2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review - Potent, Painted, Pricey

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
Fast Facts

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, DOHC (210 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm; 207 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm)
Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
24 city / 33 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.8 city / 7.4 highway / 8.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
34.1 mpg [6.9 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price
$28,715 (U.S) / $36,740 (Canada)
As Tested
$29,815 (U.S.) / $38,140 (Canada)
Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,745 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

I was lost. Rather, I was about to be lost.

As I drove an eye-catching white silver metallic 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI onto the MV Confederation in Caribou, Nova Scotia, it dawned on me. I had never driven across Prince Edward Island by myself. But I was about to, if I could find my way.

Mrs. Cain and the kids had already made it to Prince Edward Island, having departed earlier in the week to begin our house hunt after our Nova Scotian home sold in 24 hours. Sunshine and a quick car made me realize that the MV Confederation’s perfectly timed departure would allow for some sorely needed blood pressure reduction, sitting on the deck of a ferry for an hour in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

But I left my iPhone charge cord at home on the dining room table. My phone’s battery was below 5 percent with pictures yet to be snapped. I couldn’t use my phone for directions. I didn’t trust the island signage to be sufficient — we’re not big on signs around these parts. And then a light came on: the ferry’s tourist bureau would have maps. Maps! Maps, my dear Watson. Maps. I studied that arcane sheet for, well, it had to be minutes. In the belly of the ship, with everybody else back in their cars, I spent a few more minutes folding that sucker up with every ounce of dexterity my parents’ genetics afforded me.

Not until I arrived at my Summerside destination did it dawn on me. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI has a navigation system.

Maybe that’s why it costs $29,815.

Gulp.

The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport we reviewed a few weeks ago can be navi and DSG-equipped, like this Jetta GLI, at $25,150, nearly $5,000 less. The Elantra is also, dare I say it, more fun.

Thankfully, the Jetta GLI certainly doesn’t want for power. Although distinctly less torquey than the 2.0T-powered Volkswagen Golf GTI – the GTI produces the same 210 ponies but 51 additional lb-ft at 200 revs sooner — the Jetta’s 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four is nicely suited to the dual-clutch automatic, particularly in sport mode; less so at low revs.

After I got off the boat and realized supper at my mother-in-law’s was quite likely in the offing, the Jetta GLI made exceptionally quick work of slow-moving traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway. (Yes, I should have taken a shortcut across Route 23, but that map was a distant memory by the time it was folded up. And I found myself entranced by the dulcet tones of Karen Mair on CBC’s Mainstreet, unconscious of the NAV button to the right of the touchscreen.)

The Elantra Sport, by comparison, is powerful enough, but its 1.6T never feels especially energetic, like it’s champing at the bit and egging you on.

Unfortunately, compared with the supple Elantra Sport, this particular Jetta GLI specimen traversed rough island roads quite roughly indeed. I’ve been in Jetta GLIs before — they’re not supposed to ride like this. But on winter run-flats, even smooth surfaces begin to feel like cobblestone streets.

This negated much of the fun one could have on twisty, rural two-lanes. Turn-in isn’t what you’d expect, mid-corner bumps turn into annoying disruptions, and the Jetta GLI’s chassis is exposed for what it is: not a GTI.

Fine. Entirely acceptable with the right tires. A pleasant daily driver.

But not a GTI.

And not an Elantra Sport.

That’s not to say that in 2017, in the months before an all-new Jetta’s reveal, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI doesn’t have a number of redeeming qualities. Forget those early criticisms of the Mk6 Jetta. Cheap and decontented? Material quality now, especially in this top-spec car, is leagues beyond what it was seven years ago. That torsion-beam rear suspension of early Mk6 Jettas is long gone, as well. This is a mature performance sedan, if not an outright athlete like its hatchback sibling.

It’s also huge inside. There’s midsize-aping space in the back of the Jetta, a car that stretches only 182.2 inches from bumper to bumper, 10-inches shorter than a Passat. The official trunk capacity specs of 15.7 cubic feet are belied by a shape that permits the loading of a vacation’s worth of stuff. Observed fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon is outstanding. Aside from the roaring tires and some pleasant 2.0T burbles, it’s a quiet and generally refined car. It’s a Mk6 Jetta with enough subdued style to turn heads but without the boy-racer cues that shout for attention. [Maybe Mazda should take note. –Ed.]

Nevertheless, price matters. Admittedly, Volkswagen is in a discounting kind of mood, but other automakers aren’t opposed to incentivizing their products, either, especially in 2017’s challenging sedan arena. With 2017 Jetta GLI pricing starting at $28,715, to which you’ll add $1,100 for two-pedal operation, the Elantra Sport and Golf GTI aren’t the only cars standing in the Jetta GLI’s way. Besides, it’ll take a bit of a leap for many sports sedan enthusiasts to consider a Hyundai, however unfair. And the $26,415-37,110 GTI’s hatchback and tighter rear quarters are definitive no-nos for many sedan buyers.

But the Subaru WRX has a lower base price and substantially more athleticism. The upcoming Honda Civic Si stickers for only $24,775.

Those are inexpensive and enticing opponents for a Mk6 Jetta that debuted in late 2010, otherwise known as the year you last looked at a map.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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  • Jfbar167 Jfbar167 on May 24, 2017

    Had a 2013 GLI for couple years. Overall very nice and ZERO issues. As for the "fake leather", I actually preferred it to the real deal. It did NOT wrinkle and crack as the (all other prior cars with) real stuff. Tim mentioned the "growl" but failed to realize it was actually a "fart can"(soundaktor) mounted on the firewall. Disconnected that, and it sounded more refined and true. My takeaway from it rather than referring to it as a 30K Jetta, I thought of it as a 40K CC in a more "toss able" and practical body style.

    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on May 24, 2017

      Very much second killing the stupid noise grunter. Did that electronically with my GTI and makes for a much more pleasant car. There is a BIG difference between how the MBQ GTI drives and how this car drives, IMHO. Not that the GLI is in any way bad, just the MBQ Golf is that much better. I don't like how the current A4 drives, so I expect I will like the MBQ version better. But I have zero use for AWD regardless of type in a car.

  • Br2_wdc Br2_wdc on Jan 06, 2018

    In the Washington DC metro area, they are clearing out 2017 GLI's both manual and DSG for low 20's. Simply the bargain of the century. I picked up a 6-speed manual, and couldn't be more thrilled with the car, especially with the announcement of no manual transmission option for 2018 VW GLI's. I did drive a base 2017 VW GTI S, and it's certainly a nice car, with a more sport tuned suspension, more torque, and a more updated MQB platform. But 25k for a base GTI vs. low 20's for a fully loaded GLI? Not a fair fight: GLI wins going away.

  • ToolGuy First picture: I realize that opinions vary on the height of modern trucks, but that entry door on the building is 80 inches tall and hits just below the headlights. Does anyone really believe this is reasonable?Second picture: I do not believe that is a good parking spot to be able to access the bed storage. More specifically, how do you plan to unload topsoil with the truck parked like that? Maybe you kids are taller than me.
  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
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