7/15/2019 | 3 MINUTE READ

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI S

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A sporty(ish) sedan from VW, including an increasingly rare manual gearbox

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Car and Driver magazine started a “Save the Manuals!” campaign at the turn of this decade, fearing that automatic transmissions with and without paddles or shift stalks that can be indexed beyond PRNDL would take over the automotive world.

At this point, as we near the end of the decade, there could arguably be another campaign initiated, this one named “Save the Sedans!” Let’s face it: sedans are on their way to being the exception, not the rule. (While crossovers and light trucks dominate sales, accounting for over 60%, given that the average age of a vehicle is closing in on 12 years, there are still a lot of sedans that need to be flushed out of the system before its all pickups and SUVs.)

The VW Jetta GLI is a sedan. And it has a six-speed manual.

manual transmission

Yes, it has a manual. (Images: Volkswagen)

The VW spin on the car is that it is an affordable sports sedan. The starting MSRP is $25,995 with the manual. Which brings things like brakes shared with the Golf R and the Golf GTI brakes (which are unquestionably sporty hot hatches) and a multilink rear suspension. The GLI is 0.6 inches lower than a non-sporty Jetta. There are variable-ratio steering, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a bit of a spoiler in the back. There is a massive dead pedal, a smaller accelerator pedal and twin clutch and brake pedals of a diminutive dimension; all are visible metal with strategic rubberized surfaces. Exterior lighting are LEDs all around.

VW GLI S

 

The vehicle is structurally billet-like, using a variety of steels of the higher and even higher strength varieties, which is more than satisfactory.

The GLI is powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged in-line four with a cast iron block aluminum head and forged steel crank: it produces 228 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,700 rpm.

Yet for all of the sportiness, I didn’t get the sensation that the vehicle is quick. It wasn’t overwhelming, it wasn’t underwhelming, it was just whatever splits the difference.

Going to another example: as is required by all vehicles available since May 2018 that weigh less than 10,000 pounds, the GLI has a rearview camera: put the car in reverse and see the scene behind the vehicle on the 6.5-inch touchscreen in the center of the instrument panel. But the image is more like a watercolor painting than a high-def image. Yes, it serves its function, but it is not the sort of thing that makes you think “This is technology.” (To be fair, there are forward collision warning, blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert—with the last named an excellent supplement to the aforementioned camera image.) It does the job. And that’s the sense that I got from the GLI S.

 

GLI S

 

The vehicle as-driven was Tornado Red. While paint colors tend to have rather unusual names—let’s face it, when you think “twister,” does that primary color come to mind?—its name notwithstanding, there is no more sporty color on a sedan out there today. And while paint by its very nature is superficial, I’ve got to say that of all aspects of the Jetta GLI (with the rather comfortable driver’s seat coming in a close second), superficial or not, that is my favorite aspect of the sedan. This isn’t damning with faint praise, because when you buy a car, you look at it as much as you drive it (and even when you’re not driving it, as in having it in your garage) so the exterior color (to say nothing of the forms of the sheet metal, which in the case of the GLI, has nice creases, indicating that there are some fine diemakers and metal stampers involved).

The color and transmission notwithstanding, there are sportier vehicles in the Volkswagen lineup. But they are likely to cost you more than the GLI.

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