This battle mainly depends on what you value in a performance car.
If you have between $25,000 to $30,000 to spend on a high-performance sedan, the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Jetta GLI are compelling choices for car enthusiasts on a budget. CarBuzz recently had the chance to review the 2020 versions of the Civic Si and Jetta GLI nearly back-to-back so wanted to compare these two excellent performance sedans to help you make an appropriate buying decision.
Choosing a winner will be difficult because the two cars are eerily similar, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The final say will likely come down to personal taste but here is how the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Jetta GLI stack up.
The Civic Si and Jetta GLI have markedly different designs. The 10th generation Civic is an extravert with sharp, aggressive lines that some people have described as being overdesigned. The Jetta, on the other hand, flies well below the radar like a grey suit. VW has given the GLI a few aggressive nods like a red accent stripe on the grille and red Flitzers (those little badges on the fenders), but the styling feels reserved for a vehicle with this level of performance chops. We tend to favor the Civic's bold design but see why someone might prefer the Jetta.
Neither car is a loser in terms of cabin design, though the two differ in a few key areas. The GLI is no slouch with regards to storage space up front, but the Si is on a different level. It features a massive center console with adjustable cupholders that conveniently stay out of the way of the manual gear lever. Both cars feature an additional storage tray in front of the shifter, but the Civic's has two tiers to fit more items.
The GLI scores some points back in material quality, though. It features more premium trim throughout the cabin, and unlike the Si, which only comes with cloth, the GLI Autobahn trim includes heated/ventilated leather seats. That being said, we found the Si's cloth seats to have better bolstering, which helps hold you in place during fast cornering.
Buyers that value convenience over safety technology will prefer the GLI. While its base 6.5-inch touchscreen is pretty lackluster, the optional eight-inch unit is far more advanced, intuitive to use, and features Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard. Plus, the Autobahn trim gets VW's crisp Virtual Cockpit display, which replaces the gauges with a 10.3-inch display. By comparison, the Si's standard seven-inch touchscreen feels slower with lower resolution. It also lacks a physical tuning knob, which is annoying.
If you put a greater emphasis on safety, the Civic's standard suite of HondaSensing technologies is unmatched. The Si includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, hill-start assist, automatic high beams, and a blind-spot camera all as standard equipment. The GLI gets forward-collision warning, a post-collision braking system, blind-spot monitoring, and rear traffic alert as-standard, but adaptive cruise control is not available until the 2021 model year.
Both the Civic and Jetta sit on the larger end of the compact sedan spectrum, doing wonders for their overall practicality. The two cars offer an identical 37.4 inches of rear legroom, which is close to the legroom offered in midsize options like the Toyota Camry. In the trunks, the Civic edges the Jetta slightly with 14.7 cubic feet of space compared to 14.1 cubic feet. Both are remarkably frugal as well, with the Si rated at a stellar 26/36/30 mpg city/highway/combined and the GLI lagging just behind at 25/33/28 mpg.
Up until now, the comparison between the Civic Si and Jetta GLI has been a back-and-forth. But with regards to performance, it's now time for the GLI to lay a smackdown. The Civic Si is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing an admirable 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque going out to the front wheels. The GLI's 2.0-liter four-banger is far gutsier with 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque also going to the front wheels. Honda only offers the Civic Si with a six-speed manual while VW also offers a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch.
No matter which transmission you opt for, the GLI will crush the Si in a drag race. The GLI takes just 5.8 seconds to hit 60 mph (5.6 with the DSG) compared to 6.6 seconds in the Si. These figures don't tell the full story, however. The Si has a trump card... its transmission.
Both cars are fun to drive but we found ourselves having a bit more enjoyment in the slower Civic. This could be partially due to the Civic's low curb weight of 2,906 lbs, which is significantly lower than the GLI's 3,217-lbs weight. The Si not only feels lighter, it feels tighter as well. VW models, even ones with a performance focus, tend to have light, dainty controls that feel solid if not a bit boring. By comparison, Honda has tuned the Si to be more responsive and more communicative to the driver. The shifter design of the two manual transmissions creates the biggest rift in our minds. Honda's shifter feels notchy and precise while VW's shifter feels too light with throws that are too long.
If we could only choose one for a backroad blast, it would be the Si, though the GLI feels more comfortable for everyday driving. Its DCC adaptive chassis control system feels softer and more adjustable than the Si's and the cabin is quieter as well. Should you prefer a car to drive long distances in, the GLI is the better option.
Honda holds an advantage on price, with the 2020 Civic Si priced at just $25,200 with no available options (besides dealer add-ons). The base 2020 Jetta GLI S is a bit more at $26,245 with the six-speed manual, while the more premium Autobahn trim starts at $29,945. Yes, the GLI is considerably more expensive, but its increased performance and upmarket interior justify the price bump.
The Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Jetta GLI are very evenly matched, making it tough to declare a winner. As we prefer outrageous styling and place an emphasis on driving feel over outright speed, the Civic Si is our pick. That being said, buyers will be very happy with the more comfortable, more premium Jetta GLI.