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2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Family Sports Sedan Review By Larry Nutson

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2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Sport Sedan for the Family

By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Jetta GLI is now in its 36th year on the U.S. auto scene, having first appeared in 1984. This just four years after the Jetta nameplate itself first came to these shores.

Often called the GTI with a trunk, the GLI as the GTI of sport sedans came into being to provide driving excitement in a traditional sedan body style. The Golf GTI has been called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” That moniker could just as well be applied to the Jetta GLI.

I’ve driven the Golf GTI in recent times and I recently had a refresher driving the 2020 Jetta GLI. My personal preference is the more compact GTI. However, the Jetta GLI does deliver the same performance exhilaration while also offering the traditional sedan style. 

The Jetta was redesigned last year with all-new architecture providing more interior room. VW has been adding technology to its model lineup and for 2020 the Jetta GLI gets the next-gen Car-Net telematics plus Wi-Fi capability. Wireless charging is on Autobahn models as well as an adaptive damping system.

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For 2020 the Jetta GLI is available in S and Autobahn trims. Under the hood is VW’s 228-horspower 2.0-L turbo four. Either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic puts the power to the front wheels.

Prices start at $26,245 and run up to $30,745 plus the $920 destination charge.

My recent drive was in the Autobahn trim which features adaptive suspension, leather seat trim, ventilated front seats, an eight-speaker Beats audio system and an 8-inch touchscreen. 

The adaptive suspension has a wider range of comfort and handling. Overall the GLI has a very well composed behavior with nicely compliant suspension tuning. The brakes are nice and strong and bring the GLI to stop quickly and smoothly with very linear pedal feel.

The 228-horsepower gives the GLI plenty of go power. The Autobahn I drove was equipped with the DSG transmission, which today, would be my choice. I’ve driven many a manual trans car. I prefer today’s newer technology and the quick shifting of the automated dual-clutch design with the precise control programming the engineers can provide.  

I will give props to VW for continuing to offer traditional manual transmissions for what today is an ever smaller buyer group.

EPA fuel economy ratings for the manual trans models are 25 city mpg and 33 highway mpg. The DSC is also rated 25 city mpg and one mpg less for the highway at 32 mpg. I averaged around 27 mpg in mixed city/highway driving. 

A Drive Mode selector allows the choice of “Normal,” “Sport,” “Eco,” and “Custom” settings.  On Autobahn models damper settings can also be changed.

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The GLI’s exterior is a bit understated with nice bits of trim here and there to add some distinction. Unique front and rear bumpers and lower side skirts give it a unique and sporty look. I noted the complete absence of a Jetta nameplate and only the presence of red GLI badges front and rear. The GLI sits 0.6 inches lower than a regular Jetta, which also enhances its looks.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The 5-seat GLI has lots of interior room and nicely large trunk, which has always been a Jetta plus. The seat bolstering is firm and supportive, while also not being extreme and intrusive as in some sport seat designs. A sporty flat-bottom steering wheel along with red stitching throughout highlight the interior.

Car-Net Remote Access gives owners the ability to interact with their vehicle from miles away via the mobile app. There’s also a complete suite of advanced driver-assistance safety (ADAS) technology offered.

More detailed information on the Jetta GLI can be found at Check out  the optional Black Package for the Autobahn trim with black wheels, roof, mirror caps and spoiler.

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For 2021 Jetta GLI is offered in same two trims, the S and Autobahn. The Autobahn trim adds more features including the new MIB3 infotainment system, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Keeping System (Lane Assist), and High Beam Control (Light Assist).

It will be interesting to watch the trends in the sedan market. Some industry research says many young people are interested in sedans. Price, fuel efficiency and “I don’t want daddy’s car” are some of the main reasons. 

New vehicles today are all very good. There are no bad cars. Buyers have many very fine choices to meet their overall transportation needs. The Jetta GLI offers loads of fun while at the same time is very suitable for a young family with small children.

© 2020 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy