Price: $33,980 (with options and destination)
Pros—Strong acceleration. Roomy. Comfortable. Good handling. Supple ride. Fuel thrifty. Safety features.
Cons—No styling knockout. Smallish outside mirrors. Low rear seats may make some feel buried.
Bottom Line—Upscale civilized version of the VW GTI.
It won’t turn many heads, but the 2022 Jetta GLI Autobahn sedan is sporty, roomy, comfortable, fuel-thrifty and reasonably priced. It’s sort of a VW GTI hatchback with a regular trunk—all gown up.
This is no GTI with a trunk, but the 186.9-inch-long Jetta GLI Autobahn doesn’t look bland. Rather, one glance at its large dual exhaust outlets, new red-striped grille (with a new VW logo), revised rear end with a honeycomb-pattered low valence and bright red brake calipers would tip anyone who knows something about cars that this is a special model.
The GLI Autobahn’s base price is $31,795 and adding a 7-speed dual clutch (DSG) automatic, a few options and a delivery charge brought my test car’s bottom line price to $33,980.
The Autobahn has adaptive dangers, a digital gauge display, leather upholstery, a 400-watt 8-speaker audio system, panoramic sunroof, heated/ventilated front seats (with a power driver’s seat), adaptive cruise control and wireless charging. Also, the test car’s $595 “Black Package” option included 18-inch black aluminum alloy wheels, a black roof, black mirror caps and a black spoiler.
However, the outside mirrors could be larger because rear visibility from the driver’s seat is mediocre. And low-set rear seats, although comfortable, can make a shorter occupant feel rather buried with the car’s high belt line. Rear seats flip forward via trunk levers (for security purposes) to greatly enlarge the cargo area
The quiet interior has an upscale look with such items as red contrast stitching throughout, a 20.3-inch digital gauge display, easily used and conveniently placed 8-inch touchscreen, automatic climate control— plus an array of small manual dashboard controls. Cupholders are easily reached, and an extra-deep covered front console, roomy glove compartment and roomy front door pockets provide decent cabin storage areas. Rear doors have smaller but usable pockets. And a pull-down rear-seat center armrest contains cupholders.
My test car had a reasonable price in its class for a solidly built 3,272-pound compact five-passenger car with a large trunk.
Strong acceleration comes from a dual-overhead-camshaft, turbocharged, intercooled 2-liter engine with 228 horsepower and 258 pound/feet of torque. Power delivery is smooth and consistent.
The 0-60 m.p.h. time zips by in 6.1 seconds, and estimated fuel economy is 26 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on highways with my test car’s 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Premium fuel is recommended for the best performance.
The engine shuts off while the car is sitting at, for instance, a long stop light to save fuel, but starts immediately when acceleration is required. That feature is so well engineered that I didn’t really notice it at first. With the high price of gasoline, anything helps.
A six-speed manual transmission is available, but I recommend the efficient DSG automatic, which can be shifted manually. Estimated fuel economy is virtually identical with the automatic’s numbers.
A driver can easily switch via a console dial these driving modes: Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport and Custom. Sport mode tightens the steering and enhances throttle response a bit, but allows a much sportier exhaust sound that some may find annoying, especially when cruising. After trying all the modes, I found Normal mode to be best for everyday driving, although Comfort gave the smoothest ride. However, even Sport mode didn’t result in an uncomfortable ride—I just felt the bumps more.
I initially found the steering, although precise, to be a little quicker, but soon found it to be well suited to the car’s suspension. Handling is sporty, and the ride is supple, thanks partly to an independent multi-link rear suspension, adaptive dampers and a torque-vectoring front differential to help pull the car through turns.
Large brakes bite early and bring the car to quick, sure stops, with good pedal feel.
Safety features include lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Jetta GLI Autobahn has one of the heaviest hoods, held open by a flimsy prop rod, that I’ve ever encountered. That aside (does anyone look under a hood anymore?) this is an economical family car that offers a good blend of practicality and sportiness.