By on November 2, 2021

For car freaks – and they don’t get any freakier than the B&B – a car is more than just a transportation appliance. We end up involved with our cars. We care for them. We worry about them. Some of us even name them.

My last car, a ‘15 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro, was Mitzi – petite, German, cute, fun … and not very easy to live with. If Mitzi had been a human female, she’d have been a blast in the sack and high-maintenance and kind of clueless the rest of the time. A great mistress and a lousy partner, if you will. The “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation had been coming for a while, and when used car prices went bonkers, it felt like the right time to kiss Mitzi on the forehead and say goodbye.

That’s how I ended up on a car-search journey that took several months and ended with one of the best hard decisions a car freak can be faced with: Choosing between a VW GTI or Jetta GLI. Which one won my heart? Read on.

I was looking for a car that could be a freak when I wanted it to, without Mitzi’s practicality and maintenance issues – less of a mistress, more of a partner, if you will.

Well, if you want practicality, it’s hard to beat CUVs, so I flirted with the idea of one briefly. Looking back, I think this proves that peer pressure doesn’t end when you’re 18 – it’s like the world is whispering “everyone’s buying a crossover, and if you want to be cool, you need one.”

So, I considered two CUVs that enthusiasts have heaped praise on: A Mazda CX-30 and Mazda CX-5, both with the 2.5 turbo engine. Both felt big and ponderous, and the drivetrain was particularly disappointing – these cars both have over 300 lb-ft of torque, but it’s delivered joylessly by an old-school automatic that drained these vehicles of whatever fun-to-drive chops they might have had. If this is what an “enthusiast’s crossover” is like, I think I’ll just let someone else experience the joys of CUV ownership, thanks. I’d also suggest to Mazda that now that they have the engines to make their “here’s your way-less-expensive Audi” pitch to customers, they need to figure out why people like driving Audis so much (hint: look for the “S-tronic” label on the gearshift).

I also tried out some midsized metal – the Honda Accord Sport 2.0T, Hyundai Sonata N-Line, and Mazda 6 2.5T got spins. I also checked out the Subaru WRX, the Mazda3 2.5T, and the Hyundai Elantra N-Line. The Accord came closest to what I was looking for, but it was so damn big; the others, for various reasons, didn’t feel like a fit.

That brought me home, so to speak, to the VW GTI and Jetta GLI, which both share my old Audi’s MQB platform and a great deal of its running gear. And if you’re an enthusiast, I can’t imagine putting a Nardi-clad right foot wrong buying either one of them.

Like all automakers, VW is in the midst of a torrid CUV wet dream, ejaculating endless rows of porky Atlases, Tiguans, and Taoses (Taosii?) onto dealer lots. But they still offer the GTI (a new model is on the way), a vehicle that needs no introduction for car nuts. A couple of years ago, they dropped all the GTI’s drivetrain, steering, chassis, and suspension goodies into the milquetoast current-generation Jetta, creating the current GLI, and gave it a price tag that’s about three grand lighter (we’ll delve into why it’s cheaper in a moment).

New-car pricing may be in full Looney Tunes mode right now, but due to VW’s Tolkienesque quest to sell only things that are electric or unnecessarily lifted and clad with ugly black plastic, deals can be had on a GTI or GLI. And for what it’s worth, if you want one, I suspect you might want to buy one sooner versus later, before all you can get from VW is an EV, or yet another Karen-tested, Karen-approved crossover. And with that, my anti-CUV rant endeth.

Put the GTI and GLI side to side, and the difference is obvious: The Jetta has basically morphed into a midsize car. In fact, when the current Jetta was introduced, many B&Bers pondered whether this almost-as-big-as-a-midsize model spelled the end of the Passat in the VW lineup, and they were right. Meanwhile, the GTI offers a somewhat more cramped back seat, but its’ hatchback configuration also means you can put the back seats down and stuff almost anything smaller than a SpaceX Dragon capsule back there. Either way, when it comes to practicality, either of these cars has it all over my old Audi.

You might wonder how VW gets away with charging three grand less for a GLI, and when you climb into the driver’s seat, it becomes apparent: The plastics are harder, shinier, and more hollow-feeling, and it has the same cheap-looking gauge cluster as the base model. The rear compartment loses the GTI’s rear seat HVAC vents, and the door panels look suspiciously similar to what you’d find in the back of a police cruiser. Petrochemical austerity aside, though, there’s a nice fold-down armrest with cupholders, and plenty of room for adults to stretch out.

The biggest difference in the GLI’s cockpit is under your glutes – VW ditched the GTI’s wonderful front seats (and the ridiculously cool Clark plaid upholstery) for the same ones you’d find in an up-level Jetta, and the sport seats are nowhere on the options menu. The GLI’s seats aren’t bad by any stretch – in fact, if you’re not a low-bodyfat type, that might be a decisive factor in buying it over the GTI – but the GTI’s seats are missed in the cheaper car.

If I’m making it sound like the Jetta is a rolling hairshirt, it isn’t; it has a class-competitive interior, but it definitely suffers by comparison to the Mk 7 Golf line, which has always punched far above its weight when it came to interior quality, and still does, even in its seventh (and final) model year. Save for the HVAC controls, everything in the GTI’s cockpit looks and feels like money, and when you close your eyes and shut the doors or trunk, you get that same “German unobtainium” sound that you get over at the Audi store.

On the other hand, VW tosses in keyless “comfort” access, push-button start, and adjustable interior “ambiance” lighting as freebies on the base GLI model; you’ll have to spend well over 30 grand to get the first set of features on a GTI, and the accent lighting – assuming you’re into that – isn’t available at all. Both cars offer the usual connectivity/infotainment niceties, including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, in-car Wi-Fi, and a suite of basic passive safety features (automated emergency braking, rain-sensing wipers, rear-assist, blind-spot monitoring, and so forth).

Both cars also offer a feature that should warm the heart of any enthusiast – user-configurable drive settings for the steering, transmission, front differential, and engine note. Opt for the automatic transmission on either model and you also get a launch-control system.

Under the sheet metal, both cars are practically identical. The starting point is the excellent EA888 2.0T motor, which anyone who complains about “2.0 China compliance engines” should try out. It’s basically a slightly-uprated version of the engine in my old A3, and I can tell you from experience that it’s got plenty of punch, suffers minimal turbo lag, has a nice engine note, and even likes to rev beyond 5,000 rpm. You can mate it to a fine-shifting six-speed manual (I’d quibble on the clutch travel, but that’s about it), or a great seven-speed dual-clutch “DSG” automatic. The VW group has put this drivetrain in a wide variety of VW and Audi cars, and it’s got the formula down pat. My only concern is the water-pump-made-of-Kleenex issue, a $1,800 repair that my A3 fell victim to at the ripe old age of 60,000 miles, but that’s why on the eighth day, God made factory warranties and 45,000-mile leases.

Both cars also have uprated – and very strong – brakes sourced from the Golf R, and an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential; step up to the Autobahn trims on either car and you get user-configurable suspension damping.

If that sounds like everything you need for a really good time behind the wheel, you’re exactly right, but if you drive both cars back-to-back, you’ll find two distinct roadgoing personalities.

Tons of digital ink has been spilled on these pages about the joys of driving a GTI, so I won’t add much more. Let’s just say that there aren’t many cars that fit the “pure driver’s car” mold at this price anymore – Mazda Miatas and the Toyobaru twins come to mind – but the GTI does, and for this kind of money, it’s the only one you can use to shuttle stuff and your family around in. It’ll practically beg you to be driven hard, and when you do, it responds like an eager little puppy – it’s quick, direct, loves to dig for the quickest way through a corner (this is where the electronically-controlled limited-slip diff really shines), and the brakes feel strong and sure.

The GTI could use a bit more steering feel, and more power would always be welcome, but this car’s “delightful to drive” rep is well-earned. On the debit side, the GTI rides a bit too stiffly to be an ideal commuter on Denver’s awful streets, and it’s also a touch loud on the highway, but it’ll certainly do as a daily driver (it’s a lot better than, say, a WRX).

The GLI offers a different take on the same basic mechanicals. Buff books have strapped testing instruments to both cars and concluded they both have the same basic performance envelope, and your backside will tell you the same story – bend the GLI into a corner, and it’s certainly eager (with a touch more understeer than the GTI), and darned quick, but while the GTI insists on going fast, the GLI merely encourages it. Take the GLI out on the highway, punch in “comfort” mode, and its personality comes into clearer focus: It’s very refined and quiet, with a far smoother, more relaxed ride.

The GLI’s bigger footprint explains some of the difference, as does the choice of tire – the GTI rides on 40-series rubber, and the GLI on 45-series.

Both of these cars are immensely gratifying to drive, and each has its’ own charms. I’ve wanted a GTI since my junior year in college, and it’s an automotive Jack Russell terrier – always ready to play, always looking to go a little quicker, and enjoying every minute of it. The GLI is a tad more relaxed, more mature, but always ready to turn it on at a moment’s notice.

There’s a moment when a car connects with me, and for me, it happened when I was piloting a GLI on I-25 (I won’t mention how fast I was going, at least not until I’m past the statute of limitations on speeding in Colorado). It was one of those perfect little automotive moments: a clear highway, a bright blue early-summer Colorado sky, Tony Bennett on the stereo, the A/C wafting softly, and the GLI’s engine humming quietly, but just loudly enough to let me know it was ready for more. I’d done a similar run up I-25 in a GTI, and while it was certainly acceptable, it was also slightly rough-edged. I also realized – much to my chagrin – that as much as the GTI’s sport seats appealed to the 21-year-old in me, my backside is 57 years old, and it was more comfortable parked in the GLI’s more accommodating seats. The GTI wants to be a racer, and the GLI wants to be an Audi … and the Audi owner in me can’t resist that. I’d wanted a GTI since forever, and I’d miss its cheeky plaid sport seats and its cute hatchback butt, but I realized its “hey, hey, hey, let’s go fast right now!!!” attitude and slightly uncouth everyday manners would get old rather quickly.

I was sold. And with that, I made the decision to buy my second Jetta – and this one would be far, far cooler than the first.

Which GLI model, though? The GLI is available in two trims – S and Autobahn – and each can be had with a 6-speed manual or 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic. We’ll revisit the transmission choice in a second and delve into trim first; the latter was by far the easiest call.

The S model has all the good stuff I’ve talked about before covered, and the Autobahn model adds configurable chassis dampening, leather seats with ventilation, an uprated Beats audio system, a very Audi-esque digital cockpit including a configurable LCD instrument panel and a larger touchscreen; and a panoramic sunroof. All this stuff comes at a pretty stiff price – about three grand – and Autobahn models are rather scarce.

Still, I’m boujee, so I was considering one when I remembered the $800 seppuku the pano roof on my A3 committed at 60,000 miles, and TTAC’s own Corey Lewis’ sad tale of woe about the endless troubles on his pano-roof equipped VW Alltrack (there’s actually talk of a class-action suit against VW and Audi over this problem). I’d have enjoyed the nicer stereo and the cooled seats, but I have learned the hard way that when it comes to VWAG product, the less stuff that can go wrong, the better. Base model, glad to meet you.

So, manual or automatic? First, off, can I get an amen that this car offers a choice? The GLI’s six-speed is a very nice piece – not as good as the one in the Civic Si, but certainly good enough, and it allows all the usual driver-engagement joys that you only get with a manual. It was also a tad cheaper, which is always nice. The experience was good enough that I wasn’t even going to try out the slushbox. But the sales guy I was working with – and if you’re here in Denver and want to buy a VW, I’d definitely recommend him, by the way – suggested I try out the automatic.

And – hate away if you will – the DSG automatic version is the one I bought. For the record, of the eight cars I’ve bought with my own money, five have been manuals, and I was fully prepared to toe the “Manuals 4Ever” line and make this my sixth.

So why did I go with the automatic? For starters, quicker is better in my book, and the DSG-equipped GLI, with its launch-controlled, eye-blink shifts that are quicker than any human being could possibly make, will outrun the manual version. And it doesn’t give much up in terms of driver engagement – in full-sport mode, you can use the excellent paddle shifters to hold revs indefinitely, and the car will charge out of corners with authority. Meanwhile, in Comfort mode, my GLI is perfectly happy in Denver’s rotten everyday traffic, and on the interstate, the seventh gear offers a serene, Audi-esque ambiance.

We like to argue on this site about why manual-equipped cars are dying a slow death, and the usual suspects are things like “too much infotainment,” or “the big bad gubmint.” But this latest car shop has brought this into clearer focus for me. There was a time when a manual was the only way to really get the most out of an enthusiast-oriented car, but that’s changed. My GLI is a performance car, and it performs better with the automatic; aside from the Mazdas I tried, I also had zero problem with the automatics in most of the other cars I “dated” (the 10-speed in the Accord Sport, in particular, is a very nice unit).

So why are manuals dying? I’m sure electronic stuff and regulations have something to do with it, but it’s become obvious to me that the real threat to the third pedal is how incredibly good the best modern automatics are. I certainly hope the choice of a manual “sticks” around (Ed. note: Haha!), even if I chose not to buy one this time around. As for the future, I suppose we’ll see what happens 39 months from now.

The big decisions made, and the papers signed, there was one last choice to make: What to name my new baby.

Farewell, Mitzi … hello, Isabella. Here’s hoping our road together is happy, fun, and ticket-free. And no bad water pumps, please.

[Images provided by the author]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

69 Comments on “Reader Review: A Volkswagen GTI vs GLI Love Story...”

  • avatar

    Mike, Dang, nicely written piece!!! Felt like I was on a ride along with you.

    A few questions…..

    – How’s the road noise on freeways after about 30 minutes? In my short drive, I couldn’t get a sense of it. I drove it back to back against the Arteon, and the Arteon felt like full on Audi by comparison to the GLI. The Arteon was almost too smooth by comparison.
    – Have you looked into a) replacing the front seats with the tartan/plaid seats from a GTI, and b) what about replacing the stock stereo which I understand to be about as good as a Timex alarm clock?
    – The million dollar question – do you have any regrets about not getting the manual trans?

    FWIW, in my 15 minutes with a manual GLI, the car it most reminded me of was my e90, but with more power. The GLI has excellent mid-range punch. I thought it was that good.

    Congrats on the new ride!

    • 0 avatar

      @jkross –
      The highway ride is excellent. I had the car for less than 2 weeks and took it on a 1,600 mile round trip road trip. There was little fatigue, and noise is kept under control. In fact, the biggest complaint was the piped in engine noise, even in its lowest setting, was a little obnoxious, but you can drown it out with the stereo.

      The Arteon is essentially the A5 “sedan/coupe” model. It is a beautiful, smooth car, with an unfortunate price tag. If nicely trimmed models were in the high 30’s instead of the high 40’s, it would be an easier sell. But at the price they want, it’s really stepping on Audi’s toes.

      The torque in the GLI is amazing. There is little lag, and then the torque punch hits. Highway passing is a lot of fun. The stoplight drag race depends on getting the shifting right and the boost up because down low, there’s not much there. And in the higher revs, it gives up quickly. But the midrange is where it’s at.

      VW needs to offer the plaid seats in the GLI. But the regular cloth is fine. And heated seats are standard. You need to go to the Autobahn trim to get the cooled seats and heated steering wheel. But more things to break…

    • 0 avatar


      Thanks! The freeway road noise depends on whether you switch on the piped-in “sport” engine noise. With it switched on, it’s a tad loud when you hit the gas; in “normal” mode, this car drives like an Audi.

      I’m not going to replace the seats or stereo, as the car’s leased. But after 6,000 miles, I can’t say I regret not having the GTI’s sport seats (like I said…I’m 58, and I’m not skinny), and the stereo isn’t bad at all – it suffers by comparison to the B&O unit in my old A3, but that system was absolutely fantastic. Ah well. I looked into upgrading the speakers, but they’re riveted in at the factory. Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

      No regrets at all about the DSG. My old A3 had a DSG (Audi calls it S-tronic), and it was excellent. The only quibble I had was that it needed a seventh gear, which the GLI has. I knew I’d be happy with it in the GLI. It’s just so much easier in traffic – which is AWFUL here in Denver – and the paddle shifts are fun to use.

  • avatar

    You had to know I was going to spill some ink on this one and would LOVE to contribute my .02 about VW ownership and my 2020 GLI.

    First a correction/addition: All new GLIs are Autobahn trim only – no more S-level trim. And they’ll start right around $30,000.

    Matthew, I wish you all the luck in the world with your GLI ownership. In (now) 10,600 miles, here’s the running tally:
    3 total wiper system failures (it goes back in the shop tomorrow for repairs)
    2 infotainment system failures (flashed both times)
    1 violent engine idle repair (idled so rough that the entire car shook like a paint mixer)
    1 engine computer recall/replacement
    2 in-car microphone failures
    1 nasty rattle/squeak coming from the passenger side door area.

    I have never experienced such a run of bad luck with any car I’ve owned, and that includes an RX-8. It’s at the point where lemon laws are being explored and the VW dealer is opening a case with VW for which I assume would be for replacement. These are severe safety issues that no one can seem to fix, and having your wipers seize up at (the first time) around 1,800 miles in a severe storm was absolute terror.

    There are a lot of positives with this car. I wanted the 6-speed manual as well, but there were none of them in a multi-state radius. But I love the bolt-action shifts of the DSG, and in 7th gear on the highway, I’ve gotten 40 mpg (measured, not using the computer). I don’t have the summer tire option so it doesn’t handle like a GTI, but the tires are quiet and there’s a smooth ride. The gauges are simple and easy to read, but the monochrome display in the dash looks like it’s 10 years old direct from the factory. The color display in the Tiguan is a lot better. The trunk and back seat is huge, but I agree, they went REALLY cheap with the plastics back there. I’m afraid to put anything sharp back there because it will tear into those brittle plastics.

    It drives well, the steering is weighted nice (I leave it in the sport setting but use custom mode so I don’t have to listen to the fake engine sounds drone on), it’s very comfortable, and it makes a good road trip car. It looks like we both have the base infotainment and stereo system – the stereo (and I’ll be nice) sucks, but I don’t think I’ll upgrade it because the risk of the cheap plastics getting torn up around the speakers is too great and I don’t want to damage the interior.

    I’m not wanting to rain on your parade, but this GLI owner has severe buyer’s regret. I needed something to replace my Honda, which was starting to nickel and dime me to death, and I wanted something different. I was ready to go the Mazda route and finally get the MX-5 RF I’ve loved, or maybe a 3 for something more practical, but I took the chance on something fun and practical. If there were actual new car inventories out there and sticker prices were sane, this car would have been traded in before the first year was up. As is, I’ll bite the bullet and see what I can work out with VW in the coming weeks because these failures cannot keep happening. There will be an accident one of these days. And then I see what I can get for this possessed car, and it makes it harder for me not to trade it in and take a bath on a new car. I guess that’s what a warranty is for.

    I’ve written enough, but if the site is looking for a good counterpoint to this, I can write a few thousand words very easily… At least the $50,000 Arteon loaners are quite nice.

    • 0 avatar

      Fwiw: My 2013 MINI Cooper S will turn 100k next week. Have yet to have a failure of any kind. Replaced a cracked CV boot, wiper blades, brakes,tires. Just wear and tear stuff.

      So sorry to hear your woes, especially since my bro has loved both his type R,s.

    • 0 avatar

      Having multiple failures on the same or similar items makes me think the dealer(s) aren’t doing a proper repair. Whether that is because the dealer is being lazy or because VW won’t authorize the correct procedure under warranty.

      I had a similar thing with my Charger where the dealer seemed unwilling to change the battery *and* alternator together until I had to make 5 different electric issue visits.

    • 0 avatar


      I wrote this back at the beginning of June, right after I got the car, and I’ve been reading your posts about your GLI. Haven’t piped in because I knew this article was pending.

      Isabella just turned 6,000 miles last week, and knock on wood, she’s been solid. The only issues have been a buzz in the right hand side of the center console, and the infotainment likes to “go black” and reset itself randomly occasionally. Switching to the right-hand plug seemed to help. Looks like the auto-up function on the left rear window switch has also stopped working. That aside, no issues, and I’ll see if the dealer can address them when I bring the car in for service.

      I think you got a “hecho en Lunes” car. Have you been bringing the car to the same dealer?

      • 0 avatar

        @FreedMike – sorry about calling you Matthew in my initial posting. I was at work typing an e-mail to a Matthew and, well, it was on my mind!

        To answer your question, there are two VW dealers in Louisville and one across in Clarksville, IN. I’ve primarily taken it to the dealer not where I bought it, but one that I think has a better service department and better hours. Plus it’s closer to work and home. They’re trying. They’ve fixed some mistakes done by the previous service department (@ajla was right with one of the repairs – it was a goof by a service tech.) I haven’t taken it to the Indiana dealer, which would be closer to work, but I’m going to see how this repair goes. It just gets frustrating and when it rains, I sweat a little extra because I never know when things are going to fail again. This last time, thankfully, I was pulling into the parking lot at work so it wasn’t in busy traffic. But the first two times were in busy traffic, including high speed on the interstate, and that is about as bad as having your hood fly up.

        My sister and BIL bought a new Tiguan about six months ago and have no problems with it. Their two previous Audis – the A3 was a lemon from mile 1 (it needed a new engine), but the A4 was flawless – so that was hit and miss. It sounds like you’ve had some minor but annoying issues with yours. But for what we pay for these cars, they need to do a better job with quality control. Power windows shouldn’t fail at 6,000 miles – they didn’t fail on a family Maxima that had about 150,000 miles. But, like the wipers and water pumps, I understand the power windows are a common failure point in VWs as well. I know I got a bad one off of the lot. It happens. I just really wanted to like this car because it can be a lot of fun, but monthly service trips do get old!

        And I just noticed this morning that the plastic trim under the infotainment system – the soft trim below the screen in your infotainment picture – has separated from the dash in a huge bubble. One more thing for them to fix tomorrow.

        I’ve had the “go black” as well with the infotainment and I found I have to use the right hand USB port for a more reliable connection. I’ve also had it go dark and not come back up and near constant freezes. Both times a flash of the software brought it back. The previous version of Android Auto DID NOT want to cooperate with this software, but the latest version seems to be more reliable.

        The dealer said they are going to work with VW about what to do with the car. I have no idea what the options will be. But the thought of trying to push this to the end of the warranty curls my blood…

        • 0 avatar


          Ouch. Hope they finally get all that stuff nailed down.

          By the way, I should clarify – the power lift in the rear door puts the window up and down just fine – it’s the “one-touch-up” function that seems to have failed. Probably a bad switch. I’ll have them look at it when I take it in for service.

    • 0 avatar

      Horror stories like this are why I bought a Mazda 3 hatch (Grand Touring, manual) instead of a GTI. It could use a bit more punch around town, but it is fun enough without getting into felony territory. I guess I could have bought a Civic Si for more torque around town, but I’ve owned enough Hondas that it is not an itch I need to scratch and I didn’t care for the looks at all.

      My last 3 made it to 200k, hoping for the same with this one.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife has a 2019 Jetta R-Line. Nothing fancy but she likes it quite a bit. It has just over 20K miles and not a single thing has gone wrong with it. The sunroof occasionally does rattle a little, which truly pisses me off, but other than that it has been flawless. The ride is great, seats are pretty comfortable, trunk is cavernous and the gas mileage exceeded her expectations. The one she got also has the winter package, which includes remote start, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel – a rare option in south Florida.

      My mind changes daily but I think I will end up getting a ’22 GLI 6 speed sometime next year. I wish the sunroof were an option because I love everything else about the car. I am also going back and forth choosing between the GTI and the GLI so this article was perfect. What I like about the GTI is that I can get the plaid seats and NO sunroof. I’ll have to drive both when I’m ready to buy.

  • avatar

    VAG products getting a lot of attention of late…

  • avatar

    Re Mazda. I tend to agree with you. I’ve driven nearly the entire lineup at this point and outside of the Miata and CX-9 Signature (which has a legitimately great interior) I don’t understand the buff book positive histrionics about the brand.

    Re GLI. When my mother was buying her car the GLI S 7A was in the top 3 (along with a Corolla SE and Forte GT2). The VW was the roomiest and most competent performer but in the end the Kia’s features and OTD price advantage won out.

    • 0 avatar

      @ajla – I’ve driven a lot of Mazdas as well. What I see in Mazda (and I’m dating myself here) is peak Nissan of the early 1990s. They weren’t the biggest, or the best, or the most powerful, but they had a certain sporty feel to them that made them stand out. The Maxima was top notch, the 300ZX TT could take on anything, the quality was exceptional, they were comfortable, and reasonably priced. Just like Mazda is right now.

      And I agree – the Signature interiors are the best in that price range, hands down.

      • 0 avatar

        “What I see in Mazda (and I’m dating myself here) is peak Nissan of the early 1990s.”

        Nail on head.

        I had a 92 Sentra SE-R and when it was time for something new, I moved to a 15 Mazda 3 (2.5 MT), because Nissan was no longer what it used to be.

    • 0 avatar


      My mom drives a Forte as well. Eerie!

      I didn’t drive the Forte GT2 (none in stock) but I did try out the Elantra N-line, which I believe is mechanically identical. It’s a nice piece – Hyundai has made HUGE strides with their DCT – but Lord, is that thing ugly. It’s also noticeably slower than the GLI.

      I really, really wanted to love the Mazdas I drove, and the one that suited me best was the 3 with the 2.5T. Loved the styling, and the interior is best-in-class by a very wide margin. If they’d had a manual option, or a DCT, I think I’d have gone that route. But even though it’s just as fast as my GLI, it just felt…lazy. Not my jam.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Nicely written piece. Really enjoyed it.

    But, would you buy one?

    • 0 avatar

      If it had the circa-2019 warranty, I’d have considered a buy, but I like to get myself something new every couple of years, so leasing works well for me.

      Worth noting: on a lease, you only pay sales tax on the monthly “depreciation charge”, and you only pay it while you own the vehicle.

  • avatar

    Note: no more S trim on the upcoming. lightly-facelifted ’22 GLI. My wife has a deposit on one now. Production doesn’t start till early January. She’s previously owned an ’09 Jetta TDI with DSG gearbox – a trouble-free car other than a turbo replacement under warranty at about 10k miles, and a penchant for killing batteries every 12-18 months (we were in metro Phoenix at the time, a huge part of that problem – the scorching heat). Kept it for 85k miles. Traded it for a ’15 Golf TDI 6-speed. We both LOVED that car. Sold it back to VW under the Dieselgate settlement. Now she wants another stick, and the GLI is what she wants from the slim pickings still out there with a stick available.

    I’ve been driving various GTIs and Golf R32/R’s going back to the arrival of the original GTI in ’83. I’ve been lucky and never had an unreliable car in the bunch. I currently have a ’19 Golf R in the garage with the briefly-offered 6/72 warranty.

    I know that the current water pump is a turd and a labor-intensive job to replace, but $1800? I assume this was some crazy dealership pricing. A decent indy shop will do it for much less.

    • 0 avatar

      The engine actually has *two* water pumps, and both needed replacement. The thermostat was also shorted-out, and it had to be replaced.

      I had the work done at an independent shop. The Audi dealer wanted a touch over two grand.

  • avatar

    So you got rid of your mistress and went after her slightly less attractive sister. Let us know how that works out.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL…funny thing is, a few months before I traded the four-wheeled Mitzi, I had a real-life “Mitzi” as a girlfriend. Cute as a button, but Lord, was she high maintenance.

      Isabella is plenty cute, and so is the new girlfriend, and neither is exhausting. I’m way better off on both fronts.

  • avatar

    Went with the GLI, Industrial Grey, Black Package, Autobahn and Manual Tranny. Auto may be faster but as a 73 year old boy racer, I’m having more fun.

    • 0 avatar

      I got mine in that Pure Gray as well. Money well spent. I get a lot of comments about how nice that color is. It looks wet all of the time. I see a lot of A3 in the design and that’s not a bad thing. One person’s bland is another person’s understated sleeper design and I think that’s what the GLI nails.
      Did you get the black package with the Anniversary edition back in 19? I saw a few of those with the extra red accents and other trim. I didn’t see any available black packages on the ’20.
      And to add to what @6250 wrote – I’m interested to see how long the battery and starter lasts. The auto start/stop is very aggressive in mine and I don’t always turn it off on routine trips. I could be stopped for 1-2 seconds, engine turns off and before it totally turns off, I need to get in motion again. That can’t be good on things!

      • 0 avatar

        Got the 2021 Black Package. I think because tranny is manual the push button start is very responsive. No issues. Not perfect but damn near close. (My bucket car is a good used Porsche 911).

    • 0 avatar

      Matter of fact, I had a deal going on one in that cool gray color at another dealer. I got a better deal on mine.

  • avatar

    Great, very perceptive review. I’ll confess to some skepticism that Isabella will be any lower-maintenance than Mitzi, but only time will tell that, and you’re enjoying her company.

    Unfortunately, it sounds from early word on the Mk8 GTI like VW has brought the GTI interior down to the GLI’s level. That’s really too bad, especially given that the car costs quite a bit more than it did just a few years ago.

    I’d be curious whether you drove an outgoing Civic Si, and if so what you thought of it.

    • 0 avatar

      @dal – if I can comment, that Civic Si was on my short list. I did drive one and came away very impressed, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger knowing that a) I really wanted a Type-R but knew the new one was coming out in 2 years from the time I got my GLI, and b) the styling never totally grew on me (although with the Type-R, the power covers up a lot of sins.) There’s only so much honeycomb plastic fake vents and grilles one can put on a car. I also wanted to try something different because I’ve owned a lot of Hondas and Acuras.

      The new Si is on the list, but I’m waiting until next spring for the CTR and the Integra. I can only imagine what the markups are going to be with this inventory shortage. I’m guessing a $40,000 (sticker) CTR will easily go to $55,000 those first few months. Same with the Integra. And nope…

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you! I’m currently in the thick of financing a large remodeling project, so not buying any expensive toys, but want to buy myself a kid-friendly stick car once I’m financially stable again. Both new and used Civic Sis are on the list, as I have very fond memories of the 6-speed transmission in my former TSX.

    • 0 avatar


      When I bought the GLI, there weren’t any Civic Sis to be had, but I did test one out a couple of years back when I bought the A3. Great gearbox, great steering, but it’s quite a bit slower than a GLI/GTI, and I wasn’t much of a fan of the styling either (that wing, in particular, was way too Pep Boys for my tastes). It’d have lost out this time as well. But the Accord Sport 2.0T was in the running until the end.

      It’d have been interesting to see how the new Si stacks up, though.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting, thanks. Once I’m in the market I think I’m going to have to test a Si against a GLI. For my money Honda and VW are the best two makers of manual transmissions on the planet, and this whole thing is about owning one more manual car.

        • 0 avatar

          @dal – I plan on doing the same thing. One more last run with a stick shift. It could be a CTR, a new Z, Integra, Civic Si, MX-5, don’t care, just make it a stick before it’s too difficult to buy and find one or one more blown knee makes it too painful!
          Add Mazda to your stick shift list – the one in the MX-5 is so much fun to toss around. It’s only around 1.5 inches per throw. That and the long missed S2000 sticks were probably the greatest.

          • 0 avatar

            I wish I could tell you I pine for another manual, but I don’t. The truth is that I didn’t miss it in my A3, and I don’t miss it in the GLI, either.

            On the other hand, I drove the Saturn I bought for my kid the other day (which is a surprisingly solid driver, by the way), and if that were my car, I’d have preferred a manual. Then again, it’s slower and naturally aspirated, so a manual allows you to “wring it out”. That’s not really the case with my current car, which is turbocharged and has a crap ton of torque.

            I think the whole “manual or not” question really boils down to the car and the manual.

          • 0 avatar

            “Then again, it’s slower and naturally aspirated, so a manual allows you to “wring it out”.”


            Manuals are most critical in cars where you need to work a bit for your speed.

            As such, Honda has it right with the Si: If you want a manual, get that one. The GTI is getting towards the point where it no longer matters much.

          • 0 avatar

            The thing that’s most disappointing to me about the new Si is that Honda raised the price and yet took out a couple of features that are really important to me: auto climate and heated seats. It’s really silly because the same features and the same transmission are right there in the Sport Touring hatch. Maybe they’ll add the features back at the MMC.

          • 0 avatar

            Honda equipment packages have made zero sense ever since I bought my old Civic in 1985.

  • avatar

    Pathetic automatic scum

  • avatar

    Very nice article and congrats on your new ride. I will chime in my 2 cents regarding your and other posters comments about Mazda vehicles. I own a 2017 CX-5 Touring, a 2013 Forester Limited and a 2011 CR-V SE AWD. The CX-5 has the best interior by far, and a quiet and supple ride. I personally like the 6 speed automatic transmission. But it is the worst handling of the 3 vehicles I own, your description is spot on, feels ponderous (I’d add, feels tippy). I honestly don’t understand why this is considered one of the best handling compact SUVs by the automotive press. I need the ground clearance due to a very steep driveway, and like the utility aspect of a small SUV, but if this is what a good handing SUV is these days, my next vehicle will probably be a sedan.

  • avatar

    I’ve had my GTI for 13 years and have only had 2 problems one of which was a rattling gas line fixed under warranty. The other was some $500 valve that needed replacing.

    In this discussions it’s always important to keep in mind that while the B&B wants to believe the quality gap between two vehicles is huge, the data just doesn’t back that up. At most the gap between a Lexus LS and a Range Rover is roughly one problem a year for the Lexus and 2 for the Range Rover. And the gap between a Civic Si and a GTI is a lot narrower than that.

    • 0 avatar

      “the data just doesn’t back that up”

      No one has complete data aside from the automakers themselves.
      At the present, I think I’ll stick with the Lexus unless someone else is making the payments for me.

    • 0 avatar


      “At most the gap between a Lexus LS and a Range Rover is roughly one problem a year for the Lexus and 2 for the Range Rover.”

      Perhaps for the first 4 years while both vehicles are under warranty. There is no way an RR is more reliable than a Lexus after then. At least that’s what a friend who works at a RR dealership in the South shared with me.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to do car insurance claims, and got to go to a lot of dealerships and talk with Techs, They all pretty much agreed buying a VW Range Rover, BMW , MB etc, out of warranty was going to cost you way more then a Toyota or Honda or Lexus. Even the fan boys pretty much agreed.
      The best was Land rover the guys at the dealer had no qualms saying they tended to see brand new ones back in the shop 4-5 times in the first year of ownership. They also said they often had new Range Rovers in the shop for weeks at a time with electrical issues. This was ten years ago but still.

  • avatar

    Mike – I’ll second (or third or fourth) the comment that this was a great article. Congratulations on the new GLI.

    In reading this, I was struck by some uncanny similarities to my own situation, not least of which is a shared first name.

    In 2019 I was shopping for a car with a bit more ‘zest’ to it. I had a 2017 Lincoln MKZ with the 400HP V6 and thought that would do it, but I wasn’t ready for that level of isolation. Like you, the GTI was top on my list, because, also like you, a GTI had been on the wish list for longer than most readers here have been alive. I guess that’s another commonality. I’ll hit 56 years old soon enough.

    But in February of 2019 VW hit the auto show circuit with the pending GLI and I was sold. A few days later I contacted the local VW dealer to talk to the salesman that I have been buying from since 1997. The Lincoln was a rare non-VW for me. I told him that when the GLIs arrived I wanted the first black one with a manual that rolled off the truck. That’s what I got.

    In Canada, the GTI and GLI trim levels are different from what is in the US. We have only one trim level of each and in the GLI that would be the equivalent of the Autobahn in the US. The first 1100 GLIs in Canada also added the 35th Anniversary package. I think that package was on the mid-trim in the US.

    My GLI is now 27 months old, and because I don’t drive a lot and because of working from home for almost two years, I only have 26,000 kms on it (16,200 miles). I should also add that I buy instead of leasing. Call me old-fashioned, or even stupid, but I tried leasing once and didn’t like it. It was a mental thing for me.

    My honeymoon with a car usually doesn’t last longer than a year but with the GLI it’s still going strong. I can imagine that your honeymoon will last a long time too.

    I agree with everything you wrote about the GLI – both the pros and the cons. It’s an utter blast to drive but also utterly practical. (And the fact that it doesn’t go for the boy-racer look like the Civic Type-R or WRX is a plus too.)

    But there is one other car that’s also been on my wish list for a while too and my worry is that with electrics taking over and manuals dying off, this might be my last chance. I may regret this on occasion, like when my nearly-60-year-old rear end gets sore from the ride, but two weeks ago I contacted the same salesman and asked about the chances of getting a Lapiz Blue ’22 Golf R next spring. It was like the car gods had planned this. The local dealer has been allocated three cars for the launch. Both the black and white ones are already spoken for, but the Lapiz Blue R with the manual transmission was still a free agent. Let’s just say it isn’t any longer. It’s now betrothed. Since the car won’t even be built for another three or four months I asked them to delete the sunroof too. It’s not expensive, but I prefer steel over my head.

    Will I regret this? Maybe when my wife finds out, but only for a few seconds.

    Enjoy your GLI!

    (BTW – your anti-CUV rant is another commonality.)

  • avatar

    “The experience was good enough that I wasn’t even going to try out the slushbox.”

    What “slushbox”? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

    The DSG isn’t a “slushbox”. Read up on torque converters, planetary gearsets, and dual clutch transmissions, and come back here and then you can be a journalist.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a reader-submitted review which used a common slang term you pedantic nag.

      If you need precise language why don’t you head over here and have a good time by yourself?

      • 0 avatar

        The whole point of the GTI is that when they go to an automatic transmission, it does NOT use an slushbox. It uses an automated manual–gears change the same way, with clutches, no torque converter, wheels always connected to the engine unless the friction clutch is disengaged. Other than a computer giving the commands and solenoids moving the forks, it is in all ways the same as what your stir-it-yourself transmission is.

        In a place like this, that’s not pedantic. That’s a crucial distinction. “I’m going with a DSG because it’s NOT a slushbox” is more like it.

        “herp derp slushboxes suck, I’m cool” is ridiculous when talking about GTI (and Porsche) automatic transmissions.

  • avatar

    Aha! Been waiting for this! Congratulations!

    Regarding your comment about the Accord 2.0T automatic: it’s a nice piece, but sometimes the quick upshifts from rest get a little tiring, all in the name of gaming the gas mileage stuff, of course! Fortunately, a little more throttle helps, if traffic and conditions allow.

  • avatar

    Mike. This is one of the BEST articles I have read on TTAC in ages. You are a very talented writer. More from you Sir!

  • avatar

    I’m really curious to hear more about the comparison between the GLI and the Accord. I’ve previously owned a MK7 GTI 6MT, a MK5 GTI DSG, and a “6/6” Accord among other things and as I start to look for a new car these two always come to mind.

    • 0 avatar

      YMMV, but if you drove the GLI and Accord Sport (the 2.0T, not the 1.5) back to back, you’d find the Honda is an Accord (read: quintessential family sedan) that happens to have a talent for hooning around, while the GLI lives to hoon but happens to have a talent for being a family sedan. The GLI has an “edge” to its’ driving personality that the Accord doesn’t.

      Either is an excellent performance sedan; I just preferred the GLI’s “attitude.”

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    “…And it doesn’t give much up in terms of driver engagement…”

    This is hard to imagine on a car with relatively modest levels of cornering and power. Manuals require you to evaluate, plan, and act, over and over. That’s engagement. If the process of driving an MT was already borderline overwhelming, then I’d say that going to an auto would be no great loss of fun.

    Not accusing the author of this, but a lot of people seem to like easier, and easier is more fun and affirming for them. Plus Instagramming while in traffic. That’s why autos have taken over.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the whole “buy an automatic and you can Instagram while you drive” thing is primarily a byproduct of how bad traffic is getting. It’s awful here in Denver, and it’s getting worse because there’s no way of building enough roads to keep up with the population growth. It’s maddening. So, while I don’t screw around on my phone while I’m driving, I can see why other people do – it’s a distraction from the utter stupidity of being stuck doing 5 mph on I-25 at 10 am on a Saturday morning (and, yes, that happens all the time here). Getting stuck with shifting manually through all that just adds to the misery. It’s annoying, not overwhelming.

      It used to be that you’d put up with the inconvenience of a manual because it allowed you to get the most out of your car, but that’s not always the case anymore; my car shifts so quickly that it’s actually faster with the automatic. That’s true of any number of other performance cars. And on a nice, open road, the paddles offer more than enough “interaction” for me.

      I just didn’t see any downside to the automatic.

      • 0 avatar

        “my car shifts so quickly that it’s actually faster with the automatic.”

        It’s very dependent on how the transmission is tuned. I had an e38 for a year (sporty shorty with the sport automatic), and the shifting was responsive not only when I put it in manual, but also when in sport mode for the trans. And that was a 2001 model.

        I’ve driven the DSG version of the A3, and as fun as it was, the stick was even moreso.

        But I don’t live in Denver, either. Sounds like what was once a wonderful, moderately trafficked city is now overwhelmed with it. That’s such a bummer.

        • 0 avatar


          Not to whine, but I’ve been here 26 years now, and the traffic just keeps getting worse. The culprit is population growth. We have a highway system designed for a city with maybe a million people, and now greater Denver has a population of about 3 million. You could probably build a Club Med on Mars for the same money it’d take to build a proper highway system here. Housing prices are also ridiculous – not West Coast ridiculous, but bad enough.

          I’m 58, and I’m not going to have much money to retire on (thanks, ex-wife), so I’m wondering whether a move to somewhere more affordable is in the cards. My family’s from St. Louis, and it’s beginning to look awfully attractive. I’d miss the easy winters, and the low-humidity summers, but I’d be able to buy a nice place there without killing myself financially.

  • avatar

    If the engine is a descendant of the 1.8T in my two A4s and has a timing belt, then you could just replace the water pump at belt change time, along with checking the tensioners etc. Don’t buy an OEM one either – the 3rd party ones can be had with a metal impeller. 1998 had 180k miles and I sold it for $400. The 2004 I gave to a friend in need with 150K miles on it.

  • avatar

    Oh how I love to drive but hate to FIX VW’s. Maybe some day when I don’t drive 20-25k miles a year I will lease one.

  • avatar

    Congratulations on the new GLi!

    Although this is always debated on these forums, the point of a manual transmission these days isn’t about speed but rather driver engagement and enjoyment.

    I still daily drive a 1991 Volvo 240 with the M47 5-speed, so clearly in my context the need for speed and manual transmission don’t quite mix.

    I read all the time on car forums how automatics/DSGs are so much better than old, and as a try to keep an open mind I give them a try (test drove a DSG Passat GT not long ago). Still can’t stand them. The Torqueflite in my AMC is more enjoyable.

    In a truck or minivan, or large luxury vehicle sure, likewise if I was commuting in severe traffic like FreedMike, I’d buy an automatic Japanese car.

    Fortunately I’m not in that boat, and if going smaller with any sporting pretentions, personally a manual is absolutely mandatory, again not for performance, but simple engagement.

  • avatar

    “the drivetrain was particularly disappointing – these cars both have over 300 lb-ft of torque, but it’s delivered joylessly by an old-school automatic that drained these vehicles of whatever fun-to-drive chops they might have had.”

    Weird, every time there’s a “manuals are dying” piece here, I’m assured it’s OK because current slushboxes are so awesome.

    Aside from the very tired sports-car/crazy-but-hawt-girlfriend analogy, nice review.

    • 0 avatar

      I think I made a pretty clear distinction between the automatics that were good and the ones that I found wanting. The one in my car definitely falls into the former category; the units in the ones in the Mazdas I drove all fell into the latter. The shift action was lazy, and it made the cars feel a lot slower than they actually are.

      Mazda could do itself a huge favor by allowing a manual option, or upgrading to ten-speeds (ala the Accord Sport) or DCTs.

  • avatar

    Brilliant! I think you could have a career as a writer! Maybe you already are one?
    Now regarding the car, if only they sold the Golf GTI in wagon form. I currently own a 2019 Sportwagen with the 1.4T. Great economy with 40mpg easily attainable at 70mph and 500miles to a tank. Still, it is a bit of a slug when merging on the highway.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a ’16 Jetta with the 1.4T as well – very good engine. Leased it for three years and had zero issues.

      The manual was definitely the way to go with that car.

  • avatar

    I took a look at the GLI when car shopping but had to pass it up because I needed something a little bigger. Im a Honda guy but I wasnt a big fan of the 2018+ accord either. It did feel big but you sit so low and slung back in it, like a camaro lol. I ended up going with the older, 2015 accord with the v6. Its fun to drive but the extra weight in the front reduces handing compared to an i4.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • 28-Cars-Later: Define “progress”.
  • SCE to AUX: “Market listing via SPAC route has become popular among EV makers that have a vision but no...
  • FreedMike: The problem isn’t unions – it’s the ability of unions to buy off politicians. Meanwhile,...
  • FreedMike: I agree with Mitch. If the company’s dirty, then we need to know about it.
  • FreedMike: ” Do you know which company’s technology was behind the engine and drivetrain of a Fisker? Do you...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber