2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Packing above-average performance and refinement in a small and fun-to-drive package.
Packing above-average performance and refinement in a small and fun-to-drive package.

by Ben So | June 18, 2021


The Volkswagen Jetta GLI has long been a dark horse for driving enthusiasts looking for a relatively affordable daily driver. The fact that Volkswagen continues to offer it with a row-your-own version adds a lot of charm to those who long for a fully engaged driving experience. We borrowed one such model for a full week of evaluation and came away extremely impressed. This is the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

The seventh generation Jetta has been around since 2019 and its styling has started to show its age. There is nothing inherently wrong with this Jetta GLI’s appearance. In fact we think it looks a lot like the more premium Audi S3 with the Pure Grey and black roof paint scheme, especially from the A-pillar onwards. However, with the sharp looking eighth generation Volkswagen Golf GTI not far on the horizon, the Jetta GLI could definitely use a refresh to keep buyers interested.

Powered by Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Jetta GLI produces 228 horsepower and a very usable 258 lb-ft. of torque. Acceleration feels effortless with the GLI and the initial surge feels similar to the Subaru WRXwith the same torque rating and significantly stronger than the Honda Civic Si. It does run out of breath when the RPM hits past 5,000 RPM which is consistent with those others mentioned, but its punchy power delivery makes it a joy to toss around town with.

Adding to the driving fun is the standard six-speed manual transmission that is easy to engage with decent shifter and clutch feel. A standard hill-start assist function can momentarily hold the Jetta GLI from rolling back when on an incline to aid with getting it moving. This is particularly helpful for those that are not as proficient with a manual transmission, making it an excellent first vehicle for young enthusiasts hoping to break into the culture.

Driving the Jetta GLI is equal parts easy and enjoyable. There is good steering feel and the lack of an all-wheel drive system means significant weight savings when compared to the Subaru WRX, which in turn translated to a simple experience behind the wheel not felt in most all-wheel drive cars and crossovers. When compared to the regular Jetta, the Jetta GLI is equipped with a mechanical limited-slip differential, front and rear sway bars, as well as sportier and stiffer suspension that lowers ride height by 0.6 inches and increases cornering ability.

The biggest letdown is the standard rubber. The 18-inch Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires are fairly quiet and comfortable but have considerable struggle when putting power down during acceleration. This heightens the Jetta GLI’s tendency to understeer during corner exits.

As per Natural Resources Canada’s 2021 Fuel Consumption guide, the Jetta GLI with the six-speed manual is rated at 9.7L/100km in the city and 7.0L/100km on the highway, for a combined consumption rating of 8.5L/100km, matching our observation for the week down to the tenth. Regular grade gasoline is accepted for the 2021 Jetta, but it is worth noting the maximum horsepower rating is only achieved with premium fuel.

Moving inside, we find ourselves appreciating the roomy cabin that is roomier than typical compact sedans. The interior layout is simple and intuitive, but the materials used reveal its economy car roots more than we would have liked. The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is very well equipped for its price with standard heated and ventilated front seats, an oversized sunroof that covers two-thirds of the roof, USB-C and wireless charging ports, and Volkswagen’s segment leading Digital Cockpit instrument cluster.

Infotainment is delivered using Volkswagen’s MIB3 system through the eight-inch touchscreen display. We like that the high-resolution screen is angled towards the driver for easy readability and there are capacitive-touch sensors that can detect the user’s hand approaching the screen to enlarge the minimized command prompts. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is supported but we experienced connection difficulty in connecting on several occasions during the week. A standard eight-speaker BeatsAudio premium sound system completes the expansive equipment list.

Another value proposition for the Volkswagen Jetta GLI is its comprehensive suite of driver assistance features. Front Assist with pedestrian monitoring, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, blind spot monitoring, and Light Assist (automatic high beam control) are all standard on the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, in line with the Honda Civic Si and the Hyundai Veloster N. The glaring omission in this segment is the Subaru WRX that does not offer its EyeSight technology on the manual transmission model.

The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI comes in only one fully-loaded trim for an affordable price of $30,995. It packs above-average performance and refinement in a small and fun-to-drive package, and represents great value when compared to other sports sedans. We applaud that the Volkswagen Jetta GLI continues to offer driving enthusiasts with an engaging manual transmission, and in our opinion, the biggest challenger the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI that promises to bring a similar charm in a fresh new package.

See Also:

2020 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2019 Honda Civic Si Sedan

2020 Subaru WRX Sport-tech RS

Vehicle Specs
Engine Size
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Ben So


Ben has been living and breathing car magazines, spec sheets, and touring auto shows for his entire life. As proud member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, he keeps a close eye on the latest-and-greatest in the auto industry. When he isn't geeking out about the coolest new cars, he's probably heading to the next hidden-gem ice cream shop with his three quickly growing kids.

Current Toys: '97 Integra Type R, '07 LS 460 RWD, '08 Corvette Z06, '18 Odyssey Touring