2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review

Volkswagen’s Sport Sedan Soldiers On

The sixth-generation Volkswagen Jetta could be the most tinkered with car in recent memory.

Since its introduction, the Jetta has received significant updates nearly every year. Compared to the 2012 version, the 2016 Jetta could almost qualify as an all-new generation.

Engines, suspension components, the interior and the exterior have all been overhauled in the car’s short life. For 2016, the changes continue with regular Jettas receiving a new base engine. But Volkswagen didn’t stop there. The top-of-the-line, sporty GLI also receives updates for 2016.

Just one year after the entire Jetta lineup’s styling was refreshed, the GLI’s exterior is further tweaked for 2016. The changes may be subtle, but the treatment around the fog lights, smoked tail lights and trunk mounted rear spoiler really do add an aggressive look to the car without going too far.


Mechanically Unaltered

At the heart of the GLI is a TSFI 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It was given a power bump a few years ago and now produces 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. As the numbers suggest, power is good but doesn’t feel as robust as it once did – blame it on a lot of compact competitors increasing power and torque recently.

SEE ALSO: 2012 VW Jetta GLI Autobahn Review

Although the engine is essentially the same as the one found in the Golf GTI, lacking the same torque figure, it doesn’t feel as responsive and powerful in the Jetta. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of power for the class and the GLI is quick, but the GTI’s immediacy in acceleration is absent here.

What isn’t absent is a nice, meaty engine note. Noise is fed into the cabin through the resonator tube connected to the GLI’s intake. It emits a nice note, but that’s more to do with the way the tube distorts the sound than the engine itself. Inside, it sounds like a cross between a five-cylinder engine and the rumble from a Subaru boxer with offset exhaust headers.


Performance-Minded Transmission Choices

Paired to the 2.0-liter TFSI engine is a choice of six-speed transmissions. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automatic is available. Although many enthusiasts will prefer the manual, the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) improves the performance of the car and adds the proper capability to a performance sedan over a CVT or regular automatic. It’s also one of the best applications of DCT in a front-wheel-drive car.

At speed, gear changes are quick and precise, while downshifts happen with abrupt authority. In low speed maneuvers around the city or in traffic, it’s less than smooth and there can be a bit of a delay as the clutches cycle through the gears.

It’s also the more efficient transmission choice, as it’s officially rated to 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. During my week with the car, I averaged 26.4 mpg, which isn’t bad for the way I was driving. And a little added bonus is that the GLI can run on regular gas, but the official power figures are achieved using premium fuel.


More Mature Than Maniacal

The GLI is available in two trims, with the higher-priced SEL model wearing 225/40R18 tires. All GLIs come with larger 12.3-inch front brake rotors compared to regular Jettas and weigh in around 3,194 lbs. Ride comfort is on the stiff side since this is a performance sedan, but it still wholly livable.

The GLI always felt like a four-door alternative to the Mark VI Golf GTI. It had many of the same reflexes, driving characteristics and performance of that car. The new GTI though, now based on the MQB platform, is so much better in every way that it makes the GLI feel less special and even a step behind. The Jetta feels more like a mature compact sedan that can handle its own in the corners than an all-out performance sedan. Of course, when the Jetta goes to the MQB platform, that should all change.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Review

Still, handling remains great for a compact sedan. The Honda Civic Si was the GLI’s most natural competitor, but it’s on hiatus as we wait for a new model to arrive. That just leaves the all-wheel drive Subaru WRX as its main competitor, and with the exception of all-out acceleration, it can match the WRX move for move. The Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen own GTI are more engaging, but then again, they are both hatchbacks.


The Verdict: 2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review

The 2016 Volkswagen GLI SE starts at $27,740 after destination charges, while a fully loaded GLI SEL like I tested comes in at $31,200. That puts it right on top of a loaded up Ford Focus ST, but there’s no automatic transmission available for that car. A loaded up, automatic transmission Subaru WRX does offer all-wheel drive and a few more driver assist features, but it clocks in at $36,485.

That leaves the GLI well-priced in a very small, niche sub-class. And, of course, that sum nets an upgraded interior over lesser Jettas, new-for-2016 technology like Apple CarPlay and Volkswagen’s MIB II infotainment unit, and one of the most spacious compacts on the market.

In 2016, the Volkswagen GLI may not be a four-door GTI, but it’s still a well-equipped, fun to drive mature compact car.

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