To call the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI a performance sedan might be a mistake. But it certainly makes the cut as a great sporty car to drive on the track, as I recently discovered at the Circuit of the Americas. Plus, unlike actual track performance cars, it's affordable and a great everyday driver.
First off, comparing the Jetta GLI to Italian performance cars and American muscle isn't exactly fair. But that's the company it was keeping at this year's Texas Auto Roundup. While it couldn't compete with the likes of the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (named the Performance Sedan of Texas), Charger SRT Hellcat, Charger R/T or Lexus GS F, there are a lot of things to love about this performance compact-that-could. (Not to mention the Jetta is a great all-around sedan. We've been recommending them for quite some time here at Car Pro.) Before you read on, keep in mind GLI is the priciest trim in the Jetta lineup because it doesn't mess around with bringing the extra sporty oomph. These include its performance-minded 2.0L turbocharged engine good for 210-horses when you feed it premium fuel.
The Jetta is classic VW styling meaning its business practical with clean lines and no useless details. The lines are all horizontal and rounding corners. Our 2017 VW Jetta GLI tester is easy to spot in Tornado Red that ranges on the cooler side, not an obnoxious orangish tone. The GLI adds details like a red bottom line on the grille, in grille badging, and an all-around more aggressive front fascia. There's red accenting on the GLI side badging and red brake calipers too. Other touches include 18-inch Mallory wheels.
This is the GLI model so it's sportier than the standard Jetta with red accent stitching and inserts in the cabin. I'm a fan of easy-to-us touchscreen and steering wheel controls. The regular round steering wheel swaps out for a leather-wrapped sports one with a flat bottom and nice chrome details. The awesome chrome with black rubber grip inserts sports pedals are also instantly noticeable and they feel great grip and handling wise. The standard Fender audio system doesn't hurt when putting those pedals to the test.
On the Track
The GLI Jetta is definitely capable on the track. When I bring it up to the starting line it launches smoothly and without a hitch gets up in mph. Cornering is stable and it lets out nicely on those fast wide turns. Slalom? No problem there either. It's grippy and stable and hugs the ground with no slippage problem on the track. It's not go-cart bouncy but rather more stable and smooth. It takes a little extra powering it out of turns. You can feel it reaching for the power for a second before delivering. It feels safe and easy to drive fast, as in highway speeds, whatever those are in your area. I let it out on the final turn back into the pit and it took it like a pro. The 2.0-liter inline 4 asserts itself nicely. You can definitely feel the improvement to 210-horsepower of the GLI. It only gets slightly less fuel economy too than the standard Jetta, but you will need to fuel up on premium to get all those horses. You don't have to drive stick either to get the full experience, which is always a plus for commuting, but you can if you want to. The model comes in both a six-speed automatic with sports mode and six-speed manual options.
The Jetta GLI is a great little sports model for those of you looking for a sportier solution to the practical midsize sedan. So if you've got the extra cash and want to have more fun go for the sporty GLI. For under $30,000, you have yourself a track ready contender to make your daily driving a blast. Sticker pricing for the GLI: $28,715. So about $10K more than the base model with the 1.4-liter engine and about $5K more than the Sports trim with the 1.8-liter.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
Feature Credit: Marshall Tidrick Photo