It’s my long-held professional opinion that the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is the best all-around enthusiast transportation device. It does more things better than anything it competes with and embarrasses cars costing twice as much with its better overall refinement and build quality. That’s great news for the 2019 Jetta GLI, since it’s effectively a GTI with a trunk that comes standard with a 20 percent off coupon. That saves you a whopping $7,100, and since the Jetta and Golf are the same basic car, that makes the Jetta GLI the best all-around enthusiast transportation device with a trunk.
Oops, I gave it all away too early in the review. Or did I? There’s always fine print on those darn coupons, and the Jetta’s reveals a few significant differences. First, the 20 percent discount applies only to the most expensive Autobahn DSG trim level, which is a screaming bargain at $30,890. The cheapest GLI you can buy, the S with a six-speed manual, is $26,890, and that’s only $1,600 less expensive than the base Golf GTI.
That’s it. The Jetta gets the GTI’s riotous 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, with identical 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It gets the same exact transmissions — VW’s light-effort six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch DSG. It inherits the GTI’s progressive steering rack that manages to combine just 2.1 turns of lock with zero on-center nervousness. And it gets Volkswagen’s wonderful electronically locking front differential.
That exit speed just meant more work for the brakes at the end of each short straightaway, but they easily shrugged off the thermal load. At the bottom of the mountain, the only thing heated up in the Jetta GLI was its driver — there was no brake fade, and the engine coolant and oil temperatures had barely risen.
That moment doesn’t happen when you get in the Jetta GLI. It doesn’t have big-bolstered, comfy seats — it has regular Jetta seats. It doesn’t have that taut, I-mean-business ride. It doesn’t have the surprise factor of climbing into something that has the form-factor of an economy hatchback with interior materials stolen from of the world’s hippest $50,000 luxury car. To the automotive uninitiated, climbing into a GLI will make people think they’ve climbed into … just a Jetta.
That’s not exactly not a bad thing, especially considering the GLI’s value and performance. But when you drill down into the fine print, the GTI remains the best enthusiast car you can buy. Some things are worth the extra money.