My expectations were the size of the Great Smoky Mountains. The assignment: drive the new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI on the famous Tail of the Dragon stretch of Route 129 outside Knoxville, Tennessee.
The expectations were warranted. This latest GLI has the same powertrain as the Golf GTI—the 2.0-liter turbo-four that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s 18 more horses than the outgoing model, and torque is up by 51 lb-ft.
The manual is back—the same six-speed stick from the regular Jetta but with the gear ratios of the Golf GTI. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is an $800 option and comes with a stop/start system. The GLI shares brakes with the Golf R (13.4-inch front vented disc brakes with red calipers). It has a multilink independent rear suspension (regular Jettas get a torsion beam setup) and a hydraulically locking front differential that’s standard on all trims. The limited 35th Anniversary Edition has an adaptive damping system.
Did the Jetta GLI meet our mountain sized expectations? It did everything well. The meaty, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels almost heavy in your hands, but once underway, steering is direct and instantly responsive in tackling the 318 successive turns on the Tail. Despite stretches of rough pavement, the car was stable—verge-of-boring stable at times, even on crazy off-camber turns. The brakes were excellent without being grabby; they proved to be smooth enough that you didn&rs