• The Volkswagen Jetta is a bit of a bargain generally, and the spicy version of the sedan—the Jetta GLI—especially so. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Americans just won't pay as much as Europeans will for spartan hatchbacks. But they do like sedans, which gave us the Jetta. Jonathan Gitlin
  • A six-speed manual Jetta GLI starts at $25,995. The one in the photos is a GLI Autobahn, which costs $29,995. Jonathan Gitlin
  • VW's stylists did a pretty decent job to graft a trunk onto the Golf, all things considered. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The Jetta's interior is let down by unsupportive seats. This is even less excusable given how good the seats are in a Golf GTI. Jonathan Gitlin
  • A Jetta is 17 inches longer than a Golf, and some of that shows up in the rear footwell. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Yes, your bum does look big in that. Jonathan Gitlin
  • This is what 14.1 cubic feet (400L) looks like. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The more expensive GLI comes with a fully digital main instrument display. Unlike the car we tested out West, this Autobahn model managed to beat the combined EPA fuel economy finding by 3mpg over a few hundred miles. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The display can be configured in a variety of different ways. Jonathan Gitlin
  • If you like big dials, you can have big dials. Jonathan Gitlin

How people react to a Volkswagen Golf GTI says a lot about whether or not they actually like cars. What's not to like? It's more sprightly, agile and quicker than the standard Golf, yet just as practical, reliable and nearly as efficient. It has defined the hot hatch for 40 years. Company executives will even describe it as "the soul of VW." But like it or not, mainstream America just doesn't do hatchbacks. So it's a good thing the GTI donates much of its formula to the Jetta equivalent, the GLI.

Being a four-door sedan, the Jetta GLI forgoes the Golf's hatch for a bit of elongation and a conventional trunk. The balance of goodness should be pretty equal among the sportier Jetta and Golf, especially since it's based on the same MQB car platform as the Golf.

And here's where the qualifiers begin. The car we tested here is the GLI S, as bargain basement as GLIs and certainly GTIs come, complete with disappointing material quality at the door panels, the dash and the gauges, the latter looking like the worst of the early 2000s VW gauges, which had more of a Fisher-Price than fein feel. (The photos are of a better-equipped GLI Autobahn they sent me in DC.)

The seats are another slight disappointment. VW has always fitted extremely well-bolstered and comfortable seats in its sporty models like GTIs and GLIs. And the competition, especially Honda, have caught up. Not so here. Instead of the great, firm sport seats from the GTI, the GLI gets softer, plusher seats from the Jetta SEL model, which are certainly comfortable, but not in the same sports league.

Perhaps buyers looking for bargains are less likely to value supportive, sporty seats, but I view this as a real miscalculation. You cannot drive the GLI without sitting in the driver's seat, so the GLI should have the best sporty VW seats in the warehouse. Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto) defuse the demerits of the poorer interior qualities. Other standard features include push-button start, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, LED high and low-beam headlights and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment screen.

Long on value

But you don't buy a Jetta because you're a splurge monster. You buy a Jetta because you get a lot of car for a little money. This GLI S we tested with the 7-speed DSG automatic transmission stickers at $27,985, including destination and $295 for the Pure Gray paint. (Again, the one in the photos is different.) The equivalent Golf GTI with the same drivetrain runs $29,590 (though Pure Gray paint is not available). This is an odd twist for the North American region that has traditionally viewed sedans as decidedly upmarket from hatchbacks. Advantage: GLI.

Compared to the standard Jetta, the GLI sits 0.6 incRead More – Source