The Volkswagen Jetta is now in its seventh generation. Seven! I don’t really remember the first gen Jetta (A1) but it was actually the best selling European car in North America. I guess that was relevant based on what was available at the time, but I can say for certain that I remember the second generation, and by the time the third generation came along, I wanted one desparately. One of my best friends in college had a red VR6 Mark 3 with a manual transmission and I was smitten. By the time I owned my first Jetta, a fourth generation 2002 model year wagon, things had gotten a bit…sideways. I ended up with a pretty awful car, even aside from the coil pack issue it had a lot of faults. However, it’s been two decades and things have changed. I’ve been driving this 2023 Jetta GLI Autobahn for a week and have things to say about it.
2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Overview
This bit is easy. If you want a Jetta GLI, which is technically a separate model distinct from the Jetta, you have one option. Yep, it’s the Autobahn. If I’m honest, it’s a pretty solid trim name in a world of alphanumeric nonsense. While the regular Jetta starts at just $20,665 for the base S and goes up to the top spec SEL starting at $28,385, the GLI starts at $31,585.
The most obvious difference between “an Jetta” and “an Jetta GLI” is the engine. The regular Jetta gets you just 158 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque from its 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder while the GLI has a 2.0L turbo four making a more robust 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. Of course it weighs 282 pounds more than the regular Jetta. Still, if you want a more powerful Jetta, VW has got you fam.
It’s pretty well equipped though, with most of the typical comfort, convenience, and technology features you’d expect on a $30,ISH thousand dollar car. Options are limited to an automatic transmission for $800, some paint colors (our Rising Blue Metallic was free and fantastic), and the $595 Black Package which includes a black painted roof, black painted side mirror caps, a black rear spoiler, and 18” black alloy wheels. Not a bad price for some black accents if I’m honest, but I like the way our tester was spec’d.
Out the door you’re looking at $32,680 as tested. Let’s get into the details to see what’s what and whether the Jetta GLI Autobahhhhhhn should be on your shopping list.
2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn Inside & Out
The seventh generation Jetta is five years into it’s lifespan, which isn’t all that old in VW terms. The sixth gen Jetta lasted from 2011 all the way to 2018, which places the current Jetta in the second half of it’s lifespan. Still, it’s a pretty good looking thing, sort of like the Arteon we drove recently. It’s all very neat and clean, a classic German design strongpoint. The beltline accent crease starts at the red GLI logo and extends all the way through the door handles ending at the top of the brake light. The rear has a similarly simple design with some taillights and a dual exhaust, and that’s about it. Simple and clean.
Up front things are still pretty neat and tidy, at least compared to modern standards. The GLI has got some sporty red accents across which look pretty good, other than that it’s all fairly straightforward. Add some curvy split-spoke wheels (that aren’t black) and you’ve got a very attractive sedan for the price.
Inside, things are good, if not great. The platform is starting to show its age, and as much as I rag on the latest VW “no-button” designs, it does start to look pretty clean in comparison. Similar to my thoughts on the Arteon, even though this setup is much more usable from an ergonomic standpoint, it looks more dated. Aside from the haptic feedback buttons on the steering wheel, everything else looks older. Even the leather seats look a bit wrinkled after a short number of miles. If you were cross-shopping the Jetta against other newer-design Volkswagens in the showroom, you’ll notice. Hypocritical perhaps, but real.
To be fair, I did start to get used to the sliding non-button button used to control the volume on the steering wheel. Ironic since the GLI has got a real volume button, though it’s parked on the far right of the screen. On the technology side, I had the same wired Apple CarPlay vs wireless issue I had in the Arteon (and most VWs I’ve driven lately). Saying “yes” to wireless CarPlay means that USB CarPlay just doesn’t work. And since my iPhone wouldn’t charge reliably in the wireless charging tray since it slides around (and gets hot when it does work), I had to remove the phone and start over.
Then, I had a massive technological failure during a long morning drive. As I was pulling away from my apartment, mapping an hour+ drive up to and unfamiliar part of Maryland, my phone would not connect through USB or Bluetooth. If it weren’t for the other issues, I would blame my phone, however the system would not play any music from any source including all radio sources, so I think it was the car. I did have some flashbacks to my 2002 Jetta when the entire stereo stopped working at less than 10,000 miles.
Cargo space is 14.1 cubic feet, which easily tackled hockey practice. The Jetta’s trunk even swallowed up the hockey stick, which some compact cars have trouble doing. Overall, the Jetta would be a fine daily driver to haul people and stuff within reason. Not quite as good as a hatchback, more on that in a bit.
2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn On the Road
Out on the street, it’s got some decent getup and go. If you shift right (or wrong depending on your point of view) it’ll get 2nd and chirp the tires. Immature, but fun. The shifter is pretty large, but it fits in your hand nicely, although that does mean the throws are a bit long. I noticed that in fourth gear out on the highway, it will definitely build some speed pretty impressively. However, on a long drive the hard plastic next to my right knee started to hurt if I rested against it for too long.
There were a couple of other foibles I found while driving, the cupholder is super annoying, for some reason they made it 3/4 of an inch larger than a soda can. That means that my diet Mountain Dew slides around every time I sped up or slowed down accompanied by a loud “clink”. Plus, most new cars I test have auto unlock when you put your hand in the door handle, the Jetta still makes you push a button. Minor I know, and perhaps only noticed by someone like me who drives a lot of different cars.
However, I found that the front seat will lay almost perfectly flat! Don’t @ me, none of your business.
With the ID EV future of VW fairly clear, it’ll be interesting to see where the Jetta goes moving forward. There is talk about an eight generation Jetta on the horizon, but rumors are that it might just be a carryover with a refreshed exterior and interior. Regardless, the biggest issue with the Jetta is the…GTI. It not only has more power from its 2.0L engine (241 hp and 273 lb-ft) it’s just over 18 inches(!) shorter but has 5.8 more cubic feet of cargo space. Front headroom, shoulder room, and legroom, as well as rear headroom are all the same or better in the GTI, with only rear legroom falling short by (a not inconsequential) 2.4 inches.
The GTI is pricier though, with the base MSRP starting at $30,530 and the Autobahn version ramping up to $39,070. However, the Mk8 GTI was recently updated for the 2022 model year. And yeah, yeah, I know it doesn’t have buttons and regular Hoonireaders will know how much I hate that with a passion. Still, those looking for a four door commuter should definitely check out the GTI over the Jetta, unless you hate hatchbacks. Weirdo.