While other carmakers ditch their cars for crossovers, VW fights back with a saucier front-drive Jetta sedan—the GLI. VW’s chef added sports-car RDA to the GLI stock pot. The healthy ingredients include a lusty 228-hp, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; a six-speed manual or seven-speed direct-shift gearbox; an independent rear suspension; 18-inch wheels clad sporting donuts; supportive seats and beefier front brakes.
The result is delicious. Your hands and feet enjoy what they control. This Jetta’s firm ride thumps on choppy pavement, although big dips don’t punch through. Brakes are firm. There’s launch control. Follow a NASA-like launch checklist, then press left foot on brake pedal and then mash the right pedal. Hear it grunt? Let go of the brakes. Tires chirp and then the Jetta gets serious. Boom! You’ve hit 60 mph in about six seconds.
Hop in. The cockpit has soft-touch materials, red stitching, carbon fiber-look inserts and piano-black plastics. VW shaved pfennigs. Only the left heated-and-chilled front throne has adjustable height or lumbar. A two-height front-center armrest covers a bin with USB port. A 12-volt socket and USB port wired to the infotainment system reside ahead of the shift lever, near a phone bin. Rear room is generous but door cards are hard plastic.
The GLI’s Digital Cockpit is a bright multi-purpose display. The flat-bottom direction finder’s switchgear is thoughtful. Play them like a Bosendorfer competition. One button depicts a car amid broken arcs. This summons the driver assist menu for blind spot, forward collision and rear traffic alert.
Before stirring the Jetta’s pot, tap the drive-mode switch. Eco allows you coast with reduced engine braking. Sport lets the engine rev higher before upshifting, and generates more engine braking. Steering effort is greater, too. An engine start/stop system cuts idling emissions.
This swift Jetta simmers quietly. It loafs at about 1500 rpm at 60 climbing to about 1800 rpm at 70 mph. VW’s electro-mechanical power steering is precise with good road sense. On twisty byways, the GLI complies, as if VW buttered this skillet.
I observed 31 mpg overall. EPA ratings: 25 city, 32 highway and 28 combined drinking regular.
A GLI Autobahn lists for about $31,185, which includes a sunroof. With its chilled seats, you can drive the hot one while keeping your backside cool. You might say that’s cooking with gas.