2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Still Jekyll and Hyde, and That's Good

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2022 volkswagen jetta gli still jekyll and hyde and that s good

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI may be changed, but its character remains the same.

Just like with the heavily updated Golf GTI, that’s cause for a sigh of relief.

Perhaps even more so, since the Jetta GLI doesn’t get the same high-falutin’ interior treatment. Thank God for keeping it old school.

Indeed, this Jetta GLI is a lot like the previous one, at least in terms of persona. Just like with the GTI, Volkswagen managed to make necessary updates without screwing things up.

(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Asheville, North Carolina, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the Golf R, GTI, and Jetta GLI, plus any other current VW I wanted to. They offered socks in the same pattern as GTI seats and I left them behind.)

The changes to the GLI are minor – a reskin of the front and rear, new wheels, and new available paint finishes. The interior is “revised” but not as thoroughly as that of the Golf R/GTI. The GLI is now available in only one trim – the top trim.

The Jetta also gets reskinned and picks up a new 1.5-liter engine. One was on hand in North Carolina but I had no chance to drive it.

GLIs retain the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and power is unchanged at 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, with a seven-speed DSG automatic available. Power goes to the front wheels – no AWD option here.

Inside, the biggest change is that a digital gauge cluster is now standard. As noted above, however, the GLI does NOT get the haptic-touch control treatment that the hatchback Golfs do. Yes, that means there’s a volume knob. Rejoice!

Because the car doesn’t change much, it retains the Jekyll/Hyde character that draws fans of sleeper sedans. Drive it sedately, and it’s a quiet commuter that hardly feels different from the “regular” Jetta.

Throw it into Sport mode, however, and the car comes alive. Hell, you can even surface the dark side while in Comfort – ask the tourists I surprised when I pulled out of a scenic lookout and punched the gas. The car went from whisper quiet to providing a head-turning, booming exhaust within seconds.

To be clear, the GLI’s handling is more limited than that of the smaller, sportier Golfs. I came closer to the limit sooner, and I managed to squeal tires at some pretty slow speeds while second-gear cornering on the famed Rattler highway. The car was predictable, with understeer showing up.

Those minor flaws aside, the car remains more fun than the standard compact commuter, and it’s a better urban runabout than the high-strung Honda Civic Si (outgoing, anyway, haven’t driven the new one yet) or the downright rude Subaru WRX (which is also redone for this year, and again, we haven’t laid hands on the new one). The GLI remains the choice for the hot-compact intender who wants to be relaxed during the daily grind.

The strut-type front suspension remains, as does the multilink rear with anti-roll bar. GLIs ride 0.6 inches lower than other Jettas and are more stiffly sprung. DCC adaptive damping is part of the package.

Despite that, comfort is mostly not sacrificed. The car rides nicely in sedate commuting. There is some body roll when pushed.

It can be a tad noisy, though. Tire noise was noticeable, and the engine makes its presence known above 3,000 RPM or so. And the exhaust note can get a bit boomy and echoey.

The clutch/shifter in the manual work well enough. The gearbox isn’t a true joy to row, but it’s no chore, either, and it’s just fine for the back-road blast.

I’d also recommend it over the DSG. Not because of any nostalgia for stick-shifts, but because the DSG sometimes decided to shift up when I didn’t want it to, even when I was using the paddle shifters to override its logic. It also tended to revert back to automatic mode before long if I didn’t touch the paddles. It’s a fine transmission for commuting, at least, but if you plop down GLI money, you’re likely planning to drive in anger at least once in a while, and if that’s your plan, you’ll be best served by the manual.

I’m glad VW left the cabin mostly alone. I like the digital gauges but I also like the ease of use of old-school knobs and buttons. Interior space remains roomy, and most materials up front seem class/price appropriate, though some cheap stuff sneaks in, mostly in the rear and/or below the beltline.

The reskin is so minor that most folks might not even notice. I certainly didn’t get chased down by a curious (and knowledgeable) enthusiast the way I did when piloting the Golf R a few minutes later. The car remains handsome in a conservative way, and very much NOT a head-turner. Which is good, if the sleeper aspect of this car appeals to you.

Since GLIs are essentially sharing equipment with top-trim Jettas, they get LED lighting, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, cooled front seats, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch gauge display, USB-C ports, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, wireless phone charging, wireless smartphone mirroring, premium audio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. One feature that they don’t get – heated rear seats. Wheels are 18-inch, as opposed to the 17s that other Jettas run on.

Options are limited to a rear spoiler and a Black package that gives you black wheels and other exterior trim bits.

VW’s IQ.DRIVE suite of driver-aid systems is standard. It includes lane centering, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, active blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and more.

Fuel economy is listed at 26/37/30 for the stick and 26/36/30 for the DSG.

Pricing starts at $30,995 for the manual and $31,795 for the automatic, with the destination fee adding $995.

What we have here is a car that’s mildly changed but mostly staying the same. The biggest change – the digital gauge cluster – is nice but not a major improvement. And that’s fine, since the car remains a delight to drive when pushed and a quiet commuter the rest of the time. The GLI’s dual personality suits it just fine.

What’s New for 2022

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI gets a minor exterior refresh, new gauges, and other minor tweaks and changes.

Who Should Buy It

Someone who wants a sporty compact that isn’t high-strung during daily commuting.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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14 of 44 comments
  • SPPPP SPPPP on Nov 15, 2021

    The updated GLI looks OK, but the pricing seems rather, uh, aspirational. Nearly $32k plus destination? Not an easy sell.

  • Theflyersfan Theflyersfan on Nov 23, 2021

    This thread is pretty much over, but for any future GLI buyers, y'all need to know that the wipers failed again last night. Dry weather, running the washer fluid to get some junk off of the windshield. Driver's side suddenly slowed down and then stopped while the passenger side wiper crashed into it. Four failures in less than a year. 11,500 miles. I've let the local VW dealer know that we will be dealing with Volkswagen of America now. There will either be a buyback or the lemon law will come into play. The car has been out of service for over a month now and this is a severe safety risk. Who is going to take a chance driving in the rain in this car? Wet at night? Forget it. I'm going to be doing over 1,800 miles around Christmas through the mountains, where there will be snow. Not in this car. Would you put your family and friends in this car? Some cars are just built under a bad sign. Maybe there was a contest in the factory to see who could build the biggest PoS and I drew the short straw. But the wipers, and the microphone, and the overhead console, and the engine computer, the violent idle, the infotainment flashes, the trim pieces, and the growing drum section of rattles from the passenger side just says this car was thrown together and shoved out the door. I had to vent. I'm just so fed up at this point where I'm about ready to recreate Clarkson vs. a Hilux but with a GLI. I'll leave it in the North Sea for good though.

    • See 10 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 23, 2021

      I'm sympathetic. PA's lemon law is 3 strikes in a year, which I utilized with my 05 Odyssey. Prior to that, my 02 Passat had multiple problems that moved around the car like whackamole. A couple items occurred twice, but it never qualified as a lemon. The last straw was the low oil light at 30k miles which meant it burned 3 quarts in 3000 miles. I agree with the others. Trade ASAP. It would be hard to get a worse car.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?