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The Volkswagen Jetta GLI offers a fun version of the brand’s economy compact sedan, while the Golf GTI is an iconic hot hatch. While taking the performance from the GTI and dropping it into a Jetta is a great idea, VW has also made some changes along that that kneecap the experience of its performance-focused sedan. Here are three of them.

VW Jetta GLI in gray
VW Jetta GLI | VW Group

Auto upshift kills the GLI experience vs the GTI

In a performance car, even one with an automatic, engagement is the key to success. Affordable sports cars don’t have the benefit of massive power, trick suspension setups, or hardcore aerodynamics. So when the Jetta GLI includes an automatic transmission that auto upshifts 1,500 rpm before redline, we have a lot of questions.

On the surface, this makes no sense. The Golf GTI has the same EA888 engine (albeit with more power) and the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. But in that car, putting the transmission in manual mode isn’t just an illusion. If you don’t pull the paddle, the car will stay in gear until it hits the chip.

In the GLI however, it will upshift automatically no matter the drive mode. Even worse, it doesn’t wait until you’re on the rev limiter to do it. This isn’t some failsafe in case you forgot you were in manual mode. Despite a redline of 7,200 rpm, the Volkswagen sport sedan will automatically change gears at around 6,500 rpm. That’s an infuriating flaw in what is supposed to be a performance car, and one of the biggest issues when comparing the GLI to its GTI cousin.

Soft Handling puts the GLI behind the hot hatch

Red Golf GTI
40th Anniversary Golf GTI | VW Group

This factor might be more of a coin flip if not for VW marketing the GLI as “the GTI, but make it a sedan”. For all the hand-me-down parts sent from the hot hatch to the Jetta, the GLI’s suspension feels a bit soft.

That could be because it features a softer rear sway bar than the hot hatch. This, despite being both longer and heavier than the sporty Golf. And even with adaptive dampers in their stiffest mode, the Jetta GLI doesn’t have confidence-inspiring control like its hatchback sibling.

Compared to models like the hardcore Hyundai Elantra N, GR Corolla, and the GTI, the GLI doesn’t have the same joy. The point of an affordable performance car is to drive to work with a smile on your face. On that front, the GLI may deliver compared to the base Jetta, but not next to its closest competition.

Sad Seats make the GTI more comfortable than the sporty Jetta

Interior of the Jetta GLI
Interior of the Jetta GLI | VW Group

The Clark-plaid seats in the Volkswagen GTI line are iconic, but it isn’t some kitschy cloth design that lets the GLI down. Rather, it’s the seat construction that makes this car less desirable.

In the hatchback, VW includes deeply bolstered seats that are among the most comfortable available in a car for less than $40,000. Supportive enough for whipping through canyons and comfortable enough for a day-long road trip, GTI seats have earned high praise since the MK6 generation.

Unfortunately, the Jetta GLI ditches those true-blue sport seats for soft-bolstered leather chairs from the base car. Yes, they’re leather-wrapped and include both heat and ventilation. But they’re too soft to hold you in place where this car shines, in the corners. On the other hand, they’re also oddly shaped and less comfortable for longer drives.

Comparing the VW Jetta GLI and Golf GTI

Not long ago, we looked at the Jetta GLI and Golf GTI for a direct comparison. What we said then still stands. Both the GLI and GTI are fun cars and we’re glad affordable performance cars exists. However, we do wish that the sedan version remained more faithful to the hot hatch that inspired it.

Related 2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs. 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Which Is Faster?

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs. 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Which Is Faster?