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The 2013 Volkswagen GLI is the sportiest member of the Jetta sedan family, and although it's enjoyable within that context, buyers looking for true performance will be better served by rivals, including VW's own GTI.
Lively, fuel-efficient turbo engine; spacious cabin; well-equipped; comfortable ride.
Competitors are quicker and handle better.
Available Jetta GLI Sedan Models
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For 2013, Jetta GLI models equipped with the automated transmission (DSG) feature launch control. A rearview camera and bi-xenon headlights are added to Autobahn models with the optional navigation system. An adjustable armrest is also new this year.
Eventually we'll stop comparing the VW GLI to its hatchback cousin, the GTI. But we can't help it. Not that long ago, the GLI sedan rose from the same platform as the GTI hatchback as a more practical car, but no less sporting. That era ended two years ago with the arrival of the redesigned Jetta, which grew in size while dropping in price to appeal to a wider audience. Although the 2013 Volkswagen GLI remains the sportier, performance-oriented Jetta, it isn't as entertaining to drive as its predecessor was, nor does it have the same premium feel on the inside.
Compared to the base Jetta, the GLI uses a more sophisticated rear suspension design and an upgraded steering system. And inside, it features a sporty, thick-rimmed steering wheel and higher-quality dash material. Plus, it still shares its turbocharged 200-horsepower engine with the GTI. This engine is as energetic and fuel-efficient as ever, and Volkswagen continues to offer it with either a conventional six-speed manual or the DSG six-speed automated manual transmission. A honeycomb grille, red brake calipers, darkened taillights and chrome exterior trim complete the GLI's sleeper sport sedan look.
For 2013, the GLI carries over largely unchanged from its return last year. Opting for the Autobahn model with navigation also nets you a rearview camera and bi-xenon headlights, while the DSG transmission-equipped models get launch control for speedier getaways from stoplights. And perhaps Volkswagen has heard some grumbling with elements of its Jetta redesign, as an adjustable armrest -- a minor, useful feature that disappeared from the new Jetta -- makes a return appearance in the GLI.
The 2013 Volkswagen GLI is certainly more appealing than a plain vanilla Jetta. It's also a fairly rare style of car -- the only other sporty small sedans with similar power are the 2012 Honda Civic Si and 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX. In this group, the GLI is a respectable choice, mainly because of its roomy interior and turbocharged yet efficient engine. But if you expand your search criteria a little, you'll find there are other, more appealing sporting models out there, including the Volkswagen GTI four-door and the new Ford Focus ST. And if you're just looking for a sedan with lively acceleration, the turbocharged Kia Optima or V6-powered Nissan Altima are good alternatives, too.
The 2013 Volkswagen GLI is a four-door compact sedan available in 2.0T and Autobahn trim levels.
Standard equipment on the GLI 2.0T includes 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, keyless entry, air-conditioning, full power accessories, heated mirrors, height-adjustable and power-reclining front sport seats with cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface.
The GLI Autobahn adds 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, heated windshield-washer nozzles, a six-way power-adjustable driver seat, automatic climate control, a cooling glovebox, heated front seats, leatherette vinyl upholstery and a premium nine-speaker Fender audio system. A touchscreen navigation system with rearview camera, bi-xenon headlights with Audi-like LED accent lights, and keyless ignition/entry can be added to the Autobahn.
The 2013 GLI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, known as DSG, is optional.
In Edmunds performance testing, a DSG-equipped GLI accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds -- a little slow for its class, but that was before the new-for-2013 launch mode was added to the DSG transmission's programming. Launch control can improve 0-60 times in instrumented testing, but acceleration in normal driving is unaffected. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the manual and 23/29/25 with DSG.
Every 2013 Volkswagen GLI comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control (now driver-defeatable), front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the GLI stopped from 60 mph in 128 feet -- below average for a compact sedan, especially one with sporting pretenses.
In government crash tests, the near-identical Jetta earned an overall score of four stars out of a possible five. Within that rating, it earned four stars for overall front crash protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
The 2013 Jetta GLI's interior is pleasant enough, largely due to the upgrades over the regular Jetta, including some higher quality materials. It's also pretty roomy -- the rear-seat area is large enough for full-size adults to sit comfortably. The 15.5-cubic-foot trunk is also one of the roomiest you'll find in this class.
We like the available touchscreen stereo interface and its redundant dial knob, which is ideal for controlling a portable music player. The associated navigation system, however, is a bit of a letdown due to the small screen and limited amount of display information.
You'll largely need to check your sport sedan aspirations when driving the 2013 Volkswagen GLI. The GLI's steering isn't particularly sharp when turning into corners, while braking ability and overall cornering grip are both quite modest. If, however, you're simply looking for a livelier Jetta, then the GLI is a solid upgrade. The rear suspension features a more sophisticated multilink design than the base Jetta, so this car is better able to deal with bumps.
The 2.0-liter turbo engine delivers a nice wallop of torque and cool, snarling noises, especially when paired with the six-speed manual, which is direct and remarkably easy to drive even when stuck in traffic. The VW GLI also offers a hill-hold feature on the manual.
The DSG is quirky and less desirable, with an annoying delay in throttle response in its default D mode. Switch to Sport mode and it's overly eager to downshift and wring out revs. Using the DSG's manual shift mode or the recently added launch control feature mitigates both issues somewhat, but neither of these features is intended to be used in normal traffic situations where the DSG-equipped GLI remains tricky to drive smoothly. If you can deal with a regular manual transmission, it's actually the more livable of the two transmission options on the 2013 Volkswagen GLI.
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