Volkswagen of America has just unveiled the 2016 Jetta GLI, an updated version of what the German company describes as the sedan equivalent of the Golf GTI. Having received a 10-horsepower increase, minor changes to equipment levels, and a special-edition trim level celebrating 30 years of the GLI in 2014, the performance-oriented Jetta was further enhanced for the 2016 model year.

Already one of the better-equipped models in its class, the Jetta GLI gained even more standard features, as well as a number of upscale features on the more expensive SEL trim. Volkswagen claims the GLI has been developed to offer a "compelling blend of value, performance and practicality," but while customers will indeed get to enjoy both performance and practicality with this sedan, value isn’t one of its highlights.

Be that as it may, the Jetta GLI is likely to remain a popular choice among customers looking for Golf GTI-like performance with more passenger and cargo room. The enhanced appearance and the added features should contribute to its success, but this statement will only be validated by the number of customers that will walk into dealerships for a 2016 model year GLI.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

Exterior

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Much like last year’s model, the 2016 Jetta GLI takes most of its sporty cues from its hatchback cousin, the Golf GTI. However, the update brings significant changes front and rear, which make the 2016 GLI more aggressive than its predecessor. While the headlamps are carried over from the previous model, the grille is slightly larger and incorporates the Golf GTI’s trademark red stripe. Additionally, a black stripe runs through the center of the grille, setting it apart from GTIs. The grille retains its honeycomb layout.

While the headlamps are carried over from the previous model, the grille is slightly larger and incorporates the Golf GTI's trademark red stripe.

More changes are visible below, where Volkswagen modified the shape of the bumper grille, as well as the fog lamps, and the black ornaments around it. The previous vertical fog lamps have been replaced by horizontal ones, while the black inserts are smaller, giving the bumper a sportier appearance. The bumper grille also carries a honeycomb mesh.

Around back, the GLI sports redesigned LED taillights, a reshaped trunk lid, and a new bumper design that incorporates a diffuser-like piece and a pair of chrome exhaust tips. Both the SE and SEL trim levels now benefit from 18-inch, Mallory design, aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped in either standard all-season tires or optional summer performance tires.

The SEL model gets standard Bi-Xenon headlamps with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, which swivels the main headlight beams by up to 15 percent as the steering wheel is turned to help illuminate bends in the road more effectively.

Interior

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Interior
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Note: 2012-2015 VW Jetta GLI interior shown.

Volkswagen has yet to release photos of the updated interior, but it did say the 2016 GLI comes with the new MIB 2 infotainment system with USB and Car-Net connectivity. Standard features include keyless access with push-button start, automatic dual-zone climate control, heated seats, six-way power driver seat, a Fender premium audio system, a sunroof, a rearview camera, and front/rear Park Distance Control. The GLI also gets Volkswagen’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking system as standard, which brakes automatically when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors.

When the SEL trim is selected, the GLI receives standard Blind Spot Detection with rear traffic alert, a navigation system, Bi-Xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, and Homelink. These features can also be added as options to the SE trim.

Drivetrain

Motivating the 2016 Jetta GLI is the same turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder TSI engine found in the Golf GTI. The four-pot cranks out 210 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, 51 pound-feet less than the GTI, and mates to either a six-speed manual or Volkswagen’s trademark DSG gearbox. Sprinting from 0 to 60 mph takes about 6.7 seconds, making it a half-second slower than the Golf GTI.

Fuel economy is estimated at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, the lowest rating of the Jetta lineup. For reference, the 1.8T Sport returns 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, while the TDI diesel model is good for 31 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. The Jetta GLI is also less efficient than the Golf GTI, which returns an estimated 25 mpg city and the 34 mpg highway.

Prices

There’s no pricing information as of this writing, but the updated Jetta GLI shouldn’t be significantly more expensive than last year’s model. For 2015, the SE trim starts from $26,920, while the SEL variant retails from $29,280.

Competition

Ford Focus Sedan

2015 Ford Focus Sedan High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Even though it is not available in ST trim, which would make it more suitable for the Jetta GLI, the Focus sedan can be had with a 2.0-liter four-banger rated at 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Granted, it’s not as quick and exotic as the GTI-inspired Jetta, but it does come with many advantages.

First, it returns significantly better mileage. When equipped with the five-speed manual, the Focus sedan is good for 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, while the six-speed automatic will bring you up to 27 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. Second, it’s less expensive, which leaves room for plenty of optional extras. For the price of a base Jetta GLI, you can have the Focus in Titanium trim and options such as the Graphics Package, Technology Package, power moonroof, Navigation with My Ford Touch Package, leather seats, and the dual DVD rear-seat entertainment system. You can also throw in the Ruby Red paint option for a flashier exterior.

If performance is what interests you most, then you’re better off with the Focus ST hatch, priced from $24,370.

Find our more about the Focus Sedan here and the Focus ST here.

Subaru WRX

2015 - 2016 Subaru WRX Exterior
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The Subaru WRX illustrates that there are much sportier vehicles for the price of a Jetta GLI out there. Priced from $26,295, or about as much as a GLI SE, the WRX comes in a hotter package that includes a 2.0-liter boxer engine rated at 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Mated to either a six-speed manual or a CVT, as well as Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system, the WRX takes less than six seconds to hit 60 mph, making it one of the quickest compact sedans under $30,000.

You could argue that the Jetta has the nicer and better-equipped interior, but it all depends on what you really need. If performance is first on your list, it’s hard to say no to the WRX. More so given this Japanese sedan has plenty of WRC heritage on its side, whereas the Jetta feels like a less-potent sedan version of the Golf GTI.

Read more about the Subaru WRX in our detailed review here.

Conclusion

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Exterior
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If you’re looking for a compact that’s lively, well-equipped, comfortable, and can provide more space than a hatch, than the Jetta GLI could be one of the best options in the U.S. right now. On the other hand, if your checklist includes a more driver-focused experience, better handling, and quicker acceleration, you should look somewhere else. Pricing is yet another issue with the Jetta GLI, as for the same amount you can take home a Ford Focus ST or a Subaru WRX.

  • Leave it
    • Expensive
    • Not as quick and nimble as the Subaru WRX

Press Release

Today, Volkswagen of America unveiled the 2016 Jetta GLI, the sedan equivalent of the Golf GTI. Equipped with a specially tuned sport suspension and the same 210-horsepower, 2.0-literTSI® turbocharged and direct-injection EA888 four-cylinder engine as the Golf GTI, the GLI offers a compelling blend of value, performance and practicality.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI High Resolution Exterior
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For 2016, the GLI gets a bold new look highlighted by an aggressive front fascia that incorporates a honeycomb grille and foglights, along with a new rear bumper design that has a diffuser and a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts. All 2016 Jetta GLI models have 18-inch Mallory design aluminum-alloy wheels, shod with standard all-season tires or optional summer performance tires.

Inside, 2016 GLI models benefit from the new MIB 2 infotainment system that incorporates the full suite of USB and Car-Net connectivity. The well-equipped SE model sports LED tail-lights, Keyless access with push-button start, Climatronic® automatic dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, 6-way power driver seat, a rearview camera, front and rear Park Distance Control, the award-winning Fender® Premium Audio System, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, and heated seats.

The GLI SEL adds a number of upscale features, including Blind Spot Detection with rear traffic alert, a navigation system, Bi-Xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, and Homelink®. The AFS system swivels the main headlight beams by up to 15 percent as the steering wheel is turned to help illuminate bends in the road more effectively at speeds of more than 6 mph.

A new standard feature on the 2016 Jetta GLI is Volkswagen’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking system. This builds on the premise that a collision is rarely a single, instantaneous action, but rather a series of events that follow the initial impact—the most significant of which can cause additional collisions. The Automatic Post-Collision Braking system addresses this by applying the brakes when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, thus helping reduce residual kinetic energy and, in turn, the chance of additional damage.

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