VW remakes the Jetta for 2019 — ups the sporty side with the new GLI

The new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is spicing up the compact sedan market with more power and styling tweaks that don’t break the bank.

As the humble compact sedan is becoming less common on the roads these days, some manufacturers are giving up on them altogether. But Volkswagen has remade the Jetta offering, a spacious sedan that doesn’t cost very much and offers you plenty of content inside. The Jetta is a fine commuter car, if not a bit plain when it comes to performance — until now.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

By the numbers:

  • 2.0L turbocharged engine
  • 228 horsepower
  • 258 lb-ft of torque
  • 25 mpg city/32 mpg highway

For the 35th anniversary, the humble Jetta has been transformed, if you choose the GLI model. Equipped with a peppy turbo engine from the sporty Golf GTI, the Jetta is a sedan with gusto. The Jetta GLI will get you in trouble if you don’t watch your speed.

The 35th Anniversary Edition has a four-mode adaptive chassis control that allows you a sportier feel on the road when you want it. But it can be changed to be a supple everyday driver that doesn’t beat you up.

While the handling is improved over other Jetta models, it’s not as sharp as the smaller, more nimble Golf GTI, but you can still have great fun.

The brakes are also up to the challenge of more spirited driving, and they held up well on repeated stops with fading.

On the outside the 2019 Jetta GLI has been transformed from plain sedan to a sporty one with just a few changes. A more aggressive front end with a blacked-out grill signals this is “no plain Jane” Jetta.

There are unique badges and red lines on the wheels and the front grill. Those touches might be a little boy racer for me, but it adds to a playful sedan that looks like it cost more than the sub $28,000 price tag.

Different trim pieces and lower side skirts seem to give a lowered stance when you view the vehicle from the side. The 35th Anniversary Edition adds special 18-inch wheels and a black roof and mirrors that play well with the bright red paint.

The back end styling is completed by dual chrome exhaust tips, a small black spoiler and special rear bumper that are just for GLI models.

Inside, the 2019 VW Jetta GLI is more German with lots of dark colors like gray and black. The materials seem like a higher caliber with the redesign this year. They have a high-quality feel when you touch them and less built-to-price.

The GLI interior has some cool touches like the sport flat-bottom steering wheel that feels solid in your hands.

The usual austere interior has some bright aluminum pedals and red stitching on the shifter, steering wheel and seats that make the interior pop. The cloth sport seats provide nice comfort and the heated seats work well.

Those seats don’t provide the best support when you are hitting those fast back roads; you tend to slide around a bit.

The standard manual is slick shifting and engaging. A DSG automatic is an option that I’m sure most drivers will choose. Even with the big boost in power, the fuel economy is still solid as I managed 29.6 mpg for my week of driving.

Space is a big asset in the Jetta with plenty of head and leg room front and back.

With a price tag of less than $28,000, you have to live with manual seat controls, a smaller 6.5-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker sound system that sounds average. A higher trim level fixes that but costs about $2,000 more.

A huge trunk swallows just about anything you can make fit, but be careful — the lid will whack you if you don’t have it all the way up.

The 2019 VW Jetta GLI is a welcome addition to the sportier side of the humble compact sedan. With its powerful turbo engine, higher handling limits and extra space, the Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition puts a smile on your face and doesn’t break the bank doing it. The sedan might be taking some hits, but the new Jetta GLI proves that it’s not going away without a fight.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI, NAVS DC or Motus One for the purpose of this review.

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