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2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Test Drive Review

If you search for “jetta” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, you won’t find it. It’s not there. We would like to propose a simple definition for the Volkswagen version of the word: standout.

That’s exactly what the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI did at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Texas Auto Roundup earlier this year. We knew the Mercedes-AMG GT S was going to be a big hit with the other automotive journalists there at the Circuit of the Americas (it was so popular that the organization crowned it the “Performance Car of Texas”). It wasn’t a surprise that droves of writers flocked to the Lexus LC 500h. The constant lines of people waiting to drive and evaluate the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (which went on to win the title of “Car of Texas”) didn’t come as a shock to us.

The Jetta GLI did. There were more luxurious cars around us. Several of the vehicles available to drive cost more than twice as much as the little VW. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat made more than three times as much horsepower. That didn’t matter. Despite all of the high-end, lavishly trimmed, and WMD-powered vehicles at the event, the Jetta GLI still managed to stand out almost as soon as we started taking it around the race course. From the way it sounded to the way it performed, it was just fun. In automotive terms, that word has a complex meaning, but it’s a simple truth of some cars – and the Jetta GLI is one of them.

In the 2017 Jetta lineup, the GLI model stands out as well. It’s the flagship of an assortment that includes the entry-level S, the better-equipped SE, the midrange Sport, and the feature-packed SEL. Other Jettas have a 1.4-liter or 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 under their hoods; the performance-focused GLI has a 2.0-liter turbo four – and the most power out of the whole group.

When we got the chance to reserve a Jetta GLI for a week of evaluation on public roads and highways, we jumped on it. It continued to be a standout…and stood up to all of our testing.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Exterior

The Jetta GLI is a standout no matter what color it wears, but it’s even more of one when it’s covered in the Tornado Red that coated our test vehicle. The L-shape LED daytime running lights below the automatic headlights were hard to miss, too. Those were visually connected by a red stripe on the honeycomb grille. Another honeycomb grille covered the lower front air intake, which was flanked by fog lights.

In profile, the GLI’s simple, clean lines topped a set of 18-inch alloys with an equally simple and clean design.

A subtle spoiler capped off the trunk lid and gently arched over the LED tail lights. A pair of darkened exhaust tips poked out from below the back bumper.

The bottom of the GLI was ringed by a couple of front aero sections, a pair of side skirts, and a rear lip. Those were embellishments, but they didn’t change our review vehicle’s uncomplicated and understated looks, which proved that you don’t have to be loud to stand out.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Interior

The Jetta GLI comes standard with a power driver’s seat, navigation, helpful and convenient safety features (more on those in the appropriately named section of this review), and a Fender Premium Audio System. Legendary guitar and amplifier manufacturer Fender partnered with Panasonic to develop the setup, which pumps its 400 watts of sound through nine speakers and a trunk-mounted subwoofer.

Red stitching on the front sports seats, flat-bottom steering wheel, emergency brake, and shift gaiter, along with red accents across the dashboard and door panels, brightened up the Titan Black Leatherette cabin. Metallic trim on the pedals, steering wheel, door handles, and shifter added even more visual pop.

The second row was surprisingly spacious, especially in terms of outboard-seat legroom (yours truly is 5’10” and was able to comfortably sit “behind himself” with the front seat adjusted to his height). Although headroom was a little less abundant, it still got the job done.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Performance

What stuck with us after the first time we drove the Jetta GLI wasn’t the beautiful, sunny weather above us. It wasn’t the fact that we were driving it around the Circuit of the Americas, a world-class, F1-quality track. It had nothing to do with our surroundings.

That was certainly the case when we tested the Jetta GLI on the suburban streets and rough roads of Central Texas. The Jetta GLI was what stood out to us. We became addicted to the growl from its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4. We lovingly called the 210-horsepower/207-lbft TSI power plant “a bear in a breadbox.” Mashing the throttle was like lighting a bottle rocket. When the turbo spooled up, the power hit hard and the force of gravity gently pushed back. We eagerly awaited the stout surge every time we opened up the Jetta GLI. Gear changes from the 6-speed, dual-clutch DSG automatic were smooth and came when we called for them with the shift paddles. Turning the wheel was always a delight. The steering was responsive off center and had a certain liveliness and playfulness to it no matter how far right or left we had it dialed. The sport suspension, which makes the Jetta GLI sit 0.6 inches lower than regular Jettas, did an excellent job of swallowing bumps in the pavement without making our backs digest them.

The Jetta GLI made us love driving it – whether that was just to the grocery store or out of town. The longer the trip, the wider we smiled.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Safety

The list of active and passive safety features in the Jetta GLI is a long one. Under the active section, there are technologies such as ABS, brake override, Electronic Stability Control, Electronic Brake-pressure distribution, and Hydraulic Brake Assist. The passive safety features include anti-intrusion side door beams, front and side thorax airbags for the front row, Side Curtain Protection head airbags for both rows, and front seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Overall

Prices for the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta GLI start at $27,895*. Our evaluation vehicle had an as-tested price of $29,815. Swing by an AutoNation Volkswagen dealership to get the one that stands out the most to you. Once you drive it, you’ll come up with your own definitions of the word “jetta.”

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

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