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2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Test Drive Review
Sometimes, driving is still fun. The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is the perfect car for those times.
In a perfect world, every driving enthusiast could afford the car of their dreams. In reality, where mortgage or rent payments are due, you’ve got kids to shuttle, and you need enough cargo space to carry groceries, bulk-packaged toilet paper, and road-trip luggage, it can seem as though no car can possibly satisfy your practical requirements and put a smile on your face at the same time. We have good news! The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is just such a car.
Look and Feel
You’ll need to look closely to spot the 2022 Jetta GLI’s styling changes. For the 2022 model year, the Jetta GLI gets a new 18-inch wheel design with a machined finish, a new honeycomb grille with a wider bar containing two signature red lines, a new front bumper with rather unfortunate red outlines for the air intakes, and a new rear bumper with a more aggressive diffuser panel and bigger dual exhaust outlets. Equip the GLI with the new Black Package ($595), and you’ll get gloss-black wheels, mirror caps, roof paint, and rear spoiler. Volkswagen also modernizes the GLI badge for the new year.
Every 2022 Jetta GLI now includes the formerly optional Autobahn Package as standard equipment, so this performance-tuned version of VW’s compact car now sits squarely at the top of the model lineup with a base price of $30,995. Our test car had a flat gray paint job and the Black Package, upgrades that brought the price to nearly $33,000 including the $995 destination charge.
Thanks to the Autobahn Package, perforated leather upholstery is now standard in the Jetta GLI. This year, the leather seats get a new red underlay that is visible through the perforations, giving the seat inserts a red tint. Volkswagen also adds red stitching to the door panel inserts and a new steering wheel with gloss black, touch-sensing buttons on it. The buttons suffer from glare and reflections, and don’t always respond to input as you might expect, making them a distraction instead of a solution.
Overall, the minor updates for 2022 give the VW Jetta GLI some much-needed visual personality, inside and out. This model has always been conservatively styled. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to advertise your potential law-breaking. However, as you may have noticed, younger buyers who might be drawn to a sport compact car increasingly prefer them to be brash and loud. Visually, the updated 2022 GLI is raising its voice. But it remains a fun, affordable, practical sedan for people who prefer stealth with their speed.
Unlike the standard Jettas, which get a new turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine for 2022 sourced from the company's Taos SUV, the Jetta GLI continues with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powering the front wheels through a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). According to VW's specs, it makes 228 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm and has a new, more aggressive engine and exhaust note. Drivers can choose from Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and configurable Custom driving modes.
To resolve the challenge of getting that much power to the ground without an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, Volkswagen equips the GLI with a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, while a standard Cross Differential System (XDS) works to reduce understeer in corners to improve handling. The GLI also gets a progressive variable-ratio steering system, performance brakes from the previous-generation Golf R, and an adaptive damping sport-tuned suspension. The car rides on 18-inch wheels with 225/45 all-season tires.
A sophisticated small sport sedan, the Jetta GLI behaves in a decidedly Germanic manner. The powertrain is excellent, supplying effortlessly swift acceleration, and the engine revs so silently and smoothly that it's easy to forget to upshift the six-speed manual transmission. On multiple occasions during highway driving, we ran the car in fourth gear instead of sixth gear for long stretches at a time, finally realizing the mistake thanks to a subtle notification on the standard 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit instrumentation panel.
Speaking of driving on the highway, plenty of road noise makes its way into the cabin, serving as a constant reminder that the GLI is based on a mainstream compact car. At lower speeds, such as in urban and suburban situations, this is less of an issue. Here, the GLI is great fun to drive, its progressive variable steering making the sedan feel nimble while the adaptive dampers filter harshness while retaining the GLI’s firm and sporty ride quality.
Naturally, the Jetta GLI is at home on a writhing mountain road. Choose the Sport driving mode and the car comes alive with changes to throttle response, the exhaust note, steering weight, and suspension tuning. The light clutch and silky shifter make it fun to row the gears, while the XDS and limited-slip differential get the power to the ground in the most effective way possible.
Here again, the steering contributes mightily to the fun, from its quick response and sharp accuracy to how the meaty wheel feels in your hands. In combination with its faithful brakes and utterly predictable nature, the GLI is easy to trust thanks to its unflappable dynamic traits. The experience is free of drama and surprise, making for a calm, cool, and collected approach to driving satisfaction. All we wished for was a set of summer tires to make it perfect.
As for fuel economy, the Jetta GLI is efficient. We averaged 29.9 mpg on the testing loop, coming up just short of the official EPA fuel economy estimate of 30 mpg in combined driving.
Form and Function
Conservative in style but plenty of fun to drive, the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI also serves up a big plate of practicality. Surprisingly roomy for up to four adults and equipped with a generous 14.1 cubic-foot trunk, it works well as a legit daily driver.
You’ll be comfortable thanks to power driver’s seat adjustment, and though your front passenger cannot raise their seat higher off the floor, the bottom cushion provides excellent thigh support, making it less likely to spur complaints. A center console with plenty of storage both underneath the armrest and forward of the shifter divides the heated and ventilated front seats, and sizable bins on the door panels are also ready to hold this and that.
Adults fit into the Jetta’s rear seats without a problem, enjoying a relatively tall position on a cushion angled for proper leg support. Soft front seatbacks are kind to any knees or shins that might come into contact with them, and Volkswagen thoughtfully provides coat hooks in the GLI. However, the lack of air conditioning vents, USB charging ports, or soft material of any kind on the door panels makes the GLI’s back seat feel low-rent.
When you release the trunk lid using the remote key fob, in most situations it pops and opens completely even though it doesn’t include power hands-free operation. The cargo area is roomy and the lid’s hinges are tucked away to the sides to help avoid crushing things you pack into the trunk. Rear seatback releases located in the luggage compartment make it easier to expand capacity, and both sides of the inner lid panel have grips to use to swing the lid shut from either side of the car.
Every 2022 Jetta GLI comes with Volkswagen’s top infotainment system offering, but without the embedded navigation system you’ll find in the Jetta SEL. This is just one of a handful of SEL features that get edited out of the GLI to make the performance-tuned model more affordable. People living in cold-weather climates will want to note that another deleted feature is a heated steering wheel.
In any case, the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the GLI does include App Connect with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, so you can run navigation through your smartphone. Additionally, the GLI features SiriusXM 360L satellite radio, wireless charging, and a nine-speaker Beats Audio premium sound system.
Car-Net connected services are also standard. Three different subscription plans are available, equipping the GLI with a wide variety of services including Family Guardian safety alerts, an Amazon Alexa skill, remote engine starting, emergency assistance, automatic collision notification, WiFi access, and more.
Aside from some loading lag time when you start the car, the main complaint we have about the GLI’s infotainment system is the proximity sensing nature of the on-screen menu choices. While driving, if you glance at the screen, you can’t see them. Instead, you must bring your hand close to the display to make them visible, and if you drop your hand while evaluating what they are, they disappear from view.
Otherwise, the system is well executed with volume and tuning knobs, main menu shortcut buttons flanking the sides of the display, and a touchscreen that you can swipe and scroll using a fingertip, just as you do with your smartphone. And since you’ll be running navigation through your paired device, you’ll be using a native digital assistant like Siri to find destinations. This means the voice recognition technology works well the majority of the time.
Volkswagen improves the new Jetta GLI’s safety technology in 2022, adding the automaker’s IQ Drive collection of driver assistance features. Note, however, that if you choose the manual gearbox, some of IQ Drive’s functions are unavailable because the driver needs to actively operate the transmission.
In addition to now-expected features related to forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keep assist, the GLI offers new Travel Assist and Emergency Assist systems.
Travel Assist combines an adaptive cruise control system with lane-centering technology. The intent is to make long-distance highway travel easier and less fatiguing, and in the GLI it works effectively and mostly transparently.
Emergency Assist builds on Travel Assist but is only available with the GLI’s optional dual-clutch automatic transmission. When using Travel Assist, if the driver falls asleep or suffers a medical emergency, the technology can detect an unresponsive driver and bring the car to a halt in the lane of travel with the hazard lights flashing.
Also, note that every 2022 Jetta has automatic post-collision braking. This is an important safety feature that brings the car to a full stop just as soon as is possible following a collision. During the collision, the Jetta’s airbags will deploy. However, because they rapidly deflate, secondary collisions can cause a car’s occupants harm. The automatic post-collision braking system intends to prevent these secondary collisions from occurring.
As this review is written, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is providing full crash-test ratings for the 2022 Jetta. Previously, the car fell short of top marks across the board.
The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is proof that practicality and fun are not mutually exclusive concepts in a modern automobile. Not only that, but most of the subtle modifications made to this affordable sports sedan are visually, aurally, dynamically, and technologically effective at improving the GLI—save for the silly red outlines around the front air intakes.
However, the competition for the small contingent of driving enthusiasts that still seeks a new car that is fun, affordable, and small is fierce. Redesigned versions of the Honda Civic Si and Subaru WRX are available for 2022, and the new Hyundai Elantra N is brilliant to drive. The Kia Forte GT isn’t quite as refined as the Volkswagen, but it also doesn’t cost as much and delivers superior value. And let’s not forget about the excellent, Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo, which includes standard all-wheel drive. Even VW’s own Golf GTI, completely redesigned for 2022, could chew into the GLI’s already small slice of share in the segment.
Nevertheless, the updated 2022 Jetta GLI earns its membership in the sport compact car club. And because many of its rivals appear to subscribe to the louder and flashier trend in a bid to attract younger buyers, you could even say the GLI is the sport compact car for grown-ups.
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