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Surprising comfort and performance for the price of an affordable family sedan

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The aggressive front air dam marks the GLI version of the 2019 VW Jetta as the performance model, and for good reason.

Because the Volkswagen Groups owns both Volkswagen and Audi, some people might think that Volkswagens are bargain-priced versions of Audis — similar and less expensive, but not as good. So if you can't afford an Audi but still want a well-engineered German car, you can settle for Volkswagen and enjoy something like it.

Such thinking is wrong-headed, of courses. Volkswagen makes a wide range of great vehicles, from the compact Golf hatchback to the new large Atlas crossover SUV. They all have a lot going for them, including smart designs, high quality construction, advanced technologies, and refined road manners.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The interior of the 2019 VW Jetta GLI features special red stirching and other trim, plus comfortable and supportive cloth sport buckt seats.

The compact 2019 VW Jetta GLI sedan should end the Volkswagen versus Audi comparisons once and for all. It is not a more affordable but inferior version of a compact Audi A4. It is a great German road car in its own right, especially the 35th Anniversary edition that feature special paint and trim schemes, and much more.

The GLI has always been the performance version of the Jetta, and the 2019 version is more impressive than every, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 228 horsepower, active adaptive suspension, 18-inch wheels, big disc brakes, a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, and a Sport mode that noticeably improves performance. The clean exterior styling is enhanced by a large front air dam and discrete rear spoiler. The interior is simple and functional — a Volkswagen and Audi trademark — and features front bucket sport seats that are both supportive and comfortable.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The 18-inch sport wheels, discrete rear spoiler and  other special exterior trim that marks the 2019 VW Jetta GLI 35th anniversay edition.

And yes, Jetta GLI costs less — way less — than even the base Audi A4, which allows you to justify buying the Volkswagen on cost grounds alone. But seriously, there is no reason for even hardcore enthusiasts to apologize for only being able to afford it. And consumers also know that the lower-level Jettas are good cars. That's why they have been the company's best seller for the last 39 years, with more than 17.5 million sold worldwide.

Jettas are offered from the basic S trim through the 35th Anniversary editions to the top-of-the-line Autobahn version. The S and 35th Anniversary ones offer heated cloth seats and a 6.5-inch color touchscreen display. The Autobahn version comes with heated and ventilated leather seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a panoramic sunroof, and VW's Digital Cockpit all-video dashboard. A rear-view camera is standard. Volkswagen does not support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but offers Car-Net App-Connect to perform the same services. A premium sound system by BeatsAudio is available, and well worth the extra money.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The basic S trim and the 35th Anniversary versions offer heated cloth seats, while the Autobahn trim comes with heated and ventilated leather.

Perhaps the best reason for buy the A4 instead is the availability of all-wheel-drive, which the Jetta does not offer. But with today's advanced traction control and related systems, that's a bigger issue in regions that get frequent snow and ice. And of course the A4 costs more, although it also more refined and sophisticated.

But if you're in the market for a compact sedan that delivers value and performance, do yourself a favor and check out the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, especially the GLI 35th Anniversary version. You'll be surprised by how much you can but for under $30,000.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE -  in the 2019 VW Jetta GLO Rear seat room is good for a compact sedan.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Base price: $25,995

Price as tested: $28,985

Type: Compact sedan

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (228 hp, 258 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 25/32

Overall length: 185.2 inches

Curb weight: 3,217 pounds

Final assembly: Puebla, Mexico

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