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2019 Jetta GLI. (SAE) 

What we're driving: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

The sixth-generation 2019 Jetta GLI now joins the range of Volkswagen models leveraging the excellent MQB front-drive architecture and in a stroke re-establishes itself as a sparkling-good sport sedan that similarly reaffirms one’s faith that Volkswagen still can execute what used to be its prime calling card: entertaining vehicle dynamics at an affordable price.

The GLI’s 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder is a treat, even if its 228-hp rating is a little calm in the ubiquitous turbo-2.0-liter engine class. It revs robustly to its 6500-rpm redline and the max torque of 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) weighs in virtually whenever you will it—and with a plump linearity that some similar engines can’t match. Don’t know if it’s coincidence, but this engine’s modest 2019 upgrade from 220 hp to 228 hp seems to have banished almost all of its grumbly and gritty attitude when I last tried it in a Golf GTI.

Further supporting the contention that VW’s back on its game, the GLI’s 6-speed manual transmission is pretty special: brilliantly-considered “weight” and effort, excellent mechanical feel without a hint of notichiness. Every automaker still interested in offering manual ‘boxes could stand to emulate the GLI’s gearshift—yes, even you, Honda.

Volkswagen’s recurring bugaboo—value—gets at least a fair shake here. Although this front-driver (all-wheel drive might really complete this package, but it’s not available) in 35th Anniversary Edition trim had a manual transmission, manual-adjust cloth seats, no navigation or satellite radio and a sparsity of other electro-features, the all-in price (including $895 destination) is a quite-digestible $27,890; VW even has the direct-shift gearbox (DSG) automated-manual transmission down to an $800 option, a reasonable charge for what remains an excellent and sophisticated “automatic” transmission.

Add in scrumptious damping (the 4-setting DCC adaptive suspension provides controlled glide over almost every surface) and the Jetta GLI is a convincing riposte to those who whine nobody’s making good sport sedans anymore, particularly those regular buyers can afford. Sedans are out of fashion—and that’s just about the only strike against the inspired new MQB-based 2019 Jetta GLI.


2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Base price:        $26,995

As tested:          $27,890

Highs:                Thrusty, flexible engine; perfect gearshift; lithe chassis; excellent value

Lows:                 It’s a sedan in an SUV world

The verdict:      Exceptional in all the important ways

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