The Volkswagen Jetta GLI has been an American favorite for five generations.

Like the GTI, the GLI has a sporty, streamlined look, but it comes with extra cargo space and more comfort features.

And with the all-new GLI coming soon – here’s a look back at the GLI from 1984 to now.

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Volkswagen Jetta GLI: Nearly 50 Years of Performance & Style

VW created the Jetta GLI after seeing the enthusiastic response to the Rabbit GTI.  So, designers envisioned a sporty, family-friendly version of the Jetta, with four doors and space for five passengers.

Volkswagen Jetta GLI Mk2 black and white front facing image as vehicle drives over gravel hill

Volkswagen Jetta GLI Mk2

1984: The First Volkswagen Jetta GLI

The first GLI shared many of the same components as the Golf GTI.  Next, the car had a fuel-injected engine that put off 90 horsepower, lightweight pistons, and a better compression ratio.  And VW installed a top-of-the-line suspension along with five-speed manual transmission.

Now, the first version of the GLI is practically a collector’s item.  Back in its prime, the car could beat out top German luxury cars in speed and performance trials.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the GLI underwent several style and performance transformations.  The biggest change occurred in 1990 when the GLI received a 2.0-liter, 16-valve engine.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI red passenger front on wet track

2006 VW Jetta GLI

Early 2000s: Tech & Body Upgrades

The first GLI of the new millennium hit the market in 2002.  This model came with a 2.8-liter narrow-angle engine and a strong, smooth exterior.  Then, just a couple of years later, the GLI got an upgrade with a lighter 1.8-liter engine.

Next, Volkswagen released the Mk5 Jetta GLI.  Equipped with a turbo engine that put off 200 horsepower, this version was stronger and faster than previous ones.

Further, VW appealed to sedan owners by offering a bunch of extra options, like heated seats, touchscreen navigation, and keyless entry.  The car struck a chord with drivers who wanted a sophisticated but sporty vehicle.

The Volkswagen Jetta GLI Mk6 came next in 2012.  This version was a fast favorite among VW fans.  Consequently, VW sold a lot of the sedans shortly after they came out.

Also, the Mk6 had an independent rear suspension and an updated dashboard.  On the exterior, VW upgraded the GLI with larger wheels and flared sills.

The 2020 Jetta GLI

VW debuted the current generation of the GLI at the Chicago Auto Show.

Built on the MQB platform, this vehicle has a 2.0-liter engine that creates 228 horsepower.  And the car is available in either manual or automatic transmission.

But one of its most impressive features is the differential, which is electronically controlled and can sense torque changes.  The car’s hydraulic systems adjust torque on the fly for better handling in various conditions.

Further, the 2020 Jetta has a bunch of new interior features, like customizable ambient lighting the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, and heated seats.

2022 VW Jetta GLI interior front seats and dash

Inside ’22 Jetta GLI

2022: What’s Coming Next

Now, the newest GLI boasts a bunch of new changes.

VW stuck with the 228 horsepower engine and included options for either seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.  And on the outside, VW installed a honeycomb grille along with a sleek bumper that has red accent lines.

The manufacturer added red accent lines throughout the interior, upgraded the gear shifter, and included a classic Volkswagen Jetta GLI badge on the steering wheel for a sporty look.

With its top-of-the-line tech features, strong handling, and good looks, the latest GLI will likely be a big hit when it comes on the market in the near future.