Performance Sedan or Performance Hatch?

by   Anthony Fongaro

When it comes to affordable performance sedans and hatchbacks, Volkswagen has us covered. I did a Quick Drive of the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI and was surprised at just how similar it is compared to the Golf GTI. Both of these share many components that we will talk about later. The biggest thing comes down to personal preference. As we know, there is a stigma against hatchbacks, but sedans are going away thanks to the rise of the SUV. That said, looking at both of these show that it’s a win-win situation. The question is: do you want a trunk or do you want a hatch? Let’s take a look at my Jetta GLI test car and see which one you should get!


The test car that I drove was the top-of-the-line GLI Autobahn at around $30,000. There are a few features not available on the entry-level S model. Some of these include wireless charging, digital dials, a bigger infotainment system, and surprisingly, ventilated seats. A sunroof and leather seats also come standard, yet navigation isn’t available. Really, the only option you can get is the transmission. Standard is a six-speed manual while my test-care had the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. In terms of safety features, the GLI Autobahn comes with standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear-cross traffic assist. Unfortunately, you can’t get adaptive cruise control.


Both the Jetta GLI and Golf GTI are all about the upgraded engine and suspension. Powering both is a 2.0-liter producing 228-horsepower and 258 lb-ft. With these and the automatic, the GLI can go from 0-60 MPH in a good 6.1 seconds while the Golf GTI is a tad faster by .1-.3 seconds. There are adjustable drive mode settings both get where you can modify the transmission, suspension, steering feel, and the silly in every car piped-in sound of the engine. Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual are the settings you can use in the GLI, which are similar to what you can get in a GTI.

Volkswagen does a great job with the steering wheel for music and sound. The 8.0” infotainment system is relatively easy-to-use while driving. Even though there is no navigation system, I just used Google Maps on my iPhone. My favorite part of the controls is the dead easy climate controls. This also includes turning off the start-stop system and going into the different drive modes since they’re next to the gear shifter.  It’s so easy to set the temperature and use the heating seats. My Jetta GLI Autobahn had a ventilating seat function but it wasn’t very strong. 


Basics done, it’s time to look at the GLI as a performance sedan! The engine is the same as the GTI but is a bit heavier so it is slower. That said, having the same seven-speed automatic as the new GTI helps in both performance and fuel economy. I used both the automatic and manual-shifting on the steering wheel. Since the paddles are on the steering wheel instead of separate, you’ll always be able to shift whenever you want. Putting the GLI into Sport mode transforms the GLI from a tame Jetta to a much more enjoyable sedan to drive. The acceleration feels similar to the GTI and that helps it to feel sporty.

Chuck the GLI into a corner and...surprise...it’s basically a Golf GTI It doesn’t matter which drive mode you’re in, you get the sharp handling. Although Sport mode is fun, I changed everything up in the Individual Mode. I changed the steering and front differential lock to Sport to make it go through corners better. The Drive system was put into normal so it wouldn’t hold gears as Sport does. Climate control was also in Normal since Eco mode isn’t as powerful. Finally, the DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) and Engine sound were put in Comfort. I’m not a fan of any car with pipped-in engine sound so there isn’t any reason why I wouldn’t put it in Comfort.


Now for the reasons to which vehicle to get. I need to preference that I have a 2016 Golf GTI. It may not some of the same features such as digital dials or a seven-speed automatic, but the newer models do have these. As I said, it really comes down to personal preference. I love hatchbacks, so I immediately went to the Golf GTI. The materials in the Golf GTI feel more plush compared to the Jetta GLI and have the option of getting adaptive cruise-control and parking assistance for us suburbanites that are afraid of parallel parking. Driving the new Jetta GLI changed my mind about the Jetta. In 2016, it wasn’t up to par with the Golf GTI. It pretty much is now.


Since the Jetta GLI is larger, it is better for families. To be honest, neither of these are really going to go on a track. Having the same driving dynamics and somewhat similar technology is a huge positive for the Jetta GLI. In fact, I recommend it. It’s a fantastic driving sedan. I’m still a hot-hatch guy, so I would choose the Golf GTI. If I was more of a sedan guy, I’d go for the Golf GLI. It really is a good sedan. It may be lacking in some fit-and-finish along with technology, but the driving dynamics more-than makes up for it. Either one you get, you’ll get a comfortable and sporty vehicle.

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