2022 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn Review by Ben Lewis

We recently tested the all-new Acura Integra A-Spec, and we loved it.  With great looks and performance, it reminded us that the world hasn’t gone completely SUV crazy – there’s still a deserving place for a well-tuned sport sedan. (or hatch in the Acura’s case).

While the Acura returns a familiar name, The VW Jetta has never gone away. And with the recent re-imagining of the sporty GLI model, it’s even more of an enthusiast’s dream come true. Significant updates for 2022 give us another chance to drive VW’s sports sedan.

Fresh Face

The Jetta GLI has always been handsome, with the crisp, restrained style that is true of so many German sedans – OK, except for the giant grille on some of BMW’s latest models…

Up front is a new bumper that has a cleaner design, a redesigned trim piece that goes across the black honeycomb grille that’s got a little more bling, and lower intakes outlined in a bold orange red that gives it some pop. We still love the curvaceous hood lines that give added texture to the design.

The profile keeps the same handsome design with a deep accent line below the windows, and an aggressive cut-in at the lower door line. The 18-inch alloys with machine finish look sporty and the red braking calipers add some subtle menace.

The rear keeps the elegant but sporty theme with sleek LED taillights, a redesigned rear bumper with a more prominent honeycomb lower fascia, and a wider dual exhaust, which features fat exhaust pipes for a sporty vibe. A subtle red GLI badge is the one of the few concessions that this is the performance version of the Jetta. No boy racer look here, just flying under the radar. We love that! Another thing we love is the Rising Blue Metallic paint. It helps the red GLI trim and badges pop and looks sporty and fresh.

 Das Sport Cabin

Inside is more tasteful restraint.

The biggest news for GLI fans for 2022 is the base trim has gone away, so the GLI comes one way – loaded Autobahn trim. We’re fine with that, as everything is nicely integrated, and we think it allows VW to tell a great value story. More on that in a bit.

Open the door, and you’re greeted by a modern, Euro feeling that wouldn’t be out of place in an Audi. Playing center stage is the GLI’s Digital Cockpit Pro, featuring a 10.25-inch screen with three views including full screen map for navigation-equipped models, and 21 view options for all sorts of good stuff, including car status, driving data, assistance features, phone info and more.

The info-tainment gets a nice upgrade with the third generation MIB3 system, featuring a large 8-inch display, wireless charging, wireless connect for your Apple or Android, enhanced voice recognition, HD radio, Sirius XM, and a total of tree USB-C ports. If that sounds pretty good, just wait till you crank up the BeatsAudio system with a 12-channel, 400-watt system with speakers including der Zubwoofer!

 The rest of the interior shows small changes over the previous year, with the GLI getting a new leather-wrapped wheel with touch button remotes that take a little getting used to. The leather wrapped shifter has a nice feel and a touch of aluminum trim, and like the steering wheel gets a little touch of red trim to celebrate the sportiness of the model. Dual-zone climate control with piano black trim is a nice touch as well.

Seating is a nice leather, and with standard heated and cooled front seats it’s easy to get comfortable – VW knows how to make a bucket that’s supportive for hours in the saddle. The rear seats are adult friendly, too. With the rear seats up, the trunk is huge, and you can easily flip them down for more space. This is a sporty sedan that nails practicality, too.

Our only gripe is with some of the plastics that are harsh and cheap-looking for a top-line model. The touchpoints are soft-touch and nice, but it does remind you that starting around $20k, the Jetta has some frugal built into the DNA.

From Frugal to Fahrvergnugen!

Ultimately, you opt for the GLI because you love to drive.

Little has changed on the GLI in the last two years, but that’s not a problem it was already a great driver’s car. Under the hood is the VW’s familiar 2.0-liter turbo four, punching out a smooth 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque rolling in at just 1,500 rpm. Like the Acura Integra we recently tested, the GLI is offered with a 6-speed manual – great for the serious driver. Unlike our Acura tester, our GLI had the optional 7-speed dual clutch automatic.

This is actually a great transmission, with rapid shifts, great response, and a wonderful feel as you snick through the gears. Worth mentioning, going clutchless in the Integra brings a much less satisfactory CVT transmission. We’re sure it’s nice but if you are going to go without a clutch pedal, the VW’s DSG is the way to go. 

The transmission has a couple nice features. Pull the lever back from Drive, and it goes into Sport mode, that is not only quicker shifting, but serves up a louder braap from the exhaust. Some may find it a little loud, but we loved it!  You can also manually shift the auto via the lever or using steering wheel mounted paddles. Helping put the power down is front differential lock, so torque steer is virtually non-existent.

And since this is a European thoroughbred, there’s plenty of fun to have when the road turns twisty. Since the GLI is exclusively made in Autobahn trim you’ll be enjoying the DCC driver-adjustable adaptive dampers  that let you fine tune your ride, and it’s impressive. Comfort mode it really is smooth and compliant, while Sport firms things up for twisty fun. We also love the steering feel – perfectly weighted with lots of info coming to the driver through the wheel.  This is a delight to drive hard, It’s very much a GTI with a trunk!

It’s also a sensible and comfortable commuter and having a trunk instead of hatchback like the GTI makes the GLI quieter on the road. With Comfort setting and the motor humming along, the Jetta is a great place to spend time.

Bargain Bahnstormer?

Well, that’s an interesting question. The Jetta line starts at just $20,365 for the S trim with manual, and since all the models have gotten extra standard equipment, plus non GLI models getting an updated 158 horsepower turbo four – you’re getting enhanced performance and efficiency. That makes that S a bargain with a capital B!

At the other end of the spectrum is our GLI Autobahn, starting at $31,345 with manual transmission. Opting for the 7-speed DSG like our tester bumps you to $32,145. Add in $1,095 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $33,240.

Time to shop? We think the new Acura Integra is a direct competitor, and at $36,895 it’s a considerable $3,500 step up over the VW.  The Mazda 3 is an excellent choice, comping out at close $34,090. If you want to step up in the VW/Audi family, you could look at the new Audi A3, but it’s a big jump to $42,490. We love the A3, but $10 grand is a lot of cheddar!

With Euro-goodness, loads of features and a thrilling drive, the 2022 VW Jetta GLI is a sport sedan bargain!