The Golf GTI in sedan form is back and it has 18 more horsepower than before

Volkswagen finally took the wraps off the seventh-generation Volkswagen Jetta GLI, eight years after the previous Jetta GLI also debuted at the Chicago Auto Show. The 2019 model comes with the same 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque engine as the Golf GTI Rabbit Edition plus upgraded suspension and a six-speed manual as the standard gearbox.

The Jetta A7-based GLI wasn’t really Volkswagen’s best-kept secret. We knew since last summer that it would get the engine from the Golf GTI hot hatch and, judging by the sneak preview Volkswagen offered us a couple of days ago, it was clear that the German automaker wasn’t about to unleash a bonkers-looking sedan. Then again, Germans aren’t the ones you should expect surprises from, but that doesn’t mean the Jetta GLI is boring, at least not by looking at all this package has to offer.

The 2019 Jetta GLI is an attempt to see if there’s still a place for sporty compact sedans

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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One year after introducing the seventh generation of the venerable Jetta, Volkswagen shows us the meanest version yet known as GLI. As was the case with the previous Jetta GLI, Volkswagen chose the Chicago Auto Show as the place to launch it, further underlining the importance of the U.S. market for this model that goes as far back as the fifth generation Jetta which was launched at the L.A. Auto Show in January of 2005.

Let’s first discuss what goes on on the outside.

In the front, the now blacked out hexagonal grille is crossed by the typical GTI-style red line.

In the past, this line was placed along the bottom edge of the grille but now it crosses right down the middle. The LED headlights with their C-shaped running lights and indicators tossed to the outer corners are identical to those on any other run of the mill Jetta.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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What’s new is down below as the three intakes in the bumper feature a honeycomb mesh grille and dark accents along the outline of the two smaller fake intakes that flank the main one. Like on other Jettas, the main grille is framed by a floating bar painted in the color of the bodywork the difference being that the bottom of the front bumper receives a black lip.

The GLI comes with unique 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with unequal rims.

These sit in front of the same discs as seen on the Golf R. They feature red calipers and, up front, they measure 13.4 inches in diameter. Besides the sporty wheels, the menacing stance is enhanced by a 0.6-inch lower ride height compared to the standard Jetta. The profile of the car is, otherwise, left largely untouched although keen-eyed viewers will notice the subtle side skirts and the red styling element in front of the front doors with the GLI logo placed on a red background.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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In the rear, the Jetta GLI has a finned diffuser with exhaust tips coming out at both ends. The typical LED taillights sit below a profiled trunk lid with a tiny spoiler added on top of it. Volkswagen tells us that there will also be a 35th-anniversary edition GLI which will come with "unique black wheels with a red stripe, a black roof, black mirror caps, black tail spoiler, and 35th anniversary badging inside and out," according to the press release. It’s the same trick they pulled with the previous GLI that was also available - in 2014 - in the 30th-anniversary trim. That model had 18-inch ’Laguna’ aluminum-alloy wheels, extra red detailing, a bigger spoiler on the trunk lid, a ton of red touches inside as well as some fake carbon fiber trim pieces and a bucketload of unique logos.

Moving inside the cabin, there’s everything you would expect from a sporty version like this one is: you get red stitching on the steering wheel, gear shifter, and even the armrest. If you go for the comfort sport seats instead of the standard cloth ones, you’ll get red stitching on those too. To make the red pop out, the interior of the Jetta GLI is black.

The 35th-anniversary model comes with specially labeled kickplates and flag logos on the seats.

While these don’t really matter, what matters is that you get some stuff that is optional on lesser Jettas like keyless entry, heated seats, push-button start, and rain-sensing wipers.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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As you’d expect, the infotainment system with its App-Connect feature is compatible with Apple Car Play, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. A sunroof, the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit display with special GLI graphics, the 400-watt BeatsAudio system, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net connected vehicle service are among the things featured on the options list. However, you do get key standard safety tech such as forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with front assist, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, and the automatic post-collision braking system.

Now, as we’ve got everything out of the way and dealt with, let’s delve into the performance of the GLI.

First off, the engine, a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine with 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on tap.

That’s 41 more pound-feet of torque than on the previous Jetta GLI beside the extra 18 ponies. The power is sent to the front wheels, which have an electronically-controlled limited-slip diff, through a six-speed manual although a seven-speed DSG automatic is also available and comes with the fuel-saving start/stop feature.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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The suspension itself is independent all around with struts in the front and a multi-link architecture in the back. The 35th-anniversary model boasts with the DCC adaptive damping system. A Driving Mode selection system is standard on this car and you can choose between ’Normal,’ ’Sport,’ ’Eco,’ and ’Custom’ all of which are self-explanatory. The Sport mode makes the car stiffen and sharpen up, the Eco one tinkers with the shift times and even the climate control to save fuel and, in Custom, you call the shots. A ’Comfort’ model is available on the anniversary edition.

Volkswagen didn't tell us how expensive the GLI will be but what we do know is that it will be in showrooms in a few month's time as it's a 2019 model year car, not 2020.

Looking back, the previous GLI had an MSRP of $27,895 which made it more expensive at the time than a Focus ST which only cost $24,775. Right now, the most expensive Jetta, namely the SEL Premium, starts at $27,695. For that money, you get an 8-inch infotainment screen inside and only 147 horsepower from a 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine. Expect the GLI to ve $2,000-$3,000 more expensive and the 35th-anniversary pricier than that.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI emerges with extra power, clever suspension
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The question that must be answered is: Should you pay about $30,000 for a Jetta? Well, right now, there aren’t too many direct competitors to the Jetta GLI. The Impreza with the 2.0-liter engine only makes 152 horsepower and Toyota is sluggish with the supposedly-in-the-works Corolla TRD. However, there’s the Hyundai Elantra Sport. It costs only $20,600, packs 201 horsepower from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine, and has a multi-link rear suspension, 18-inch wheels and plenty safety features. It’s almost 30 horsepower off the Jetta but for almost $10,000 less we think you can give up on those and enjoy the pocket money instead.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI specifications

Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection EA888 TSI®
Horsepower 228 HP
Torque 258 LB-FT
Transmission six-speed manual (standard) /seven- speed DSG (optional)

Further reading

2019 Volkswagen Jetta Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.

2017 Volkswagen GLI - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Read our driven review on the 2017 Volkswagen GLI.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta.

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