Amongst the dizzying array of performance cars across VW Group’s four core brands, there’s no equivalent to the Jetta GLI in Europe. Yes, you can get an Audi S3 saloon, but being all-wheel drive and much more powerful (not to mention pricier), that’s a rather different prospect. There’s also a 40 TFSI A3 saloon, but it’s less powerful than the GLI with 188bhp, and you’re forced to have it with AWD and a dual-clutch automatic.
The GLI, on the other hand, is front-wheel drive and comes with a manual gearbox as standard. Much more fun. It’s best thought of as a Golf GTI in a saloon car suit, and thanks to a mid-life refresh for the whole Jetta range, it just got even better.
In terms of the way it goes, it shouldn’t feel any different to the old one. The GLI’s EA888 2.0-litre inline-four turbo engine is still good for 225bhp and 256lb ft of torque, transferred to the front through a six-speed manual gearbox and a ‘VAQ’ electronically-controlled locking differential. If preferred, there’s an optional seven-speed ‘DSG’ dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Unlike the rest of the Jetta range, which makes do with torsion beam, trailing arm rear suspension, the GLI gets a fully independent multi-link setup back there. Adaptive dampers are fitted as standard.
New stuff on the outside includes a restyled front bumper featuring a larger lower opening, a new rear bumper with a beefy, honeycomb-patterned insert and new LED projector headlights. 18-inch wheels are fitted as standard, and there’s a choice of five different colours including the lovely Kings Red Metallic featured on the car in the press pack.
Inside, there’s VW’s MIB3 infotainment system, wireless device charging, a 10-inch digital instrument cluster and a whole load of red contrast stitching for the perforated leather seats. The ‘IQ.Drive’ suite of driver assistance features is fitted, bringing with it autonomous emergency braking and lane assist among other things. If the standard spec isn’t plush enough for you, there are plenty of options including 10-colour ambient lighting and a BeatsAudio sound system.
Pricing hasn’t been revealed yet, but the starting price shouldn’t rise much above the $27,340 charged for the outgoing version. VW says it’ll be arriving in dealers across the US during the fourth quarter of 2021.
It won’t be reaching Europe, of course - the seventh-generation or ‘A7’ Jetta has never been sold here, partly to avoid it cannibalising Passat sales. But hey, given the number of affordable performance cars that make it to our shores and not North America, we can’t grumble too much.