It’s a thin market for sedans of any stripe these days as utility vehicles rule the road. But in terms of sleek style, four-door cars such as the Volkswagen Jetta are tough to beat.
The 2020 Jetta GLI is essentially the sports-sedan offshoot of the Golf GTI. The pair has a history that dates back six generations and over many decades.
Visually, the GLI closely mirrors the basic Jetta that was all new for 2019. No longer considered a small car, the Jetta’s aerodynamic sheetmetal, with its tautly drawn lines, might convince you it’s larger than it actually is. Exclusive to the GLI is a unique front end with red trim, a black honeycomb-style grille, larger lower air intake, added side skirts, a rear spoiler and unique 18-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard on non-GLI Jettas).
Compared with the previous Jetta, there are slight gains in all key dimensions. An increase in interior volume is particularly noticeable in the rear-seat area.
The Jetta is constructed using Volkswagen’s latest MBQ platform, which is also the foundation for a number of other VW and Audi models. It’s stiffer than the previous platform, which is important for overall driving quality, comfort and a quiet ride.
The regular-strength Jetta has a fairly compliant suspension that uses a torsion-beam (solid) rear axle in place of the previous independent multi-link setup. The latter sticks around, however, for the GLI, lowering the car’s stance by 1.5 centimetres. The result is more precise turning along with significantly less thumping over rough surfaces. The GLI also has a limited-slip differential plus larger-diameter brake rotors, of the same type found on the GTI and sportier Golf R.
Key to the GLI’s performance is a premium-fuel-sipping 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That’s an increase of 18 horsepower and 51 pound-feet over the previous GLI, and 81/74 more than the base Jetta.
Mated to a six-speed manual transmission (a seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters is available), the GLI’s turbo engine has plenty of thrust, while producing a pleasing rumble in the lower rev range. There’s sufficient cabin insulation to keep the sound from becoming annoying, however. There’s enough punch to break tires free and generous application of the throttle yields a bird-like chirp from the turbocharger system.
Fuel consumption with seven-speed automatic is pegged at 9.3 l/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway and 8.4 combined (manual-transmission models fare nearly as well.
All GLI models come with Driving Mode Selection with Normal, Sport, Eco and Custom settings. A Comfort mode is optional. The Sport mode is particularly satisfying as it sharpens the throttle, firms up the steering feel and increases the twin-exhaust symphony.
One of the few GLI complaints had to do with a driver’s-seat bottom that doesn’t tilt down, thereby getting in the way of leg operation of the clutch.
GLI prices start at $33,350 (including destination charges) for the base trim, which comes with dual-zone climate control, 20-centimetre touch-screen, heated side mirrors, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers and a eight-speaker Beatsaudio sound system.
Additional standard content includes a panoramic power sunroof, leather-covered seats (eight-way power-operated for the driver) and a customizable 26-centimetre Digital Cockpit display.
A 35th anniversary GLI edition has unique wheels, interior trim and body colours
Optional on all versions are a number of dynamic-safety technologies, however pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning are noticeably absent.
As a real sports sedan, the GLI performs its role competently and it delivers plenty of driving enjoyment that rivals Germany-engineered models costing much more. If all its competitors were similarly outfitted — and looked this clean and sharp — the sedan segment would doubtless be more vibrant than it is.
What you should know: 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine (h.p.): 2.0-litre DOHC I-4, turbocharged (228)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; seven-speed automated manual
Market position: Compact sedans with genuine sporting flair such as the GLI aren’t that common since most buyers are attracted to less expensive versions with modest powerplants, or to small utility models with greater cargo space.
Points: Attractive styling with crisper lines is a definite plus. • Interior appointments can be had with high-tech instrumentation. • Standard turbo four-cylinder gasoline engine delivers more than sufficient punch.
• Precision-shifting six-speed gearbox. • Base and optional trims are lacking in some active safety-tech items.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 9.3/7.2; Base price (incl. destination) $33,350
Honda Civic Si sedan
Base price: $32,000
Coupe and sedan versions come with a 205-h.p. turbo I-4. Type R makes 306 h.p.
Base price: $32,150
Tamer 268-h.p. version of the pricier 310-h.p. STI comes with standard AWD.
Hyundai Elantra GT N Line
Base price: $29,250
A compact hatchback model that’s equipped with a 201-h.p. 1.6-liter turbo I-4.
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-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media