In the annals of automotive tuner history, when we look back on the 1990’s, we will probably have to award two cars the crown of the import mod-world: The Honda Civic. These cars were relatively inexpensive to begin with, and then were able to be made into drag strip nightmares with very little in the way of costly modifications. Yet, while this budget boulevard bruiser will undoubtably take the lion’s share of the historical pie, we do need to acknowledge a runner up: The Volkswagen Jetta GTI.
The GTI, much like the Civic came from relative humble beginnings and then morphed into an import tuners fantasy, seemingly overnight. The GTI had the name — an abbreviation that the kids loved, it had the heritage and power potential — German engineering gave it all the street cred it needed, it had the look … Well, in some circles it had the look. As opposed to the nigh-shape shifting Civic, which offered up two, three, and four door variants, the GTI was only ever offered as a hatchback. And there is a good chance that the lack of options, aesthetically speaking, might be why the GTI is not the king of the imports.
Fast forward a couple decades to 2019, and VW has kept tabs on its successes and failures, as well as its competitors. The Jetta GTI is still battling the Civic Type-R for front wheel drive supremacy, but those sneaky Germans have also unleashed the first ever GTI that isn’t a hatchback. Well, not exactly, it is called the GLI so as not to besmirch the GTI legacy, but rest assured, the GLI is just a GTI with a trunk.
Need proof? Okay how about the same 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline-four that powers the GTI? That little pocket rocket makes a legit 228-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque by the way. That power is funneled through a tried-and-true six-speed manual transmission borrowed from the Jetta, but the GLI gets the same gear ratios from none other than the GTI. There is also an optional seven-speed twin-clutch automatic that will run you an extra $800, but does come with a nifty start/stop setup if you’re into that kind of thing.
The GLI gets its brakes actually from the Golf R (close enough to a GTI) in the form of huge 13.4-inch vented front discs replete with trick red painted calipers. There is also a taut multi-link independent rear suspension in place to compliment the hydraulically locking front differential. An optional adaptive damping system is available on higher trims.
In stock form, the GLI can get up and go from 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds, which isn’t bad for a car that weighs in at 3,300 pounds. That little motor is also fuel frugal to the tune of 25/32/28 city/highway/combined mpg. Again, not bad for a sporty sedan. Out on the road, the GLI feels tossable in a way not too many cars can feel that have a base price of $25,995. The engine sings through its gears in a maturely muted concerto, while the brakes step in whenever needed to prove that they are more than capable. The interior of the GLI is somewhat sparse. This car isn’t trying to be like the new Arteon, or double as an A4. Nope, it is a Spartan driver-oriented setup that means business.
While we love the new GLI in stock form as spirited transportation, we have to admit that we are excited to see what happens when tuners start taking notice of their new toy on the market. Sure, the Jetta GTI will never have its legacy challenged in the eyes of the VW faithful, but with the new GLI on the market, we may just start seeing more than a few Civic owners turning in their keys for a new GTI with a trunk.