The newest generation of the venerable Volkswagen Jetta sedan arrived for 2019, larger and roomier than before as it moves to the German automaker’s new MQB global vehicle architecture.
There’s also the separately marketed Jetta GLI variant, billed as a sport sedan, which comes with some performance upgrades that differentiate it from the standard Jetta, even though it’s mostly the same vehicle.
This is the 35th year of the GLI model, so VW has rolled out a special GLI 35th Anniversary Edition ($26,995/manual; $27,795/automatic), which we tested for this report.
GLI models begin with the S model ($25,995 manual/$26,795 automatic), and there is a top-end version, the Autobahn ($29,195/$29,995).
For the regular and GLI models, there are new exterior designs, completely upgraded interiors and more state-of-the-art safety and connectivity technology that is either standard or available.
The newest Jetta comes with a sculpted design similar to that of the larger Passat sedan, and it has a longer wheelbase, wider track, and bigger wheels.
Five regular Jetta trim levels are offered, beginning with the S model (base price $18,745 plus $895 freight), followed by the SE ($22,395), R-Line ($23,245), SEL ($24,695) and the top-of-the-line SEL Premium ($27,695).
The regular Jetta comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine carried over from the 2018 Jetta, producing 147 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds torque. It’s connected to either a new six-speed manual transmission (on the S model) or an eight-speed automatic, which is available on the S model and standard on higher trims
But the GLI model kicks up the Jetta’s performance with a turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder engine rated at 228 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. It’s connected to either the standard six-speed manual gearbox or the optional seven-speed direct-shift (DSG) automatic.
Our 35th Anniversary tester came with the manual, but I would highly recommend paying the extra $800 for the DSG transmission, which makes this car much easier and more fun to drive. I found the brake and clutch pedals to be too close together for my big size 13 feet, and the stainless-steel-trimmed pedals were too slick for the soles of my shoes.
The EPA fuel-economy ratings for the GLI are the same with the manual or automatic – 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined. That compares with 30 city/40 highway/34 combined with the 1.4-liter engine and either the six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission of the regular Jetta.
Other performance-oriented features of the GLI include a limited-slip differential, the brakes from the Golf R model, a multi-link independent rear suspension, and progressive variable-ratio power steering
Styling cues that differentiate the GLI model from the standard Jetta include 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, aggressive front and rear bumpers, a black honeycomb grille, side skirts, a rear spoiler, dual chrome exhaust outlets, and special “GLI 35” badges on the front fenders.
Our 35th Anniversary Edition GLI came with unique dark gray 18-inch wheels with a red stripe around the outer rim; DCC adaptive damping; front and rear LED lighting; 10-color ambient lighting; keyless entry and pushbutton start; dual-zone automatic climate control; Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist); Blind Spot Monitor; and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
Besides its sport suspension, the GLI is 0.6 inches lower than the regular Jetta, and there is a lower front spoiler and larger air intake.
Standard are LED projector headlights, LED daytime running lights and side-mirror turn signals; LED taillights; a red accent stripe; and unique lower side skirts. There is also special black window trim instead of chrome, a rear spoiler, and rear GLI badge.
The 35th Anniversary Edition also gets a black roof, black mirror caps, and a black rear spoiler.
GLI models include a black interior with red stitching on the cloth seats of the S and 35th anniversary models and leather seats of the Autobahn version, as well as on the steering wheel, shifter, armrest and floormats.
There is diamond flag décor trim, a black headliner, the stainless-steel pedal trim and a leather-wrapped sport multifunction steering wheel. DSG transmission versions have paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel.
Other premium features standard on the GLI include automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and heated front seats.
Our 35th Anniversary Edition came with “GLI 35” interior décor, seat tags, floormats, and sill kickplates. There are six-way manually adjustable front sport bucket seats, and a 10-color LED ambient interior lighting system is standard on all GLI models.
There’s a bunch more power from the 2.0-liter engine, compared with the 1.4-liter four-cylinder in the Jetta SE model we recently drove. This certainly gave the GLI a much sportier feel, and worked wonders on the twisty mountain roads we found to give the Jetta GLI a worthy workout.
Handling is crisp and sure, and correspondingly, the ride of the GLI is a bit harsh compared with that of the regular Jetta. The rear seat offered decent headroom and legroom for regular-size adults, and three can be accommodated, but it’s much more comfortable for two.
As for the standard Jetta models, the SEL Premium has luxury features such as navigation and leather seats with front ventilation and driver’s side memory.
For just a little more than the price of the SE model, the R-Line brings sportier styling, exclusive interior and exterior design elements, R-Line badges and the XDS electronic differential.
The new Jetta has a coupe-like profile, with a shorter front overhang and sloping rear roofline. Its longer wheelbase brings more space to the cabin, which makes passengers more comfortable.
As with most other manufacturers’ “compact” sedans these days, the Jetta continues to grow, giving it the interior volume of some midsize cars. There is more headroom, knee room, and shoulder room than the previous generation.
The trunk has 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space, and 60/40 split-folding rear seats allow for expansion of that space for bulky items.
Versions with the automatic transmission have a stop-start system designed to improve fuel efficiency. It stops the engine during idle when the brake pedal is depressed and held, and restarts the engine instantly when the brake is released.
New exterior features include a front end anchored by a distinctive trapezoidal radiator grille and standard LED headlights.
The grille has four chrome bars, two of which flow into the headlight housings where the LEDs pick up the lines and connect them for a wrap-around effect, the company noted.
The intent was to give the car a strong face, Volkswagen said, with the combination of headlight and grille in one shape for a wide look.
Among other new exterior features are extended side windows and an “offset” roofline, a narrow strip that runs parallel to the actual roofline and into the C-pillar to visually reduces the car’s height, the automaker said.
A carved arrow-shaped character line runs along the side of the body under the doors, tapering toward the rear. Wheel arches and side sills add to the overall muscular design.
The rear end features an arched trailing edge, which merges into the trunk lid, where there is a new integrated spoiler. Also at the rear are new LED taillights. The body’s sleek design gives the new Jetta a 0.27 coefficient of drag, which helps boost fuel economy.
The interior components are all new, with instruments and the infotainment system arranged along a “driver-oriented visual and control axis,” VW says.
Some of the trapezoidal elements from the exterior are replicated inside the car, and there are premium materials throughout the cabin to help give it an upscale look and feel.
The dash can accommodate the available Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, combining it with the infotainment system into a single trapezoidal unit. The climate system’s controls are in a separate module on the center console A rearview camera is standard.
Also standard across the model line is the electric powered rack-and-pinion steering system, with variable assist. Disc brakes are standard, with 11.5-inch vented discs at the front and 10.8-inch solid discs at the rear. A disc drying feature helps with wet-weather braking. There is an electronic parking brake.
The Jetta also comes with Volkswagen’s six-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper new vehicle warranty, which can be transferred to subsequent owners throughout its duration.
There were no options added to our Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition model, which came in the beautiful Tornado Red exterior color with the GLI black roof and Titan Black cloth interior. Total sticker price was $27,890, including freight.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
The package: Compact, four-door, five-passenger, turbocharged four-cylinder, gasoline-powered, front-wheel-drive sport sedan.
Highlights: The Volkswagen Jetta GLI sport sedan moves into its sixth generation for 2019 with an all-new design and chassis, marking its 35th anniversary as a sub-brand of the Jetta compact sedan. It’s fun to drive, has a peppy turbo engine, and has the option of a manual or direct-shift automatic transmission.
Negatives: Ride is harsher than that of the regular Jetta.
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline.
Transmission: Six-speed manual (standard); seven-speed direct-shift automatic ($800 option).
Power/torque: 228 HP./258 foot-pounds.
Length: 185.2 inches.
Curb weight: 3,217 pounds (manual); 3,274 (automatic).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Trunk volume: 14.1 cubic feet.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, standard.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 13.2 gallons/unleaded regular (premium fuel recommended for best performance).
EPA fuel economy range: 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined.
Base price range: $25,995-$29,995, plus $895 freight.
Price as tested: $27,890, including freight, no options (Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition/manual).
On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.