2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review – Window Shopping On Company Time

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

2.0-liter turbocharged four (228 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm)
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
26 city / 36 highway / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.0 city / 6.5 highway / 7.9 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $32,990 US / $35,432 CAN
As Tested: $33,385 US / $35,432 CAN
Prices include $1195 destination charge in the United States and $2437 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

I’m well aware that I’m remarkably privileged to do what I do here at TTAC. I’m a car enthusiast, getting paid to go play with cars. Friends often will ask what I’m driving this week, rather than the usual small talk about the weather. A touch of envy seeps into the conversation when I reveal that I’m driving a high-end luxury car or some powerful sportscar.

When it comes down to it, however, I’m using whatever car arrives in my driveway that week as my primary driver: First, to properly evaluate it for you, dear reader, and secondly, to keep miles off the cars in my driveway. But I’ll always need my own cars, as I need to get to my office for the day job and I don’t always have media loaners upon which I can rely. One of my own cars, however, will be reappropriated soon as my eldest turns sixteen in about a week – and my other car – a vintage Miata – isn’t particularly suitable for year-round driving.

So, this is where my privilege comes in – I’ve been using this second career as an extended test drive to find my next daily driver. While those high-end luxury cars would be a lovely addition to the fleet, quite frankly they don’t pay me enough here. So, I’m looking toward more reasonably-priced ways to get where I’m going – and something that provides cheap thrills like this 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI might very well be the ideal choice.

Last week, I discussed a hot Volkswagen. This week, another hot Volkswagen. I haven’t yet been able to line up a Golf R loan – or, for that matter, a bank loan for a Golf R *curses at all three credit bureaus* so this will be it for a while on my People’s Car adventures. Driving both of these back-to-back was enlightening, to be certain – opening my eyes to the mild differences and significant similarities between the pair. I’m not sure how many will be cross-shopping both GTI and GLI – but if you are, I can give some insight.

First, while some commenters felt that I was wrong about diminished interior materials quality on the GTI, please understand I was writing having driven both in close proximity. The GTI, while not on par with luxury marques, definitely feels more premium than the Jetta GLI here. Interior plastics on the Jetta, unfortunately, betray the standards to which many generally hold the countries of origin of the respective cars. The German-built GTI, despite having been nominally de-contented (OF THE KNOBS, for instance) has a more finished feel than the Mexican-built Jetta GLI. I noticed this primarily on the trim lines of the door pockets, where on the Jetta GLI I felt and saw some rough flash leftover.

Conversely, the Jetta GLI retains the well-received MIB infotainment system that’s been around a while – including in the previous-generation GTI. I did, however, experience a few glitches while using the system. Namely – the audio system wouldn’t, you know, play audio.

This happened roughly three times in my week with the GLI. I’d start the car and hear a notification from my phone that Android Auto had connected. Everything appeared on the center eight-inch screen as normal – navigation from Google Maps worked (thank God, as the first time this happened I didn’t quite know where I was going) and the screen displayed the music that should have been playing via Spotify.

But there was no sound. Clicking back over to satellite radio brought me nothing but silence. Stopping the car, cycling the ignition – even opening the door to perhaps trick the car into restarting the infotainment – nothing worked. Only after reaching my destination and parking for half an hour did the audio return. Thankfully, my youngest, who was riding shotgun, decided to serenade me with show tunes – she’s become enamored with musical theater over the past year or so – to replace that which should have been spewing forth from the speakers.

Weirdly, the display in the instrument panel seemed rather flaky during those times that the audio blanked out. Here, I had my singing child reach over and take a photo of the display showing a compass and what my next turn should be – but the route listed would flicker on and off seemingly randomly, and it misspelled the word “Interstate” as “Intersate.” The editor deep within me kept looking for the little red spellcheck lines to appear, but alas, ‘twas not to be.

Infotainment wonkiness aside, as it’s likely an issue easily cured with a single dealer visit or even before delivery with a software reflash – I loved my time driving the Jetta GLI. It’s roomy and comfortable, with just enough bolstering to the seats to not be flung into door panels when hustling around corners. It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, even if the taller of your too-tall kids decides to sit behind dad. Plenty of trunk space for road trips, too, makes this a great all-arounder.

Styling is as plain as one expects from Volkswagen. The Jetta GLI is, I’m afraid, a boring-looking sedan. It’s not ugly by any means and is definitely dressed up by the flashes of red across the fascia, but it takes a trained eye to spot a GLI among the rental-grade Jettas found elsewhere.

Much as I love rowing my own gears, I’m equally enamored with the dual-clutch (DSG in VWese) transmission here in the GLI. The trans is much more responsive than any traditional torque-converter automatic, making spirited drives accessible to those who don’t want to use a third pedal. From everything I’ve heard from enthusiasts who’ve owned DSG-equipped Volkswagens, they’re remarkably robust even when abused with track duties and/or a lot of extra horsepower.

The cheapskate within me was a bit taken aback when I noticed that this top-of-the-line Autobahn trim was also the only-of-the-line trim available on the GLI. I swore that lesser S and SE models had been available in the past, and confirmed with a bit of searching. VW top spox Mark Gillies tells me that the demand has generally been highest for the Autobahn trim – if I had to guess, however, the all-encompassing “supply chain issues” hitting basically every industry have made it worthwhile to focus on building the highest-margin packages since basically every car that rolls off the line will find a willing buyer at or very near MSRP these days.

Still, I think the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a hell of a sport compact bargain – at least when looking at the stablemate GTI. The similarly-equipped GTI I reviewed last week stickers for $6,800 more than this GLI – and GLI I tested had the ($800) optional DSG transmission, versus the six-speed manual in the GTI. The new GTI gets a bit of extra power, a larger infotainment screen, and adaptive vehicle dynamics settings that aren’t available from the Jetta GLI – but if you can live without those extras, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump into the GLI. And I’ve been thinking hard about it for the empty spot in my driveway.

[Images: © 2022 Chris Tonn]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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8 of 36 comments
  • AK AK on Apr 13, 2022

    I'll have a Civic SI over this turd, any day. The Civic being $3700 less is just a bonus.

    • See 4 previous
    • AK AK on Apr 13, 2022

      @FreedMike Mike, you are correct. A 3200 fwd automatic turbo 4 economy car is indeed the pinnacle of speed these days. I'd never assume otherwise.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 13, 2022

    "The German-built GTI, despite having been nominally de-contented (OF THE KNOBS, for instance) has a more finished feel than the Mexican-built Jetta GLI. I noticed this primarily on the trim lines of the door pockets, where on the Jetta GLI I felt and **saw some rough flash leftover**." Point of clarification: The plastic injection molding and the de-flashing/un-flashing/tinkering-to-rectify-poor-mold-fit most likely happened (or didn't happen) at the supplier which might be far far away from the final assembly plant. Perhaps the German-assembled door panel was molded in Germany and same for Mexico, or perhaps not -- the global OEMs get parts from all over the planet. So: If you are the type of person who judges the assembly quality of a vehicle by the plastic trim flashing, knock yourself out. But I wouldn't base generalizations of Mexico vs. Germany on that observation alone.

    • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Apr 13, 2022

      After retirement, my wife decided that I was too young and needed to go and "do something". I took a job at a large local plant making plastic interior parts for Honda over in Central Ohio. As a quality control inspector I was to look for flash and gouges/marring in the black plastic pieces on highly visible console trim parts. I was also issued a black grease pencil and a piece of rag. See a gouge or large scratch? Use the grease pencil to fill it, wipe it smooth with the rag, ship it. I did my one and only shift there that day...

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