interior.

As the top trim level, the GLi comes well-equipped. Standard equipment includes: Volkswagen’s 26-cm wide virtual cockpit instrument cluster, with heated and cooled leather seats, sunroof, power windows, locks, driver seat and mirrors, tilt and telescope steering column (not heated), a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control and Beat audio system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The GLi also differs from its lesser stablemates when it comes to driving dynamics. As I said above, it is the GTi version of the Jetta. That means performance is front and centre. The 147-horsepower, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder engine used in other Jettas, is replaced by the turbocharged 2.0-litre unit from the GTi.

With 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, acceleration is obviously more impressive. The engine cuts about two seconds off the 0-100 km/h time and makes light work of passing. It is not a hot rod by any means, but well above average, especially in terms of response and linear delivery.

The GLi comes with a six-speed manual as standard equipment, and 40 per cent of Canadian buyers chose this route. A seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic is optional. Both pass power to the front wheels through a limited-slip differential. I drove the manual and was more than happy with the clutch take-up, smooth linkage and short throws.

On the road, the interior is impressively quiet. The ride is firm, steering tight and the piped-in engine sound a bit louder when Sport mode is selected. Things lighten up in Normal or Eco modes — but I left it in Sport all week because that is what this Jetta is all about.

The Jetta GLi is a sporty take on VW’s small sedan with more power, bigger brakes, tighter steering and an upgraded suspension.

There are more hardcore compact cars, but none that come to mind that take this middle-of-the-road approach.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLi
  • Engine: turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 228 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. of torque, premium fuel recommended Transmission: six-speed manual
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 9.6 / 7.3
  • Length: 4,702 mm
  • Width: 1,799 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,685 mm
  • Weight 1,444 kg
  • Price: $31,695 base, $32,690 as tested, plus freight
  • Options on test vehicle: driver Assistance package (automatic high beams, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection with rear traffic alert and lane assist), $995

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