Road Test: 2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn

Road Test: 2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn

Sporty Sedan Fun

The 2023 Jetta GLI is one of three remaining gasoline-propelled sedans in the Volkswagen line-up; the Golf and Arteon are the others. To differentiate them, the Golf has four doors and a hatchback while the Jetta and Arteon have four doors and a trunk. Clean Fleet Report spent a fun week in the Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn roaming Southern California.

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Slipping through the air

Turbocharged Enthusiasm

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Turbo pep under the hood

The Jetta GLI has a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine with 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The front wheels are driven through either a 6-speed manual or, like our test car, a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. The DSG (Direct-Shift Gearbox) is unique to the Volkswagen Group of brands that include Audi, Seat and Volkswagen. A DSG is designed to achieve faster shift times than a standard automatic transmission. As a driver, the shifts are smooth and certainly fast enough for a road car.

Hitting maximum horsepower at 5,000 rpms, you can let the DSG do its thing, or there is the option to go through the gears manually with the Tiptronic feature. Times for 0-60 runs were a respectable 6.1 seconds with 4.2 seconds from 50-70 mph. Acceleration was strong, but there was turbo lag stumbling from a stop.

Fuel economy estimates by the EPA are 26 city/36 highway/30 combined. In 412 miles, we averaged 30.1 mpg. But in two 150-mile highway runs with the cruise control set at 65 mph and in the Eco or Normal drive mode, we averaged an impressive 38.9 mpg. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience. Your numbers may differ.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The 3,355-pound 2023 Jetta GLI delivers a surefooted driving experience with Bridgestone Turanza 225/45 all-season tires mounted on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Toss some Bridgestone Potenza performance/summer tires on the GLI and the grip would be impressive.

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
All-season, but not the most fun

The variable ratio electric-power assist steering was neutral and provided accurate turning results, with the leather-wrapped steering wheel having a good, solid feel. The four-wheel independent sport suspension, with electronic stability control, has adaptive dampers all the way around, with front struts and coil springs, and a torsion beam, coil springs and anti-roll bar on the rear delivering a smooth and stable ride. There was good lateral stability in the chassis making for solid and confident highway cruising, no wind buffeting from passing big rigs, and tight cornering even with the before mentioned all-season tires.

Stops were straight and true with the Jetta’s standard four-wheel anti-lock braking system, power-assisted front vented and rear solid discs, electronic brake pressure distribution and electronic stability control. The red calipers poking out from the gloss black machined alloy wheels looked sharp.

To summarize the handling of the Jetta GLI, it is a notch below sport sedans, but it is very close. Considering Volkswagen doesn’t market the GLI as a sports sedan, and offers the more performance-oriented Golf GTI, let’s just say the GLI will satisfy on long road trips, commuting, or finding some twisties to attack.

Driving Experience: Interior

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Beats beats other sound systems

The Jetta GLI only comes in the Autobahn trim that includes Titan Black leather seats. The heated and power adjustable, with memory, driver seat was comfortable, and in conjunction with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a good driving position could be found. The front passenger gets the same features except for manual adjustments. Leg, head and shoulder room were all good for those 6’+, and the shoulder belts were height adjustable so they don’t cut across your neck.

The rear seats easily and comfortably seat two adults, three in a pinch. Leg, head and shoulder room were excellent, and the fold down center console with cup holders was a nice touch, as were the two overhead reading lamps. Trunk space is ample at 14.1 cubic feet, but grows with the 60/40 split rear seats that lay nearly flat.

The stainless steel pedal covers, illuminated front door sill scuff plates, and the carpeted front and rear floor mats were nice upscale touches.

The 10.25-inch configurable digital information display includes round speedometer and tachometer gauges, with a black background, white lettering and red accents that matched the red on the steering wheel. The shifter has a nice grip and is situated perfectly in the center console, especially if you wanted to manually go through the gears with the Tiptronic.

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Ready to haul

Taking center stage of the dash is the 8.0-inch color touchscreen that handles the rear view camera and the voice-controlled 9-speaker Beats audio system that delivers deep, full, crisp tones for the AM/FM/HD radio, with USB ports and app connection interfaces. Also part of the MIB2 infotainment system is Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music.

While modern touchscreen technology is nice, Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of knobs and switches for the radio and climate controls. VW does a nice job of making it easy to operate the radio and dual zone automatic HVAC system with the turn of a few knobs. The simple dash design adds to convenience features such as a leather-covered multi-function steering wheel (with a squared-off bottom), and a leather-trimmed shift knob. Missing–features that are commonly found on cars competing with the Jetta GLI Autobahn–are a heads-up display and heated steering wheel.

Other conveniences are power windows, keyless access, push button start/stop, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, hill hold, power adjustable and manual folding heated side mirrors, wireless charging, electronic parking brake, power tilt and sliding sunroof, a multi-function car analytics and trip computer display, and 10-color ambient lighting.

All Jetta models are equipped with Volkswagen’s CarNet connected car technology that provides a seamless link between the car and an iPhone, Android smartphone or computer, or, as Volkswagen says, it “keeps you connected with your car even when you’re apart.”

Driving Experience: Exterior

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Straight to redline

The exterior is classic Volkswagen and has not gone the route of adding unnecessary scoops, vents and an overly large front grille. The Jetta at times has been described as conservative, but Clean Fleet Report’s car, painted in a very attractive Pure Gray with a Deep Black Roof ($395 option), was anything like that.

The 2023 Jetta is refreshing in its clean, simple and timeless design, with gently rounded and soft lines. With an eye to fuel economy and aerodynamics, the 0.27 coefficient of drag (Cd) helped it slice through the wind.

The 2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn has bespoke badging found on the grille, front fenders and trunk lid, as well as red accents on the lower front fascia, front fenders and brake calipers. The sleek LED head and daytime running lights, the sculpted and gently sloped hood lead to a strong but subtle body line, or the line that runs the side of the car from front to back. The sloping rear glass leads to a small integrated spoiler on the trunk that sits above the horizontal LED tail lamps. The twin round, chrome-tipped exhaust pipes peak out from under the honeycomb rear fascia.

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Room for adults

Driver Assistance and Safety

In addition to six airbags, all 2023 Volkswagen Jettas come with IQ Drive that uses front and rear radar, a front camera and several ultrasound sensors to collect data enabling semi-automated driving assistance. Other Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) are Travel Assist that includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert; adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and lane keeping assist. Travel Assist also allows for brief amounts of time where the driver’s hands are not touching the steering wheel. Emergency Assist will bring the Jetta to a stop if no driver activity is monitored.

The Intelligent Crash Response System turns off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and switches on the hazard lights in case of an accident. If there is an accident, the brakes are automatically applied by the post-collision braking system so the car does not continue moving, resulting in a secondary accident. This technology shows its value so an incapacitated driver is not injured further by their car striking another object.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the 2023 Jetta with its highest 5 Star rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the 2023 Jetta as Good overall.

Pricing and Warranties

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
In the mood

The 2023 Jetta comes in five trim levels ranging in base price, including the mandatory $1,095 destination fee, from $21,750 to $32,690. Clean Fleet Report’s Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn came in at $34,270, including $990 in options.

The Jetta comes with these warranties:

  • New Vehicle (fully transferable) – Four years/50,000 miles
  • Free Service – Two years/20,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation – Seven years/100,000 miles

Observations: 2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn

2023 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Fun & fully equipped

Volkswagen equipped the 2023 Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn with the necessary equipment and features to make both an excellent highway cruiser and a more-than-competent mountain curve hunter. Fully equipped around $34,000, the GLI Autobahn sacrifices little in the area of features as it comes with creature comforts such as power leather seats and the excellent Beats sound system with satellite radio–all wrapped-up in a package that exudes Farfegnugen, or “driving enjoyment.” Volkswagen doesn’t use this term any longer in its marketing, but there isn’t a better word to describe the feeling of driving the 2023 Jetta GLI 2.0T Autobahn.

The beauty of the Jetta GLI is how it is set up. The blacked-out grille and exterior mirror caps add a touch of sportiness, when combined with one of the vivid color options. The Jetta GLI is as fun to drive as it looks. It is peppy, sips fuel, hauls most of your stuff with the rear seat folded flat, has excellent visibility for the driver, and looks cool in the process. Oh, and don’t forget the vaunted German fit-and-finish that includes a tight overall feeling, whether road trip cruising or cornering. A quick summation is the Jetta GLI is easy and a kick to drive. The Jetta GLI, in true Teuronic style, hits the right marks as a very nicely equipped sporty sedan at a great cost-to-value ratio.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Story and photos by John Faulkner.

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Road Test: 2020 Honda Insight


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

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