By on March 31, 2020

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (228 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft 1,700 rpm)

Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive

25 city / 32 highway / 28 (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

9.6 city, 7.3 highway, 8.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $26,995 (U.S) / $32,445 (Canada)

As Tested: $27,890 (U.S.) / $34,230 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,785 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

“Schläfer” is the German word for sleeper, or so Google tells me (I spent my foreign language education on Spanish, and I can perhaps order in a restaurant using that language. Maybe). Perhaps it should just be changed to 2019 Volkswagen GLI.

Yeah, there are still sleeper cars on the market – and this delightful spin on an already reliable German econobox is one of them.

I’ve found the normal Jetta to be solid, affordable transport. But for those who want to spice up their schnitzel, so to speak, the GLI does the trick nicely. And unlike just about all of the other sporty compacts, include corporate stablemate Golf GTI, it does so without advertising what it is. Your mother-in-law won’t know this is a performance car, unless you dig deep into the throttle. Or downshift in anger to pass a slowpoke.

Volkswagen launched this car by sending journalists, including yours truly, to the famed Tail of the Dragon stretch of highway on southeast Tennessee. I wouldn’t get any drive on such a road during my week with this test unit – no such road exists near Chicago, to my knowledge – but even freeway driving and suburban slogging allowed me to tap into enough of this car’s sporty streak to satisfy.

It really is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of ride. Sedate at lower RPMs, as relaxed as the regular Jetta, as relaxed as most compact commuter cars.

All it takes is the activation of Sport mode and/or a quick foray into the upper RPM range to bring Mr. Hyde. Which you’ll likely do quite often. And you’ll be rewarded when you do, receiving swift acceleration.

[Get new and used Volkswagen Jetta GLI pricing here!]

The 2.0-liter turbo-four from the GTI (228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque in this application) is well matched to this car, as well as to the satisfying six-speed stick (you can get a seven-speed automatic if you must, but why?).

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition

One of the GLI’s strong suits, as noted above, is its relative stealth. The more-expensive WRX is boy-racer personified. The cheaper Civic Si is high-strung around town. And so on.

Not so this car. Fellow freeway dwellers most likely won’t even pick up what you’re putting down. To anyone who isn’t a car geek or VW nerd, it looks like you’re driving just another Jetta.

Yes, the bumpers are changed to give the car a more aggressive look, and there’s a rear spoiler to go along with chrome exhaust tips, a special grille, and black 18-inch wheels. Oh, and side skirts. Still, this car blends.

Even its lowered ride height is not going to be noticed, since it’s 0.6 inches.

Most of the goodies go unseen. Adaptive damping. Electronic limited-slip. Bigger brakes. Rear multi-link independent suspension. These are what make this car special.

I wrote previously that when pushed the car exhibits understeer and some body roll, but that roll won’t likely be present unless you’re really pushing the car hard. A week of mostly more sedate driving than what I did in Tennessee proved correct. The firm steering never proves too heavy for relaxed driving, and the ride is slightly stiff but comfortable enough for a long highway slog.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition

Inside, you’re getting the typical VW experience of unrelieved black, with a D-shaped steering wheel being the most obvious clue towards this car’s intent.

My test unit was a 2019 model with 35th Anniversary trim. The inexorable passage of time being what it is, that trim has since disappeared, leaving you with just two choices – S and Autobahn. That’s too bad, since the 35th Anniversary edition split the difference, and you’ll have to outlay a couple more grand for the Autobahn if you want the DCC adaptive damping (and leather seats, and satellite radio), putting the best version of this car at close to $30K before factoring in any cash on the hood.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition

Should you find a 2019 still on lots, you’ll find it includes everything mentioned above plus 35th anniversary badges inside and out and a black roof. Other standard features – my car had no options that weren’t added at no charge – include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone climate control, hill-start assist, heated front seats, Bluetooth, USB, LED lights, and smartphone integration.

If you can live without XM and leather, the 35th Anniversary is a pretty good value choice.

The $30K price for the Autobahn gives me pause, although that is a lower price than what Subaru charges for a loaded WRX. Still, going forward, it’s going to be the best version of a well-rounded car that puts out some stealth speed.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 35th Anniversary Edition

Problem is, the Civic Si is a whole bunch cheaper. On the other hand, the Jetta is more refined.

Your refinement requirements, brand loyalty, and reputations for reliability will play into the mix when comparing the GLI to the competition. In a vacuum, however, it may just be the most well-rounded sport compact sedan.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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46 Comments on “2019 Volkswagen GLI 35th Anniversary Edition Review – Stealth Speed...”

  • avatar

    As a former Jetta and Audi owner, I’d rather get a low miles CPO Audi. Depending on the model, the price will be similar and the quality and sound dampening in the Audi will make it a much better choice. Both are expensive to repair so you won’t win with either of them. At least you’d be more slightly more comfortable stuck in an Audi.

    • 0 avatar

      Came here to say this. With the Audi you are getting AWD, far better sound systems, and better dealer service. The way they depreciate, you can get a two- or three-year old model for about the same price as a new VW.

      • 0 avatar

        What awd? Ice is melting. I see all these AWD Highlanders running around and only one snow day the whole winter

        • 0 avatar

          What?? But you need all wheel drive. If you don’t have it you will immediately go into the ditch and then get infected by COVID and die a slow, grueling, socially distant death.

          • 0 avatar

            I used to laugh at people for buying cars with AWD…until I did. I’m not laughing anymore. It’s damn handy.

          • 0 avatar

            Yup. You will never be able to make the turn or stop in time without AWD so you are doomed, I say, doomed!

          • 0 avatar

            Oh, stop…I know AWD won’t make my car stop or steer any better, but if I turn off the nanny systems (which locks the car into full-time AWD), it’s a freakin’ beast on hills, so it’s definitely useful. To get that level of performance without AWD, I’d have to invest money (and garage space) for winter tires, and mess around with getting them mounted and unmounted every year. Screw that – as it is I can pretty much deal with any hill with my high-performance all-seasons, and I’d rather do that.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what I did two years ago. CPO 2015 A4 for 23k and haven’t looked back. 70k miles now with only a couple minor issues.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually think CPO is a waste of money on a three-year-old Audi – it adds one year of coverage, giving you maybe another two years, and the cost of a CPO car is usually a couple grand higher. It makes more sense on a year-old car, but keep in mind those are usually from a) people who didn’t like the car (red flag) and dumped it, or b) the dealer’s service loaner fleet. My last loaner was an A5 Sportback that I flogged without mercy. Good car, but if it spends a year doing that kind of duty, I’d pass on buying one used.

      Buy a good aftermarket warranty instead – the one for my ’15 A3 cost about $1500, and added 4/48 coverage with a $200 deductible. Just don’t buy it from the dealership – buy it directly from the warranty company instead. Hint: make sure your Audi dealer has a good relationship with the provider (mine does – it’s from the same company the F&I office sells).

      Also, one factor you’re not talking about is maintenance – Audi dealers are going to charge a LOT more than a VW dealer. The 35,000 mile maintenance on my A3 cost nine hundred bucks, which thankfully was covered by the prepaid maintenance policy the previous owner had bought.

      Still, I don’t have many regrets buying my car over a GTI. I picked it up for $19,500 with 27,000 miles, fully loaded with nav and the Bang & Olufsen sound system (which is awesome btw), and with the warranty, that put me at $21,000 before taxes, which for that car is a ridiculous bargain.

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience those aftermarket warranties come with their own caveat emptor. Be sure to read the fine print. Remember these guys don’t make money when the pay claims.

        You are likely to find buried somewhere deep in the contract that the warranty excludes coverage on any and all moving parts or any parts attached to any moving parts or any wear items or any clams caused by the failure of a wear item (see gasket/seal). It’s a scam worse than a shady used car dealer.

  • avatar

    This car is a whole lotta fun. I wish VW realized that GLI buyers are also would-be GTI buyers and offered up those plaid seats in this, but the manual trans and the long warranty help make up for that.

    Short of the $50k+ choices, this is probably the most fun, new car you can get. I’d opt for the Autobahn version with the improved tech, sunroof and leather.

  • avatar

    I’m sure this VW is a joy to drive – but VW’s of this era tend to have a life of 40k miles and then the Gremlins make babies and end up turning a joy into a horror movie.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Lucky for you there are still 30k miles of warranty remains at that point.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former 2012 GTI owner, I’m with you. VW has no idea how to build reliable cars such as Toyota and Honda does. I spent $$$$ trying to keep that damn thing running, but it was an uphill battle. I had rather put up with the less refined Civic Si, or better yet Type R than this thing. I know that VW increased the terms of their warranty, but the way VW denies warranty claims you had better look elsewhere.

  • avatar

    “2.0-liter turbocharged V6 ”

    Must be nice

  • avatar

    My nearby dealer in Santa Monica, CA has 3 of these in stock. All are red with 6 speed.

  • avatar

    “Yes, the bumpers are changed to give the car a more aggressive look, and there’s a rear spoiler to go along with chrome exhaust tips, a special grille, and black 18-inch wheels. Oh, and side skirts.”

    Not really a sleeper. You could remove all of this stuff and it would not affect the car’s handling or performance at all. Also remove any badges that identify this as other than a standard Jetta. Then you would have a real sleeper.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. This looks like something with mods, not a sleeper. Black trim, mirror caps, wheels, and roof? It even has smoked tails.

      Maybe other trims are more subtle, but the tester announces its purpose loudly; definitely more so than the GTI.

    • 0 avatar

      +2, volvo and burgersandbeer

      A good example of a factory sleeper would be something like a ’78 Caprice Classic with a 4-barrel 350 and F41 suspension. These had no visual cues at all to distinguish them from a ’78 Caprice Classic with 2-barrel 305 and base suspension.

      • 0 avatar

        The only other US true sleeper I can think of was the P71 crown vic with the Street Appearance Package. My understanding is that from the outside they were identical to the vanilla V8 crown vic but that the P71 code was part of the vin #

  • avatar

    I just came here to say I like that red/black color treatment. Bet it would look good in dark blue or green as well.

  • avatar

    Be still my heart — V6 with a turbo in this?! Glory, Hallelujah! I’d even take a chance on one of these things despite them being quality disasters.

    Probably a 2.0 turbo-4, right?! Just saying — check the spec sheet up-top.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Nice enough interior, but bland exterior.

    Given my past VW experience, I’d expect electrical bugs to show up early and often.

    And I don’t like the black wheel trend that has taken over the industry. Guess I was raised on Cragars.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this is better looking than most of the offerings from Toyota or Honda.

      I am with you about the black wheel thing. It doesn’t even have to be chrome or highly polished, just not black which reminds me too much of a steel wheel that has lost its wheel cover.

  • avatar

    This might have to be the perfect all-around car for people that enjoy driving?

    Good power but not so absurd you can’t use it. Manual transmission. Good room. Good fuel economy. Handles well. Looks decent. Well priced. Besides the RWD And I6 engines this might be the closest thing to BMW before 2010.

    What else is out there?

    • 0 avatar

      Does it handle well though? I haven’t seen any glowing praise for that aspect. Faint praise only. I like it in general, and the fact that you can get a manual is great. But I have some concern about the driving experience. I haven’t had a chance to test drive one myself.

      • 0 avatar

        Pleased to report it does handle well and I say that after wondering the same thing from some reviews about the GLI’s handling. I got my 35th Anniversary 6MT earlier this year before we all started hunkering down. New sport sedans with three pedals, as we know, are becoming increasingly rare!

        Having an ownership history of e30s, e28s, e36s, GTIs, A4s, my summation about the GLI is inline with Jerome10’s sentiments. Other than the FWD, the GLI feels a lot like BMWs properly used to be. Knew the GLI would be competent but more impressed than I expected to be. I like the GLI’s understated looks (it presents better in person), fuel economy is solid, cabin is spacious, trunk is trademark large and, yes, VW went a bit too cheap on the interior but otherwise appreciate the simplicity of its layout. It might always be in the shadow of the GTI but the GLI is impressive in its own right. Highly recommend test driving one when you can.

  • avatar

    Whoever designed the series of no fewer than five distinct edges wrapping up and attempting to conceal the size of the infotainment screen should be arrested… for embezeling.

  • avatar

    Ever since VW announced that they would actually let the GLI share engines and transmissions with the GTI (instead of a detuned weak sauce version) I’ve had a soft spot for this car. I would have thought long and hard about one if I hadn’t wanted more cargo capacity in the wagon I bought.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the past GLI wasn’t *detuned*, it was actually an older generation of the EA888 which was also still being used in the last gen Audi Q3, last gen Tiguan and VW CC. The last GTI to use that particular generation engine was the 2014 model, I believe. Sort of a “hand-me-down” situation with the GTI/GLI prior to this model.

  • avatar

    Sleeper = Good. (Snoozer = Not So Good.)

    This vehicle appeals to me. Can I order one online direct from VW? (I’d prefer to avoid my local VW dealer.)

  • avatar

    One thing nobody seems to mention is how ugly these things are in person. Yeech. When I was shopping for my current car I checked out the GTI and this. GTI was OK but way too small for my family. This was the right size, but aesthetically all the details were so much worse, both in and out. If you can get past that, even before the virus dealers were practically giving these things away. I miss the days when the Jetta was just a Golf with a trunk. The cost cutting on this is almost cynical.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re completely on target when it comes to the interior – this is nowhere near as nice as a Golf inside. I do like the exterior styling, though.

    • 0 avatar

      As FreedMike mentioned, VW definitely went too far with the cost cutting in the interior. Hard plastics, fixed rear headrests, etc. Design of course is subjective and, agree, while the GLI may not win any design awards, I like its understated styling, Jetta body looks good in GLI trim. It also drives great.

      Ultimately, yes, be nice if the GLI was truly all around a GTI with a trunk but I think the GLI has a lot of merit on its own. Especially when you look at numbers. Significant difference between the GLI and GTI beyond just MSRP. The lease deal I was able to engineer on the GLI far better. GTIs no longer lease all that well and dealer I went to was especially motivated to move the GLI 35 with a manual trans that I now have.

      With your handle, worth mentioning I was also strongly considering an Accord Sport 2.0 6MT but, by the numbers, that’s a car better to buy than lease. For my business, the advantages of leasing make more sense not to mention the lingering question mark on VW’s long term reliability.

  • avatar

    Coincidentally, my ’19 GLI 35th Anniversary has it’s first anniversary of being in my garage tomorrow.

    I can agree with pretty much all the good things and the bad things that people have commented on. Yeah, VW has cheapened it versus the GTI but I was 52 years old when I bought the car and didn’t think I could pull off a GTI at that age. (The Si was too boy-racer for me. The Golf R was a serious contender too but too much car for me at this point in my life.)

    One thing that offsets some of the interior deficiencies for Canadian buyers is that when the GLI first arrived a year ago it was only available in 35th Anniversary trim and in Canada that was pretty much the American Autobahn trim with the 35th Anniversary badges, spoiler and wheels. I’ve even got a few things that I don’t think are available in US GLIs, such as Nav, a wireless phone charger and heated rear seats. It also has DCC, satellite and leather as standard. The only option was a driver assistance package and VW didn’t make any of them without that it seems.

    The car is an absolute blast to drive. There is quite a gap between first and second but the car makes up for that because second gear (with the 6 speed manual) is so much fun. The limited slip is really impressive. Cornering at high speeds is much more controlled as the differential does it’s job.

    I don’t drive a lot so that car has barely more than 15,000kms on it in a year (approximately 9300 miles) and the honeymoon still isn’t over. In fact, I’ll swap the winter steelies and tires for the summer rims and tires in a couple of weeks and the honeymoon will start all over.

    I replaced a ’17 Lincoln MKZ with the GLI because I was bored with the MKZ even though it would go like a scalded cat with the 3.0L TT engine. I think it was the automatic that sapped the fun for me.

    (Not on point, but count me among the people who don’t see AWD as essential in a modern car. I won’t drive so close to the limit that I need AWD to save me and in winter conditions I’m fine with FWD and good winter tires. AWD is weight and complexity that I don’t need or want. Not to get too far off point here, but if my winter choice is between a FWD car with good winter tires and an AWD car on all-season tires, I’l take the additional traction of the winter tires any day. My daily commute requires me to both brake AND turn.)

  • avatar

    It would really be a sleeper if you got rid of the black wheels, and replaced them with whatever style (and size?) came on the Jetta. That being said, not a bad value proposition if you want a (mid-size?) sedan and want some oomph. But as others have said, why would one get this over a CPO Audi A4 or A6 with a warranty and Audi Care? Same platform, much quieter, composed ride, and at least the possibility of V6.

  • avatar

    I don’t like the standard grill on the Jetta, but this blacked out one really makes the front end look pretty decent. That straight on pic almost makes it look like a mini Charger.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    It’s $2300 less than the cheapest GTI. Why?

    And doesn’t everyone prefer wagons? I’d be way more interested in a GLI wagon. Sedans seem kinda useless to me.

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