2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review: Uppercut From The Underdog

by Deiondre van der Merwe

Ever wondered what a Golf GTI in sedan form could accomplish? The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is that fantasy come to life. The GLI has always trailed behind the flagship Golf GTI models as a consolation prize for those who wanted a hot hatchback but didn't have the budget for it, but in many ways, this isn't a bad thing. Think of it as that song you always skip but one day you listen to it and realize it's actually damn good. It's VW's answer to the Kia Forte GT and the Honda Civic Si, but is that answer good enough? Well, the unsuspecting Volkswagen borrows its 228-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo from the GTI and also offers a manual option, making it viable to keep the GLI on your shopping list. Could this be the next big thing in the USA for performance enthusiasts? Maybe. It has an admirable amount of tech and comfort to offer and it's rather practical for an entry-level performance car, so at the outset, the GLI looks like a winner.

Read in this review:

8.9
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2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Jetta GLI?

The Jetta GLI for 2021 rolls over unchanged from 2020 aside from new safety features for the Autobahn trim that includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. A new infotainment system also appears on this trim in the form of the MIB3 Infotainment suite.

Pros and Cons

  • Engine more powerful than numbers suggest
  • Quick-shifting DSG transmission
  • Comfortable ride quality
  • Interior is spacious
  • Fully stocked with standard features
  • Option for a manual transmission
  • Not many additional packages
  • Missing a navigation system
  • Sedate exterior styling
  • Interior quality feels subpar

Best Deals on 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
S
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$26,345
Autobahn
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$30,745
See All 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Trims and Specs

2021 Jetta GLI Exterior

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Forward View CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI View Out Back CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Frontal Aspect CarBuzz
See All 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Exterior Photos

Dimensions

  • Length 185.2 in
  • Wheelbase 105.6 in
  • Height 56.8 in
  • Max Width 70.8 in
  • Front Width 60.7 in
  • Rear Width 60.4 in
  • Curb Weight 3,228.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

  • Pure Gray +$295
  • Pure Gray w/Black Roof +$295
  • Deep Black Pearl
  • Pure White
  • Pure White w/Black Roof
  • Tornado Red w/Black Roof
  • Tornado Red
  • Pyrite Silver Metallic

2021 Jetta GLI Performance

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Aft View CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Gauge Cluster CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Engine CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine
    2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Manual, 7-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Simply put, the Jetta GLI is fun wrapped up in a really unassuming package. From the outside, it looks like a reserved sedan that's designed to get the kids to school. The thing is, it'll do that and then some. Unlike the base Jetta's less sporty torsion-beam suspension, the GLI gets a firmer multi-link version that makes it far more suitable for a twisty road. That doesn't mean that it sacrifices any comfort though, the GLI still manages to boast a compliant ride. Optionally available adaptive dampers will also improve the GLI's approach to speedy shenanigans, keeping it firmly glued down in and out of the bends.

The GLI's best selling point is that it's a double-edged sword. It makes a cheeky Sunday drive a truly entertaining exercise but will gladly oblige if all you want is a relaxed road trip with the family. Is it as thrilling as the GTI? Maybe not, but it's damn close.

2021 Jetta GLI Interior

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Dashboard CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Front Chairs CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Instrument Board CarBuzz
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Seating and Interior Space

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 41.1 in
  • Front Head Room 38.5 in
  • Rear Leg Room 37.4 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.2 in

2021 Jetta GLI Trunk and Cargo Space

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Second-Row Seats CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Rear Passenger Seats Folded CarBuzz
2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Maximum Trunk Space CarBuzz
  • Trunk Volume
    14.1 ft³

2021 Jetta GLI Safety and Reliability

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    7 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Maintenance:
    2 Years \ 20,000 Miles

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Sedan a good car?

The Jetta GLI manages to shine despite the seriously tough competition it faces. Sure, it has its flaws. The trunk could be bigger and the fuel economy could be slightly better in comparison to rivals, but we're hard-pressed to find true flaws that turn us off. It comes with an asking price lower than the GTI's but offers many of the same attributes despite that.

The GLI has the most powerful motor out of all of its rivals and is notably quicker than all of them. And for that, it only asks for slightly more of your hard-earned money. It may not be the most exciting of its counterparts, but it's inarguably the most luxurious and delivers an excellent amount of standard tech and convenience items. It doesn't have the in-your-face styling of the Civic Si, but we take pleasure in the fact that the conservative-looking Jetta will leave the automotive equivalent of snapbacks and creatine supplements in the dust.

Check out other Volkswagen Jetta Styles

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Comparisons

Volkswagen Jetta Volkswagen
Honda Civic Si Sedan CarBuzz
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Volkswagen Jetta GLI228 hp26/37 mpg$31,295
Volkswagen Jetta 158 hp29/43 mpg$20,365
Honda Civic Si Sedan 200 hp27/37 mpg$27,500

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs Volkswagen Jetta

Given that they share a ton of DNA, there are some similarities between these two models from Volkswagen. Think of the Jetta as the GLI's less adventurous twin sister. The former will offer fewer standard features at a base level, but it's significantly less expensive than the GLI. The main difference between the two is that the GLI gets the 2.0-liter turbo from the Golf GTI and the regular Jetta relies on a 1.4-liter four-pot to get the job done. Additionally, the GLI gets performance multi-link rear suspension so it can handle whatever you throw it at. The interiors of the two not-so-sports cars also have their differences, with the GLI boasting red stitching and more premium materials. The better car for you will ultimately depend on whether you're shopping for. If you want an economical daily driver, get the Jetta, but if you want a performance car on a budget, G, L, and I are the three letters you need in your life.

See Volkswagen Jetta Review

2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs Honda Civic Si Sedan

The Civic Si is possibly the GLI's toughest rival. Both of them cost under $30k to start, but the Civic Si is cheaper at the base level than the Jetta. The Jetta has understated styling where the Civic Si has a far more aggressive appearance. In terms of interior quality, the GLI is superior, but the Si is a more spacious companion. Those who consider safety features a priority will find the Civic more attractive as it offers more driver-assist tech throughout its lineup. However, on the performance front, the GLI's 228-hp 2.0-liter is more powerful than the Civic Si's 1.5-liter unit that produces 205 horsepower, and the the Jetta will reach 60 mph quicker from a standstill. Still, the Civic is a little more fun to drive. It's a close race that'll likely come down to brand preference, so we recommend a test drive of each.

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