2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Test Drive Review: Only If You Need A Trunk

by Jake Lingeman

VW is one of the few brands that won't let the sedan die, while the rest of the world moves to crossovers and SUVs, and still offers the Volkswagen Jetta GLI as its compact performance sedan. Yes, the Passat is dead after next year, but VW's humble Jetta will soldier on, probably breaking back into six figures worth of sales in this rebound year. The compact sedan nameplate gets a new grille and bumper, and new color and wheel options for the midcycle update, and we got a chance to take a spin in the hottest model, the GLI.

Not quite a Golf GTI clone, the GLI sports the same EA888 engine as its hatchback cousin, but the sedan makes only 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, as opposed to the 2022 GTI's 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. The Jetta GLI, which competes with the new Honda Civic Si, Kia K5 GT, and Hyundai Elantra N Line, feels one step behind the new Golf in tech, which is good, and one step behind the Golf in performance, which is less good. Let us explain why.

Read in this review:

  • Exterior Design 8 /10
  • Performance 9 /10
  • Fuel Economy 8 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 10 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 8 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 9 /10
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2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 2021 Jetta GLI?

For the 2022 model year, the Jetta GLI has received a few minor updates to keep it fresh. VW has updated the exterior with new bumpers front and rear, a revised color palette, and fresh wheel designs. The new honeycomb grille is also restyled. VW says that the wider dual exhaust system has "improved acoustics" this year. Inside, VW has equipped a new leather steering wheel with touch functions. The latest MIB3 infotainment system comes with an eight-inch touchscreen, and the brand's 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit is standard too. In terms of trims, last year's GLI S falls away - there is now just one GLI trim with two transmission choices.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros:
  • Perky performance
  • Good ride/handling balance
  • Spacious seating
  • Manual transmission still on offer
  • Improved infotainment system
  • Cons:
  • Over $4,000 pricier than last year's base model
  • New Honda Civic Si is cheaper, too
  • Still a bit plain to look at

Best Deals on 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
See All 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Trims and Specs

Handling and Driving Impressions

The refreshed Jetta rides on the company's excellent MQB platform, which underpins a bunch of other cars and crossovers with four-cylinder engines. Body rigidity is up, which helps both handling and ride. The GLI was always sharper than the basic sedan it was built on, and that's still true as we tested the sedan on North Carolina's amazing mountain roads.

The Jetta GLI has coil springs and an antiroll bar in front and a multilink rear suspension with gas-filled shocks tuned for sportier driving. The GLI sits about a half-inch lower than the regular Jetta too, and on the road that translates to quick changes of direction with minimal body roll. And it does soak up most of the crunched-up pavement around corners without affecting the steering adversely. VW's VAQ front limited-slip differential puts power to the outside wheel, shoving the driver through corners without understeer.

It has an electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup with a speed-sensitive ratio. That means at speed it firms up while maneuvers at slower speeds are lighter. The Blue Ridge Parkway and the surrounding roads keep a limit of about 45 mph, which means we felt a good bit of weight in the steering through the turns, though most of the road feel was tuned out. Still, it's a small car, which makes it easier to feel what the chassis is doing without having to get all of your information from the steering wheel.

The GLI comes standard with adaptive dampers, and modes for Eco, Comfort, and Sport, each changing the damping, throttle, and steering characteristics. We found Sport mode completely adequate for daily driving with the more sensitive throttle but without a lot of harshness from the suspension.

Verdict: Is the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI A Good car?

The Jetta GLI is the best Jetta to buy, hands down. The new 1.5-liter TSI engine in the standard Jetta is fine, but if you have a single enthusiast bone in your body, the GLI is the one to get. There's just no compromise. It doesn't get super stiff with massive tires and no suspension give, and the six-speed manual is one of the easiest gearboxes we've ever driven. If we were teaching someone how to drive a manual, this would be the car we'd use.

The GLI gets a little added spice with the red accents, inside and out - even non-car fans would be able to tell this isn't just a regular Jetta, which is good since these aren't particularly eye-catching designs. And, buyers won't even lose on utility: Jettas have enough space for up to five passengers, and more than 14 cubic feet of trunk space, before you fold the seats down.

The upcoming Civic Si will likely give the GLI a run for its money, as will some of the Hyundais. We'll note here that small cars these days are just so much better than they were a few decades ago. The Honda will be more fun to shift, but it will be down on power compared to the GLI. If you don't want a hatchback for some reason, and honestly you should want one, the Jetta GLI should be high on your list of test drives in the compact space.

Check out other Volkswagen Jetta Styles

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Comparisons

Honda Civic Si Sedan CarBuzz
Volkswagen Golf GTI Volkswagen

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs Honda Civic Si Sedan

A new Honda Civic Si has just landed, making this an intriguing match-up of sensible family sedans for the keener driver. The Civic Si isn't as powerful and produces 200 hp and 192 lb-ft from its turbocharged engine. Unlike the Jetta, the Civic is only offered with a manual transmission. We haven't driven the Civic Si yet but we expect it to be the slightly sharper sedan of the two, although the more powerful GLI is likely to be quicker. In terms of pricing, the Civic Si starts at around $3,700 less, although the Jetta GLI Autobahn is loaded with features. The Civic is a newer overall sedan so we wouldn't be surprised if it edges out the Jetta, and it comes with some nice tech like a large nine-inch touchscreen interface and a rev-matching system from the Civic Type R. These are both great performance sedans at a reasonable price, although we're inclined to side with the more affordable Civic Si at this point.

See Honda Civic Si Sedan Review

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

Although there is only one letter difference between the GLI and the GTI here, the Jetta and the Golf are quite different for 2022. Besides the addition of a trunk at the back, obviously. As before, the GTI will appeal to a more youthful clientele than the more conservative GLI. Despite being a hatchback, the GTI actually has a larger trunk than its sedan sibling. It's also a little cheaper and produces more power from its turbo engine with 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. This, together with its lighter weight, should make the GTI hatch even more fun to drive. Both cars come with the choice of a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Since these are performance cars aimed at the enthusiastic driver, and because the Golf sacrifices nothing in terms of practicality, it's the more exuberant GTI that gets our vote.

See Volkswagen Golf GTI Review
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