Our walkaround with Adam Reinhardt
Volkswagen chose the Chicago Auto Show to reveal the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI. With the GTI’s 228-hp engine, an independent rear suspension, and Volkswagen’s VAQ limited-slip differential, the new GLI looks like it should be just as fun to drive as the GTI. We have a feeling it will be much better than the previous Jetta GLI. To get a better idea of what Volkswagen has done with the GLI, we caught up with Adam Reinhardt, one of the product developers behind the Jetta.
Can you talk me through some of your priorities and your goals when it came to redesigning the GLI?
Absolutely. So the number one thing with this car was to make sure that it was on the same performance plane as the GTI. So previous generation, the Mk VI GLI was a good car, but it had the misfortune of the GTI coming out in 2015 as a Mk VII on the MQB chassis that did have more power and it had a more rigid chassis and it had a little bit better handling. And so the performance buyer, the enthusiast, was naturally gravitating more towards the GTI and the GLI was, more or less … didn’t quite measure up in the same performance. And that’s not what we wanted.
What we wanted to do was relaunch the GLI as a true performance sports sedan, so think of it like a GTI with a trunk. And so, to that end, it’s now on a MQB chassis, same as the normal Jetta, and it shares its engine with the model ’19 GTI, so it’s the same EA88 turbo four-cylinder, two-liter engine, making 228 horsepower. It’s a standard engine on all GLIs.
In addition to that, features that were previously in the GTI performance package, like the XDS and the VAQ limited-slip differential, that’s now standard equipment on GLI, as well as the Golf R front brakes.
So you get better braking, all-up more power, and the limited-slip differential to help with the handling.
So at least on paper, the GLI is on par with the GTI. But if you take both cars to a track, is there anything that’s going to stand out as a difference between them and the way they drive other than just not having the hatch behind you?
The expectation is that they should be pretty comparable on a racetrack. The GLI, because of its shape as a sedan, especially with the coupe-ish-type sedan, it actually has a much better drag coefficient, so on a straight-away, depending what track it is, there could be some difference in favor of GLI. GLI is also a little heavier. So there could be some difference in acceleration, in favor of GTI, but depending on the track and the driver we expect it to be pretty close.
As far as demographics go, what’s the difference that you expect to see, or have seen in the past, between the person who buys a GTI, and who buys a GLI?
Well, we know that hatch people tend to be hatch people. That there’s a preference for the styling of a hatch with the European look and feel of a hatchback, and so for those people, we’ve always had the GTI.
What we haven’t had until now, over the past couple of years, is a sports sedan, because we know there’s people who also prefer the shape of a sedan, and they prefer having a real trunk where you can put your luggage in there if you’re going on a road trip. You don’t have to worry about a cargo cover. You can lock it away, people can’t see it, and when you look around and you see a lot more sedans on the road here in the U.S. than you do hatches. It’s basically the opposite of Europe, so to that end, we wanted to bring out the GLI again as a real sports sedan.
Have you seen, or do you expect to see, any differences in income, gender, location in the country, or is it probably more just, as best as you can tell, preference for sedan versus hatch?
Well, what we’ve seen in the sports sedan segment is that there are a number of new entrants, so starting, I guess, with the redesigned Civic Si, and now with the Elantra Sport, and even Kia, with the Forte GT, very aggressive price points, and with a little bit more modest output than we have here. And so we see there being an opportunity to conquest some sales from those other brands, with a car that delivers more performance and similar value.
Since we’re seeing a decline in sedan sales in the U.S., what is your answer to the person who says, “Why bother with a sports sedan when nobody’s buying them anymore?”
Yeah, well when we talk to our customers, we see that there is a very pronounced demand for sedans. Those people who don’t want the additional space or the reduced maneuverability of an SUV, or the reduced fuel mileage, whether it’s as a second car, or whether it’s a different stage in life, or as a commuter vehicle they prefer a sedan, and so we know that eventually gives us a core group of sedan buyers that’s not going to go anywhere.
I think you hear that in all the different presentations from the different brands. We had [Subaru] Legacy launch today, and also our executive vice president for sales and marketing here, talking about sedans, and still over four million cars in the market, so that it’s a sizeable segment, and we’re very committed to doing it well as part of Volkswagen’s DNA.
Now, I know you said you see opportunities to conquest sales from Elantra and Civic Si, but do you also anticipate taking some sales away from maybe the base model of the more established luxury cars such as the 3 Series, too, or do those tend to be different buyers?
The big thing with those buyers is oftentimes the brand is a key decision factor. But in terms of equipment and value, I think we would give that lower tier a run for its money.
Is there any particular detail or thing that you’re especially proud of, that someone might not notice just looking at a spec sheet or photos?
There’s a couple of things. The first thing is the standard driver’s assistance, which, up until recently hasn’t really been a thing in the performance sedans, but we’ve seen how useful and helpful they are, and how drivers appreciate them, and so all GLIs have standard Blind Spot and Volkswagen’s Front Assist, which is forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, which, up until recently, had not been common in the segment. And it’s something that the Civic does not offer, for example.
And then, for me, the 35th Edition with the unique styling details—so the black roof, black rear spoiler, unique wheels—and that also comes with the DCC which is our adaptive damping system. That’s really the true enthusiast’s choice, and that’s the car that I would want to take home if we could take it home today.
Was there anything that you tried to make happen that just didn’t really work out?
I’d say, all in all, we achieved what we wanted to with the car.
Unfortunately, we can’t reveal pricing just yet, and you’re probably going to ask about it, but the amount of car that is coming to the market for the price-points, it’s impressive. So we’re very excited about that. When we do our own internal value analysis to see which features are valued at which price-points for our customers, we actually come up with calculations that show that the GLI offers more equipment for comparable, if not even a little bit better money, than GTI.