The Difference between the GL, GLS and GLI Volkswagen Jetta models

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jetta gl vs gls and gli

Overview of the Jetta GL, GLS, GLX, GLI Models Throughout the Years

Hey there my name is Vince and today we’re talking about the VW Jetta.

The Volkswagen Jetta is a consistent volume seller in America and most people have heard of the Jetta.

But what is the difference between the GL, GLS, GLX, and GLI Volkswagen Jetta models?

We’ll dive into this deeper, but for now, suffice it to say that the GL is the base model, budget friendly version. The GLS is the “sport” edition with options for different engines and transmissions and sport suspension. Lastly the GLX and GLI are the high-end models which come fully loaded with leather, cruise control, power seats, climate control and the most powerful VR6 engines.

Betta Getta Jetta

Brief History of the VS Jetta / Golf / Rabbit

woman sitting on vw bug
The VW Bug may be one of the most recognizable cars, but the VW Jetta has been a huge volume seller in the USA.

It is one of the most popular and recognizable European compact cars. The VW Jetta debuted in North America in 1979. The car is based on the VW Golf/Rabbit. We all know the Golf is a favorite in Europe, but the Golf didn’t so fare well in the USA. Volkswagen decided to add a trunk to the Golf and the Jetta sedan is born.

The current (2019) VW Jetta is the seventh generation model. It is based on VW’s MQB platform along with the VW Golf and the VW Atlas. In order to cope with the trend of supersizing compact cars, the new VW Jetta is larger, longer, and wider than previous models. This allows the Jetta to offer the creature comforts and luxury appointments of a midsize sedan without the added cost.

Jetta GL

1995 jetta gl
1995 Jetta GL MK3 – img credit Gábor Csaba Németh on Flickr

The VW Jetta GL is the base model manufactured and your options for choosing manual transmissions or different engines are usually limited. This is the model that the average consumer will likely choose. You’ll miss out on options like sport suspension, 6 speed manual transmissions, turbo-charged or VR6 engines. However, for the money and someone looking for good fuel economy in a sporty car, the Jetta GL fits the bill perfectly!

Jetta GLS

Jetta GLS MK3
Jetta GLS MK3 – img credits: Justin on Flickr
jetta gls mk4
Jetta GLS MK4 – img creds: Jeremy on Flickr


The GLS (Grand Luxury Sport) bridges the gap between the consumer who wants a stripped down model but isn’t a racing fanatic. If you choose the GLS option, you’ll usually get larger brakes, sportier suspension, the option for more high powered engines (VR6, 1.9L turbo diesel), manual transmissions, and luxury options like leather, heated seats, sun roof, etc.

The GLS has all the options of the GL, plus additional bells and whistles mentioned above.


Jetta GLX

jetta glx mk3
Jetta GLX MK3 – img creds: Sean on Flickr
jetta glx mk4
Jetta GLX MK4 – img creds: Villeneuve27 on

This was a rare model and is most commonly seen in 1997 Jetta’s up until 2002. Power seats, Leather, climate control, and wood trim were standard in the GLX model. It was a fully loaded beast!

When comparing the Jetta GLX vs the Jetta GLI, the biggest differences are that the GLX came with a 12-valve VR6 motor which was later upgraded to a 24-valve VR6 motor in 2002. The GLX and GLI models are very similar except for the “GLX” name was dropped after mid-2002.

Jetta GLI

jetta gli 1984
They don’t make em like this anymore! Jetta GLI 1984 – img creds:
jetta gli mk4
Jetta GLI MK4 – img creds: Kevin on

The GLI (Grand Luxury Injection) is the “top end” model of the Jetta family and has all the features of the GL, GLS, but comes standard with the VR6, 6 speed manual and a high performance suspension. If you’re the kind of guy who wants a fast, fun car for tearing up the streets, and your budget allows, you’ll want to choose the GLI.

The GLI became common in the Mk4 generation even though they were released in the 1980s. But those old ones are very rare!

*GL, GLS, GLX, GLI options note: these difference are for the Fourth-gen MK4 Jetta model. Different years, and international versions will have different transmission/engine/trim setups 🙂


Jetta GLS vs GLI – Which should you choose?

For Mark 4 Jetta, the GLS has an optional 5-speed manual transmission paired with a 12 valve VR6 engine while the GLI has a 6-speed transmission and a 24 valve VR6 motor products 30 ish more horspower. The GLI also has a sport suspension package.

Now which one is right for you? It’s tough to say. But if you’re the person who wants all the bells and whistles and doesn’t mind paying the premium price, get the GLI. If you want to save some cash, don’t mind missing out on a 30-extra-horsepower engine with a 6 speed manual, then the GLS would be right for you.

It can be tricky to discern the Volkswagen GL vs GLS vs GLX vs GLI. Let’s take a journey through the Jetta years starting with the third gen, MK3 Jetta.


Changes Through the 7 Generations of VW Jetta Models

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between GL, GLS and GLI Volkswagen Jetta models, let’s review the generational changes between these cars.
The classic box-style has remained throughout the generations but the designers have added some sleeker styling elements. The biggest thing you’ll notice stepping through the generations of Jettas is the change in engine performance, suspension and braking upgrades. While the torque and horsepower didn’t increase much, VW engineers have become masters at getting that power to the wheels with maximum efficiently! And with the sporty suspension upgrades and optional 6-speed transmissions, you’ll have a blast ripping through canyon corners, or speeding to the grocery store (but we don’t condone law-breaking!).

Here’s a quick overview of the Jetta through the years.

  • 1992-1999 Jetta MK3 (Third Gen) – This generation was the most successful model that VW made for the American market. It introduced a fuel sipping diesel engine coupled with a comfortable ride.
  • 1999-2005 Jetta MK4 (Fourth Gen) – The body styling got slightly more rounded, but the 1.8 diesel and VR6 carried over. The suspension was “tuned down” slightly to allow for a less stiff but still sporty ride. You’ll find the rare GLX model from 1999.5 until 2002.5 equipped with the beastly VR6 engine.
  • 2006-2011 Jetta MK5 (Fifth Gen) – More sleek styling changes again, and a huge suspension upgrade (independent rear suspension). Slight power increase (7%) and torque increase (20%) and MPG improved by about 20%.
  • 2011-2018 Jetta (Sixth Gen) – VW decided to go after the Corolla and Civic markets by offering a larger and cheaper model of the Jetta. The GLI model has a 200hp engine and lower riding sport suspension. Emissions scandals erupted in 2015
  • 2019 Jetta (Seventh Gen) – Another makeover that makes it near indistinguishable of other cars. A 1.4L turbocharged inline-four motor is the only engine available now.

Third-Gen Mark 3 VW Jetta (1992-1999)

Third-Gen Mark 3 VW Jetta
1992 Jetta – Img creds: RL GNZLZ on Flickr

Before we get to the MK3 VW Jetta, it is important to point out that the VW Jetta GLI first appeared in the MK2 version, which is sold in 1984-1992. The MK2 VW Jetta GLI got the VW Golf’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 90-horsepower. The GLI is touted as the high-performance model of the MK2 Jetta. It came with a close-ratio five-speed manual, leather steering wheel, and a new instrument cluster with three gauges.

However, the Jetta GL first appeared in the MK1 model sold in 1979-1984. The GL is a step up from the base model, but both trims were equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor with 74-horsepower.

Moving on to the MK3 VW Jetta, the car is sold in four trim models. The base model is the Jetta GL. It came with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder with 115-horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque. Even though the GL is the base model, VW gave it an impressive list of standard equipment which includes keyless entry, a height adjustable driver seat, and power door locks with anti-theft alarm. Optional in the MK3 VW Jetta GL is cruise control, ABS, side airbags, moon roof, and a stereo cassette with CD changer.

Other trim models for the MK3 Jetta are the TDI, Wolfsburg, and GLX. The GLX in particular came with a 2.8-liter VR6 engine with 174-horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. The VW Jetta GLX also comes with sport-tuned suspension, rear disk brakes with ABS, a standard moon roof, and traction control.

Based on the trim models between the first and third-generation VW Jetta, it is clear the GL is the entry-level model while the GLX is the sporty higher-end trim with sport suspension and a more powerful V6 motor.

Fourth-Gen Mark 4 VW Jetta (1999-2005)

jetta glx mk4
4th gen Jetta Villeneuve27 on

When it comes to the argument between the VW Jetta GL and GLS, we have to point out the MK4 version sold in 1999-2005. The MK4 VW Jetta GL is the base model. It is well-equipped with side airbags, four-wheel ABS, air conditioning, and a telescoping steering wheel. The GL is available with a choice of two motors: the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 115-horsepower and the 1.9-liter TDI with 90-horsepower.

Moving forward to the GLS, it is interesting to point out the GLS trim in the MK4 Jetta can be ordered with a choice between three motors: the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the 1.9-liter TDI, and a 2.4-liter V6 with 174-horsepower. The GLS also gets power windows, leather upholstery, alloy wheels, a moon roof, and a stereo with CD changer.

But the GLX is even better than the GLS. The GLX is only available with the V6 motor and came with heated leather seats.

So when it comes to comparing the GL versus GLS versus GLX in the MK4 Jetta, the GL is the base model. The GLs comes with better equipment and a choice of engines while the GLX is the sportier version that came exclusively with the VR6 motor.

Fifth-Gen Mark 5 VW Jetta (2006-2011)

jetta mk5
Jetta MK5 – Steven on Flickr

The VW Jetta GLI again appeared in the 2006 MK5 model. The GLI is the sportiest trim level and comes with larger 17-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension, bucket seats, and bi-xenon headlights. The GLI also came with optional features including 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, power seats, and premium leather upholstery.

The MK5 VW Jetta GLI came with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 200-horspower. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual. Volkswagen’s slick dual-clutch DSG direct-shift automatic is optional in the GLI.

Sixth-Gen Mark 6 VW Jetta (2011-2018)

jetta mk6
Jetta mk6 – img creds: Steven on Flickr

The GLI nomenclature once again appeared in the MK6 VW Jetta. Like in the MK5 Jetta, the GLI trim in the 2018 VW Jetta is the sportiest among the S, SE, SE Sport, and SEL trims. While the other models received 1.4-liter and 1.8-liter turbocharged motors, the GLI is special. It receives a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 210-horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. This rev-happy motor is connected to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

In order to further differentiate the GLI, Volkswagen also gave the Jetta GLI a fully-independent sports suspension, blacked-out honeycomb grille, side fog lights, smoked taillights, dual tailpipes, sport leatherette upholstery with red stitching, and red brake calipers.

The MK6 VW Jetta GLI also came with larger 18-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, paddle shifters, and a parking alert system.

Seventh-Gen Mark 7 VW Jetta (2019 onwards)

jetta mk7 r
Jetta MK7 R –

In the current MK7 VW Jetta, there are no GL, GLS, and GLI trims. The newest Jetta is sold in S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium trims. All trim models are powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 147-horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Only the base S model can be equipped with a six-speed manual. All other trim models are equipped with a standard eight-speed automatic.


As you can see the GL versus GLS versus GLI is hard to compare because the model nomenclature has changed through all the generations of the VW Jetta. What’s clear is that the style has gone from a boxy, German engineering, to a more modern, spaceship-looking car.

So you first need to decide which generation of Jetta you want. Do you like the modern style and want something sporty? Consider the Jetta MK5 GLI.

Want something a little older with a VR6 engine? Get a MK4 Jetta GLX or GLS

There is no direct basis in comparing the VW Jetta GL versus GLS versus GLI. In doing so, you will need to compare previous-generation models to discern the noticeable differences. However, what’s clear is the GLI is the special model reserved for sporty drivers looking for more features like a 6 speed manual transmission. We’re not sure if the GL, GLX, or GLI models will resurface in future Jetta models, but it’s interesting to see what VW may have in store for the next-gen Jetta GLI.

If you’ve noticed that we missed any information or are wrong about something, please contact us so we can get it corrected! Information about the Jetta is scattered throughout the web and we got most of our information from VW Vortex.

Enjoyed this article? Own a VW Jetta already?  You might be interested in picking up a Volkswagen obd2 scanner


*Featured image credits of Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

*Girl sitting on VW bug image: Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

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