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Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs Kia Forte GT: Battle Of The Performance Bargains

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Two warmed up sedans at competitive prices.

The hot, or even the warm, hatch is a wonderful thing. Thrilling performance and good looks in a small and relatively inexpensive form make them the working-class heroes of the performance car segment. There's good news though if you want four doors and a trunk along with that extra fizz as many automakers take that extra performance goodness and add it to their more economy biased sedans. We just covered the pricing announcement for the 2020 Kia Forte GT and it looks like a bargain. But how will it hold up against an established player in form of the Volkswagen Jetta GLI?


This is a very real part of the battlefield for the performance bargain because it has to be a bargain. The Jetta GLI starts at $26,890 and comes with a suite of Golf GTI's proven goodies. The bomb Kia has dropped is the Forte GT's starting price of $23,215. That sub-$24,000 price point undercuts not just the Jetta GLI, but the less expensive Honda Civic Si and the Hyundai Elantra Sport as well.

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The Kia Forte GT's starting price will get you a 1.6-liter turbo-four making 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. If you want your Forte GT with a manual, you'll have to shell out an extra $600. Conversely, the Jetta GLI comes standard with a manual transmission attached to a more powerful 2.0-liter 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque engine. That extra $600 for the manual Forte GT still doesn't bring the price close to the Jetta GLI's, but the GLI brings more power to the game.

Both cars get stiffer suspension and tweaks in the form of multilink independent rear suspension rather than rear torsion beam on the standard models. However, until we get to drive the Kia Forte GT we won't know if it holds a candle to the Jetta's grip and handling. The Jetta also gets an electronically locking front differential and brakes shared with the Golf R. Kia hasn't mentioned either of those performance enhancements for the Forte GT.


Styling is a big deal in the segment. Both cars get additional sporty accents and body styling along with 18-inch wheels. Inside, they both get extra red accenting. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder here, but we think the Kia Forte GT looks more aggressive while the Jetta doesn't feel it has to shout about its upgrades too loudly.


This is where Volkswagen typically has its game face on with well built and functional interiors. However, Kia has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years. There's little doubt Volkswagen will edge this on style but given what we've seen of the Forte, it won't necessarily be on build quality.


The Jetta comes standard with some great features, including blind-spot monitoring, automatic climate control, and keyless entry with push-button start. The Forte GT comes with Kia's smart key with push-button start, and LED ambient lighting right out the gate like the Jetta. The Jetta also comes with a host of standard safety equipment to match the Kia. Kia's voice control on the infotainment system is exemplary but Volkswagen's overall system is just as good.


While a hatchback makes life easier, trunk space is still important. The Kia Forte has 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space, while the current Jetta has 14.1 cubic feet of room, which is down on the previous generation. Rear passengers get a little extra legroom in the Jetta though, so this is one to be measured on what will be used more often.


This is a tough one. On the one hand, the Kia Forte GT slays the Jett GLI on price. On the other, that extra $3,675 gets you in to what's essentially a Golf GTI with a trunk. Well, $3,075 if you want a manual transmission. Exactly how the Forte GT will take to the road yet, we don't know but given the performance extras and how long VW has been giving the performance treatment to hatches and sedans, we suspect you'll be getting what you pay for with the Forte GT.