2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI: Mighty return for sedan

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The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI (Grand Luxury Injection) celebrates the sporty sedan’s 35th anniversary. It debuted in February at the Chicago Auto Show and is offered in S, Autobahn and a special trim commemorating the occasion.

The 2019 model is also the debut of the vehicle’s seventh edition; the Jetta in other styles debuted in 1980. Its new version has a longer wheelbase (105.6 inches) and is three inches longer overall as well as slightly wider and taller and sits lower.

2019 VW Jetta GLI
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a new generation for the enduring sedan and is much improved from previous generations’s models. Image © James Raia/2019.

  The 14th annual event, the country’s largest professional bicycle race began in Sacramento and advanced to South Lake Tahoe for one day. It then followed a north-to- south route through the central valley and onto a coastal route to Pasadena. The return trek to Sacramento was an inland route through the agricultural wonderlands, mostly along Highway 101.

The GLI combines the comfort of a small sedan with sports car leanings. Its upgrades from the standard Jetta include a red stripe running across the honeycomb front grille and different front and rear bumpers.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but the optional dual-clutch seven-speed automatic, with its smooth transition through the gears, was effortless. It advanced efficiently during city driving, up and down winding mountain roads and across long stretches of the open round. The GLI’s 0-60 miles-per-hour standard is rated at 5.8 seconds, but the Jetta seemed to accelerate more quickly.

Standard safety features are aplenty, including an automatic emergency braking, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and an automatic braking system that engages post-collision. LED headlights and taillights are also standard.

The Jetta’s top competition is the Honda Civic and Subaru WRX. And like those vehicles, the GLI joins an increasing percentage of cars that nearly instantly feel comfortable. Seating is pleasing with sufficient head and leg room. Similar to many small sedans, the GLI is designated as a five-passenger sedan, but if front-seat occupants are tall and push back their seats, back-seat passengers’ have a tight go of it. The Jetta is realistically a four-passenger vehicle unless all rear-seat passengers are petite. The 60-40 rear seats are foldable for more utility.

One Volkswagen signature is its interior simplicity. There are hard plastic panels, but the positioning of dials, the visibility of dashboard readings and location of the USB ports all complement the overall the Jetta GLI’s overall appeal.

The GLI has also a spacious trunk and a healthy supply of other storage areas. It’s all impressive considering the Jetta’s designation as a small sedan.

The only major drawback is the Jetta’s lack of a navigation system. It’s confusing considering the superior option of a BeatsAudio system and the efficiency of the digital instrument panel and the standard inclusion of Android Audio and Apple CarPlay. I used the later feature often with the map app on my iPhone. Instructions were presented in a timely and clear fashion on the eight-inch touchscreen.

Fuel efficiency was the biggest surprise of the extended test drive. The Jetta GLI is rated at 25 miles per gallon in city driving, 32 miles per gallon on the freeway. While primarily traveling on freeways and with the flow of traffic often exceeding the speed limit, I averaged 34.7 miles per gallon during the trip.

It’s one more reason the 2019 Volkswagen Jett GLI, priced at $31,185 and near the average price of a new car in the United States, is worthy of serious consideration.

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