2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI new car reviews

"A Rabbit with a trunk." That's what the Jetta was quickly dubbed when it first arrived on the scene in 1979. Is that still true for the 2020 Jetta GLI?

Looking at the numbers, it's hard not to agree: The Jetta and GTI both share Volkswagen Group's MBQ platform. Both are powered by a 228-horsepower, turbocharged inline-four, and either can be had with a six-speed manual or seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

What sets the two apart? Well, according to the spec sheets, the Jetta GLI–that’s the sportier version of the Jetta–comes with slightly smaller rear brake discs and the GTI is about 100 pounds lighter—you know, because of a lack of a trunk. What sets them apart in the real world? You'll have to read the full review to find out.

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J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

If you want to know how I feel about the Jetta GLI, go read my GTI review, then dial everything back by 10%. That’s the Jetta. When viewed on its own, it’s a near-world-class sports sedan with a great motor and a great chassis. When viewed in the context of the GTI—with which it shares a chassis, engine, brakes, differential and tuning—the parts don’t seem to add up to their greater-than-the-sum total that they do with the GTI.

Which is kind of a bummer, because the Jetta is pretty awesome. The 55 series tires (vs 50 series on the GTI) produce little less immediacy from the steering, but also a little less edginess. The seats are a little less supportive, but they’re also a little easier to slide into and slide out of. So, I don’t know, everything about the Jetta kind of rules, but the GTI just sort of overshadows it with goodness.

Interestingly enough, our Jetta test car was equipped with a six-speed, vs the DSG of the GTI. While the Jetta’s three-pedal manual box was nice enough by modern standards, the DSG was just as satisfying and fun to drive. Sure we lament the death of the stick shift, but maybe it’s not worth lamenting when there are better ways to do the job?

But, look, I really don’t want this to come off as slamming the Jetta, because it’s an objectively good car. Like the GTI, it is a truly premium experience at a comparatively modest price these days among premium German sedans. And 228hp—which like the GTI, feels criminally underrated—and world-class braking power and feel are just as present in the Jetta as they are in the GTI. The Jetta also gains some trunk space, although it loses cargo area height compared to the hatchback GTI, and while both back seats seem to have similar legroom, the headroom in the Jetta is tighter than the GTI thanks to the tall hatchback roof of the GTI.

So, bottom line, the Jetta GLI is a great car, that may only be surpassed by another car sitting right across the showroom from it.

Chris Tropea ChrisTropea
Associate Editor

I really wanted to like the Jetta GLI since, on paper, it is so similar to the GTI. A 228-horsepower sedan with a manual transmission and DNA from one of the best hot hatches sounded like a recipe for greatness, but the GLI left me wanting more. To me, where the GTI felt like a fun and sporty car you could daily drive, the GLI felt like a regular sedan that Volkswagen slapped some go-fast parts on.

That is not totally a bad thing, though, as the GLI is an extremely nice car that offers some great performance capabilities. The manual transmission shifted smoothly and was a blast to drive, plus it had a few premium features that I was not expecting like cooled seats, a fully digital dash and a BeatsAudio system. The Jetta even had the same limited-slip differential and brakes from the GTI. However, the interior lacked the same premium-feeling materials that could be found in the GTI.

One thing that I did not expect was just how much space you get in the Jetta. The trunk offered more storage than what was available behind the seats in the 5 door GTI and the back seats offer slightly more legroom, making the Jetta slightly more practical than the GTI.

If you are in the market for a sporty sedan with a manual transmission the 2020 Jetta GLI should be on your list to take for a test drive.

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