Or is the GTI still the king?
Despite having been on the market since 2015, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI is one of our favorite hot hatchbacks on the market. An all-new eighth-generation GTI should arrive later next year but before then, we wanted to take one last look at the current model by comparing it to one of our recent test vehicles. In fact, this test vehicle also comes from the VW brand, the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.
Still in its seventh-generation with no eighth-generation currently confirmed, the Jetta GLI is essentially a sedan version of the Golf GTI. The GLI has long been sandbagged compared to the GTI but in this latest generation, VW has made them closer than ever before. The two cars share much in common, including an engine and platform, but they are not identical. There are some important differences between the GTI and GLI you should be aware of.
The most obvious difference between the GTI and GLI is their body styles. The GTI is based on the Golf hatchback while the GLI is based on the Jetta sedan. This creates an interesting difference in both style and storage space. The GTI's rear hatch houses 17.4 cubic feet of storage compared to just 14.1 cubic feet in the GLI's trunk. But those numbers are deceptive. The trunk in the GLI is shockingly large and the folding rear seats help it fit longer items. By comparison, the GTI is more adept at hauling tall items thanks to its open passthrough into the cabin.
With regard to seating, both the GTI and GLI each have their own advantages. The GTI gets more bolstered front seats that hug you during spirited driving but they can't be ventilated as they are in the GLI. On the plus side, the base GTI S model does get cool looking plaid cloth seats, which are not available on the GLI. The GLI's front seats may not hug you like the GTI's but in the back, it offers much more legroom (37.4 inches compared to 35.6). As a minor downside, the GLI does not get rear air vents as the GTI does.
Once again, the decision to buy a GTI or GLI will depend on what type of technology you value. The GTI is available with built-in navigation, while neither of these options is available on the GLI. The GLI does gain access to VW's cool virtual cockpit technology on the Autobahn trim, which is unavailable on the 2020 GTI, though it is a bit unnecessary without the ability to display a built-in map. While it doesn't appear on either car's spec sheet, it should be noted that the materials used in the GTI's cabin feel more upmarket than the ones in the GLI.
Both of these cars are powered by an identical 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Likewise, both cars send power out to the front wheels only through either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional seven-speed DSG with VW's VAQ active differential helping to prevent torque steer. VW's DCC adaptive chassis control is available on both cars.
The GTI and GLI are pretty evenly matched in terms of performance, with only the choice of tire causing any noticeable difference between them. It may just be in our head, but it still feels like the GTI (which stands for Gran Touring Injection) is tuned to be slightly sharper and nimbler than the GLI (Gran Luxury Injection).
The biggest gap between the GTI and GLI is their price tags. VW has priced the GTI at $28,595 for the S model compared to $26,245 for the GLI S. As you go further up the trim ladder, the difference in price gets ever wider. The GTI SE costs $32,195 while the top GTI Autobahn is $36,495. Meanwhile, the GLI Autobahn only costs $29,945, keeping it at a much lower price point than the GTI. We prefer the hatchback bodystyle and premium materials of the GTI but for almost $7,000 less, the GLI makes a very compelling argument.