The 2019 Jetta GLI could be the fun four door you have been looking for

I risked it all in the Tennessee wilderness to see how the “GTI with a trunk” handled itself along the Tail of the Dragon

2y ago

Ryan Lewis is a racing driver and motoring journalist who is based in Indianapolis.


Are you looking something fun and sporty but that also has four doors and plenty of room in the back? Could the 2019 Jetta GLI be the answer? I took one out to one of Tennessee's finest driving roads – the Tail of the Dragon – to find out...

The GLI has unashamedly borrowed from the current Golf GTi parts bin in an effort to soak up some of that hot hatch residue. GTi-inherited kit includes the 2.0 liter 4cyl turbo, which puts out 228hp with 258lb/ft of torque, and rear multi link suspension.

You will also find the 13.4” front rotors, found on both GTi and Golf R. VW have given another small victory to the “Save the Manuals” cabal with the six speed manual fitted as standard. The DSG box will cost you another $800.

Body styling has become much more aggressive. Where the previous GLI only gained a different front clip, the '19 gets the full makeover. Everything blends well with the base car's new power lines and angular elements, creating a much more menacing appearance. The interior is GTi reminiscent, but lacks some of the same polish. Door and cabin trim is plastic rather than fabric. Leather is standard, with power seats in higher trims.

Spring rates all round are shared with the GTi, resulting in a firm but not uncomfortable ride. The variable ratio steering is direct and weighted, even with the car set to 'Eco' mode. Hitting the mode button next to the gear lever will bump the car up into 'Normal' then 'Sport' modes in turn. Each offers a progressive increase in steering weight feel; throttle mapping and differential control to encourage more spirited driving. You can even send engine noise through a resonator to make things sound extra racy. 'Custom' mode lets you tailor settings yourself via the MIB touch screen. Go for the 35th Anniversary Edition to get the DCC adaptable dampers. Ride quality in softer settings is certainly more compliant over the bumpy stuff, but at full stiff only slightly noticeable in body control.

All that GTi trickle down gear has resulted in a car much more focused on driving enjoyment. Initial turn in and agility is a touch more sluggish than a GTi, but what it lacks in pointy it makes up in stability. The Jetta is only 3” longer in wheelbase and 30lbs heavier than the GTi, but those 3” seem to make a difference in how the car handles mid corner bumps and long radius corners. Some of the most fun I had was on quiet roads near “The Dragon” where I could enjoy tucking the nose onto the white line of long, sweeping third and fourth gear corners.

The car pulls hard out of tight hairpins, even in the lower rev range of second gear, with the turbo never lagging behind what my foot was asking. The electronic “LSD” is subtle and non-intrusive in adding braking to the unloaded front wheel. With the car in ASR Sport the main drive wheel will start to scratch for grip, but I only caused the car to completely cut power when I sent her over the brow of a cambered chicane in anger.

Up on the hill's tighter corners the sensitive brake feel gives you the confidence to know you will in fact get the car stopped before launching yourself and your hapless passenger into the Tennessee wilderness. The ABS and diff also manage to keep up with a degree of trail braking (reducing braking force whilst steering into a corner) without grabbing the inside front wheel. But out on some of those long fourth gear corners the car had a tendency to get quite light at the rear if braking and turning at higher speeds. The GLI prefers to do things in a straight line on the way into the corner. Then you can rely on that mid-corner, on power stability to make the time back. This could also be exacerbated when heel and toe downshifting in the manual car, due to the usual road car pedal positioning. In any case the box has just enough edges in the right place to feel precise considering the length of its throw.

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling nostalgic about my youth spent blasting across the English countryside in my manual GTi. Inside wheels half in the grass, flat out, trying not to be late for work for the third time that week. The fact driving the GLI could trigger those fond yet terrifying memories suggests it has finally been cut from that same GTi cloth.

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Performance Specs

2.0 L 4cyl Turbo


6-Speed Manual

7-Speed DSG Dual Clutch

25mpg City/32mpg Hwy/ 28 comb

Standard Tech

IOS & Android App Connect

LED Front & Rear Lights

Front Park assist/ Rear Traffic Alert/ Blind Spot Monitoring

Post Collision Braking

Price as tested - $26,995 (35th Anniversary Edition. Manual)

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