The Volkswagen Jetta is not only Volkswagen’s least-expensive vehicle in the U.S., starting at $18,995, it’s also its most popular car, outselling the Passat four-to-one.
In fact, it came close to outselling the Atlas SUV in 2020, no doubt a function of its low price and spacious cabin. But its fun factor, like most American-market Volkswagens, is meager unless you opt for the Jetta GLI, which starts in the mid-$20s.
Thankfully, this model is no longer the watered down GLI VW has been foisting on an unsuspecting public. Instead, the Jetta GLI shares its engine and sporting manners with the GTI hatchback, while providing a roomier back seat and a larger trunk.
For 2022, it received a mild facelift, but mechanically, the Jetta GLI remains unchanged. Nevertheless, fuel economy has improved for the new model year, coming in at 26 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, and 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
But there are still some leftover 2021 models like our GLI S test vehicle, which is equipped with the optional dual-clutch gearbox. It’s also available in fully-loaded Autobahn trim, which is the sole trim level for 2022.
For 2022, the Jetta GLI receives a modest styling update, with a revised front fascia and grille, redesigned rear diffuser and a larger dual exhaust. Inside, you’ll find a redesigned leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever.
But visually, the car remains the fairly dull to look at, with an unremarkably conservative demeanor offering all the excitement of a trip to the dentist, although the grille’s unique red line horizontal line adds a dash of spice to the front end.
That dreariness continues inside, where the Jetta’s low starting price is difficult to dispel. Hard plastics and conventional design fail to entice the senses and overall quality is a clear step below that of the GTI, even in high-level trim. But the cabin is impressively roomy, as is the trunk, and the seats are comfortable. Controls are easy to understand and operate.
Opting for the Autobahn model does bring with it a fair number of comfort and convenience features compared to the S, including wireless charging, a digital instrument cluster, larger infotainment touchscreen with upgraded Beats audio system, leather upholstery, with ventilated front seats, and a panoramic sunroof.
But there are a fair number of standard goodies on the S trim, including dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, power windows, power door locks, power side mirrors, and a push-button starter.
The GLI comes with a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission or optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Power is rated at 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Autobahn models also get VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping system, which allows you to fine-tune your Jetta’s responsiveness. It’s not offered on the GLI S.
Safety and Technology
Standard driver assistance features include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has awarded the Jetta GLI with a five-star safety rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not rated the GLI. It has rated the regular Jetta, which earned good ratings in its crash tests.
All Jetta S models get a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. VW also includes Wi-Fi hotspot, and two USB ports to keep you connected to your wireless world. Upgrading to the Autobahn model nets an 8-inch touchscreen along with a 400-watt, eight-speaker Beats audio sound system and wireless charging.
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI S specifications:
|Dimension||L: 185.2 inches/W: 70.8 inches/H: 57.9 inches/Wheelbase: 105.6 inches|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged/intercooled 16-valve 2.0-liter inline DOHC 4-cylinder, |
7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and front-wheel drive
|Fuel Economy||24 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $27,145; As tested: $28,140 including $995 destination charge|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
What a difference three letters make. By opting for the GLI over the mainstream Jetta, you get a car that’s far more fun to drive. It starts under the hood, where GLI drivers get far more power than the unremarkable powerplant that motivates most Jettas.
Sixty miles-per-hour comes up in less than six seconds regardless of transmission, making quick work of the pokey parkway grand prix. The GLI remains fairly flat in corners, yet its suspension ably soaks up all but the worst bumps, although you will notice them. Steering has the feedback you’d expect from a sporting machine; braking is exemplary.
For those yearning for an affordable sports sedan, the Volkswagen GLI is once more a great choice in a field brimming with competitors. While others seem to get more attention — we’re talking about you Honda Civic Si — the Jetta remains a fave in this class, a handsomely tailored thrill ride sure to satisfy you every time you get behind the wheel.
Is a Jetta GLI fast?
The GLI runs 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, 5.8 seconds with the standard 6-speed manual transmission.
Is the 2021 Jetta GLI reliable?
Consumer Reports gave the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta a one out of five score for predicted reliability, which is the lowest available. Repairpal.com rates the Jetta more favorably at 4.0 out of 5.0, ranking it 21st out of 36 for compact cars.
Do Jettas have a lot of problems?
J.D. Power rates the Jetta at 76 out of 100, or average, for reliability and quality, and 75 out of 100 overall, ranking tenth among sedans. According to Repairpal.com, the most common problems include hard-shifting automatic transmissions, ignition coil, ignition wires, and spark plug failure, and power window failures.