First cars are important. Whether pristine, new and gleaming, or tired, old and steaming, they're among most people's first tastes of adulthood and freedom. Those memories -- both positive and negative -- stick with us forever. By the time I got my first set of keys in high school, I was already a big car enthusiast. My first car, a European-spec 1986 Volkswagen Jetta GLI with around 100,000 miles of, let's call it "seasoning," helped set me on trajectory that led me to my life's work in automotive journalism.
In other words, the GLI is kind of important to Yours Truly. Thus, it should come as no surprise that climbing into this 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is freighted with nostalgia and meaning for me, even if the new model has almost nothing in common with the square-rigged, high-trunked Mk2 I used to own.
That car offered fun, affordable performance in a sleek (if somewhat milquetoast) wrapper with surprising utility. One glance at this new 2019 VW GLI tells much the same story. Yes, this sixth-gen model has a different look from the Jetta it's based on, but it's subtle. There's more aggressive front and rear lower fascias, subtle side sills and a modest rear spoiler, along with unique 18-inch alloys. There's no denying it's still buttoned-up stuff.
The Good With a torquey powertrain and athletic moves, VW's Jetta GLI delivers fun in an affordable package.
The Bad VW's accountants have clearly pinched too many pennies in the cabin, plus a couple of common options aren't available.
The Bottom Line The 2019 Jetta GLI is a few small tweaks away from being a no-compromises sport sedan bargain. As it is, it's still good fun for short money.
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