Tested: 2022 VW Jetta GLI Proves That VW Still Cares about Drivers

Although it drops the previous base trim, the GLI can still be had with a six-speed manual.

UPDATE 2/25/22: This review has been updated with test results.

Despite Volkswagen's push toward electric vehicles, the company is providing assurances that it's still dedicated to the sporty compact car. Want evidence? The new-generation Golf GTI and Golf R have clearly been developed with driving enthusiasts in mind. VW's American arm pushed for six-speed manuals in both of those cars and convinced its corporate overlords in Germany that such a move would be rational and wise. Consider that a love letter to the American driver, because our counterparts in Europe won't find that option available when they place their orders.

The performance variant of the humble Jetta sedan—the Jetta GLI—also will not show up in a European showroom; it's sold only in North America and Brazil. The GLI's 228-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four makes a whopping 70 horsepower more than the standard Jetta's engine and comes with performance enhancements such as adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

HIGHS: Playful driving demeanor, still available with a six-speed manual, Audi-like cabin environs.

Updated for 2022, the Jetta GLI wears a newly styled grille and front bumper with red detailing. The rear bumper has been revised as well and sports a honeycomb-patterned lower valance and larger-diameter exhaust outlets. The GLI's cabin receives new red contrast stitching to accent the black leather upholstery and new touch-sensitive steering wheel controls.

The GLI remains a lovely driving partner. During our test drive through the hill country near Asheville, North Carolina, the GLI's eager steering and crisp-shifting six-speed manual made running through the area's narrow mountain passes a joyful exercise. Although it isn't as tied-down as the new Golf GTI, the GLI does its best impression of that performance icon. On the highway during normal cruising and commuting, the GLI settles into Jetta mode, meaning it's refined, comfortable, and easygoing.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Despite the fact that VW has made no changes to the car's powertrain, our test results indicate that the 2022 model is slightly slower than the last GLI we tested back in 2019. Nonetheless, it still turned in a solid performance at our test track, reaching 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and eclipsing the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 100 mph. The GLI is quicker than the new-for-2022 Honda Civic Si, which needed 6.8 seconds to hit 60 and delivered a 15.1-second quarter-mile time. But the VW's cornering grip fell short of the Honda's, with a 0.86-g result for the GLI on our skidpad versus 0.96 g for the Civic. Some of the performance deficit is due to VW no longer offering summer tires (previously a no-cost option) on the 2022 GLI. That shouldn't stop you from fitting a set.

LOWS: Cheaper base model has been removed from the lineup, exhaust drones noisily when cruising in Sport mode, fussy steering wheel audio controls.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

The GLI sports an updated exhaust system that sounds a bit louder for 2022, particularly when driving in Sport mode, which lets more of the car's newly baritone voice to enter the cabin. This soundtrack may delight boy-racer types, but we found ourselves needing to activate the Normal driving mode to quiet the cabin when cruising. Ultimately, we're not convinced this does much to enhance the GLI's appeal.

Same goes for the new touch-sensitive steering-wheel controls. Their glossy black finish gives an added pop of premium appearance, but on several occasions when driving the snaking roads west of Asheville, we managed to inadvertently change the radio station midcorner by accidentally bumping the tuning button. Moreover, the volume control slider is fussy and imprecise.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

The nicely tailored interior gives off strong Audi vibes, which is good because for 2022 Volkswagen has eliminated the entry-level GLI trim, leaving only the loaded $31,990 Autobahn model. Opt for the dual-clutch automatic, and the price climbs to $32,790. The GLI's nearest rival, the Honda Civic Si, is all new for 2022 and starts at just $28,315.

But VW may find that the GLI's biggest competition is inside its own showroom: The 2022 Golf GTI starts at $30,540—granted that's for a base model with less equipment. But the Golf's hatchback body style, its performance legacy, and its more modern styling may draw buyers away from its Jetta sibling. The 2022 model's updates help keep it fresh, though, and the GLI's fun-loving attitude is something every driver can appreciate.

Specifications

Specifications

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE
Base/As Tested: $31,990/$31,990
Options: none

ENGINE
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 121 in3, 1984 cm3
Power: 228 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm

TRANSMISSION[S]
6-speed manual

CHASSIS
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 13.4-in vented disc/11.8-in vented disc
Tires: Hankook Kinergy GT
225/45R-18 91H M+S

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 105.6 in
Length: 186.9 in
Width: 70.8 in
Height: 57.9 in
Passenger Volume: 94 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight: 3266 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.1 sec
1/4-Mile: 14.6 sec @ 100 mph
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.3 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 12.3 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 8.4 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 126 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 174 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 355 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.86 g

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 30/26/37 mpg

C/D TESTING EXPLAINED


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