The GLI is the Jetta’s top trim level, unlike the GTI which is a separate vehicle from the Golf in Volkswagen’s lineup. And while the GTI can be had with an optional Performance package that adds more power and a electronic limited slip differential, the Jetta GLI gets none of that stuff - and only comes one way. Still though it's not a bad set up.
Engine specs aside, the GLI benefits in other ways. To distinguish it from a standard Jetta, Volkswagen adds a set of 18-inch Mallory wheels, a reworked front fascia with the signature GLI red grille trim, a more aggressive front bumper, darkened headlights, a subtle decklid spoiler, GLI badging, and a slightly lowered, sportier stance. It turns a very conservative looking Jetta into a very attractive German performance machine.
Driving the GLI, it's evident that Volkswagen went through great lengths to make this sporty Jetta feel as much like a GTI as possible (oddly enough that don't share the same platform). And for the most part, they nailed it - I can't really notice a difference between the two.
The main reason for this is the main constant between the two hot VWs: the excellent 2.0-liter turbo. One of my favorite engines, it’s a punchy and silky smooth little powerplant that provides a solid wave of torque all the way to redline once boost is kicking hard. The lower torque figures in the GLI does make it feel a little slower as it takes a little more time to for the Jetta to actually get up and go. But once it does, it's smiles galore.
The interior of the GLI is nothing to write home about, but it's hard to complain about it either. Everything is well executed and all the controls and gauges are well-placed and easy to read. It's just not that exciting.
The Jetta GLI hits the mark for those wanting a GTI sedan. It's not has fast and sporty as the GTI, but if you want a Jetta with the heart of a GTI, this is the route to take.