2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic review: Still smitten

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic

2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic

The last time we drove the Volkswagen Jetta GLI was in 2012, and we were smitten by it then. Its best feature, we said of VW’s sport compact, was its agility. Nothing’s changed. At least nothing that hasn’t been changed.

The Jetta GLI is VW’s performance version of the Jetta, the equivalent of the GTI vs. the Volkswagen Golf. Like the GTI, the Jetta has sport suspension, firmed up for handling and with a multilink arrangement replacing the twist beam rear setup of lesser Jettas.

Both are equipped with a torquey 210-horse turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with a choice of a six-speed manual or paddle-shift dual-clutch automatic transmission.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic interior

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic interior features red stitching on seats and steering wheel. (click to enlarge)

If you know what to look for, the Jetta has subtle features to differentiate it from other Jettas. Instead of a grille with horizontal bars, the GLI has a honeycomb pattern. The GLI also has a noticeable front splitter with a black leading edge, along with an aero kit and a tiny spoiler on the rear edge of the trunk lid. The GLI also has its own 18-inch wheels.

The business-like cabin on our Tornado Red 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI test car has “GLI”-embossed sport seats in black with red stitching, also red stitching on the standard flat-bottomed steering wheel, with red accent panels across the dash. It’s a true four-door sedan, and although six foot plus passengers will fit in the rear seat, don’t expect them to be happy for a long ride. Tall riders in the back for any distance will wish they were in a VW Passat.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic engine

The 2,0-liter engine of the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic makes a gutteral sound and a lot of torque. (click to enlarge)

The guttural growl of the 2.0-liter turbo engine hasn’t changed, but the output certainly has. It’s still dubbed the EA888, but where the engine in our 2012 Jetta GLI was rated at 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, the 2015 GLI is rated at 210 horsepower—a five percent increase—with the torque raised to 258 lb-ft, and it starts at 1500 rpm and stays there all the way to 4500 rpm.

The effect, as it was with the Golf GTI we tested, is flexibility to go with its agility. Regardless of rpm, the engine always has a lot of punch. It’s easier to drive, the ability lean on the abundant torque eliminating th4e need to keep the engine at high revs for acceleration, whether driving around town or playing on backroads.

The transmission, however, seemed happier in manual mode. Or maybe that was us. The dual clutch gearbox, in addition to manually shifting with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, has “Drive” and “Sport” modes. There’s a big difference between the two, perhaps the most we’ve ever encountered. Sport definitely put the transmission in a lower gear, ready for action, and downshifted with less demand. The slightest uphill on the Interstate dropped the transmission from sixth to fifth. With the ease of using paddle shifters, we don’t see a real need for the Sport setting. Leave it in Drive for driving when you don’t want to shift, and go straight to manual when you’re feeling sporty. Which for us that was most of the time.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic instrument panel

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic instrument panel is simple and business-like. (click to enlarge)

The great thing about shifting manually, however, is that the transmission does it so well, quick to respond to the paddle on upshifts, even to the point of allowing the engine to run right to redline before flipping the paddle. No anticipation required. Downshifts match revs better than anyone with a manual transmission, and whether VW engineers planned it that way, it makes cool sounds as it does so.

Of course, our driving style, not to mention the hilly venue of our test drive, probably had something to do with our 21.3 mpg fuel economy with the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, rather than the 23/33 mpg city/highway EPA estimate.

For its performance, the GLI is reasonably priced. The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE like our test vehicle is priced at $26,920 with the six-speed manual transmission. Standard equipment on the well-equipped GLI SE includes automatic headlights; LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers with heated windshield washer nozzles, power heated side mirrors; heated front sport seats with driver’s side lumbar support with six-way power driver’s seat, Premium VIII touchscreen radio with Fender Premium Audio System, rearview camera, keyless access with push-button start, sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control. Adding the DSG automatic transmission brings the base price to $28,080.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic

2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SE Automatic (click to enlarge)

The upgrade trim level, the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL, carries a $29,280 price tag and includes Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive headlights and LED daytime running lights, fog lights with static cornering light, navigation system, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, and Homelink. A GLI SEL with the DSG automatic brings the price to $30,380.

Just as we were driving the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, VW announced the 2016 Jetta GLI. Mechanically the GLI remains largely the same, with the same engine and transmission, though VW has massaged the front fascia. Added for the 2016 Jetta GLI is the new MIB 2 infotainment system that incorporates the full suite of USB and Car-Net connectivity. Also new as standard equipment is is Volkswagen’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking system. After an impact, the car applies the brakes to help reduce secondary collisions.

That’s for if you’re willing to wait. In the meantime, the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI remains one of our favorite cars for the winding back road. Yep, we’re still smitten.

Specifications next page.

  • Andrew G.

    Your torque number is incorrect… I think you’re quoting the number from the GTI. The GLI’s max torque is 207 ft/lbs.