How Volkswagen Turned A Standard VW Jetta GLI Into This ‘Jetta GLI Performance Concept’ SEMA Show-Car

Sema Jetta Gli Topshot

While the Volkswagen Jetta GLI has always run in the shadow of its GTI brother, now might be its time to shine. Not only is it well-priced, it’s on the same MQB platform as the GTI and doesn’t have a center stack comprised entirely of haphazard touch-sensitive controls. To shine the spotlight on its hot sedan, Volkswagen has built a special GLI for SEMA — the Jetta GLI Performance Concept — and it includes bits from England and California. Check it out.

While the city of Milton Keynes may be better known for office buildings and startups, it also has some automotive pedigree. Red Bull’s F1 team is based there, as is Volkswagen U.K., so it shouldn’t be surprising that RacingLine hails from this pocket of Buckinghamshire. RacingLine may have started out as Volkswagen U.K.’s motorsports effort, but it’s morphed into a tuning shop offering all manner of bits for Volkswagen and Audi products, some of which have ended up on this GLI.

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The build starts with a 2022 Jetta GLI Autobahn with a six-speed manual; powertrain wise, there’s a IS38 turbo from a Golf R that’s been reworked with new bearings and new turbine wheels. Frustratingly, Volkswagen didn’t publish any engine bay shots, but here’s a standard photo of an IS38 — because hardware photos are the best photos:

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Image: BMP Tuning

This bigger turbocharger breathes in through what RacingLine calls its R600 cold air intake, along with a bigger intercooler. The result is 350 horsepower and 372 lb.-ft. of torque — big numbers for a compact car.

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To support all this thrust, the clutch had to be upgraded, while RacingLine’s oil cooler kit should keep a lid on oil temperatures. The chassis has more bracing, while the brakes are now 15-inch carbon ceramic discs with six-piston calipers up front. Coilovers are common on SEMA builds, but the RacingLine Tracksport units on this special GLI seem better than most. Not only are the front dampers inverted, the top-mounts are fully-adjustable and the damper bodies are made from aluminum. Mind you, there hasn’t been any mention of tires, but they appear to be Pirelli PZero Corsas wrapped around some interesting Rotiform wheels.

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The forged Rotiform GRZs were likely chosen because of their screw-on hubcaps that can facilitate aerodisc fitment. Think turbofan-lite. However, because this is a SEMA build, the wheels are a bit wider than what a stock GLI body can handle. Time for Volkswagen’s Design Center California team to go on a power play, pumping the arches up by eight tenths of an inch over stock, then connecting the flared panels with the rest of the car through gracefully-massaged rear doors and a slightly 2005-esque set of custom side skirts. The front and rear valences also get a lift, with the latter incorporating a lovely set of twin exhaust tips. I’m not entirely sure about the rear bumper vents, but custom styling is always subjective.

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Speaking of subjective, you’ll think the vinyl wrap is either terrific or terrible, and I’m leaning towards the latter camp. The hexagonal motif is a neat concept, but the execution is like a kid just discovered the vinyl editor on Forza Motorsport 4. Plus, I feel matte black is a fairly stale color, and the Kings Redpaint underneath is quite a good shade. Mind you, I have nothing but lovely things to say about the Recaro Pole Position seats. The red hexagonal pattern and stitching looks retro in the right way and is a fun antidote to all-black interiors.

interior

Apart from the cosmetic tweaks, it’s possible to put most of this Jetta GLI together in your garage at home, RacingLine sells its IS38 big turbo kit and coilovers, Rotiform will happily sell you a set of GRZs and aerodiscs, and Recaro offers its Pole Position seats in several different upholstery options including a lovely houndstooth pattern. What’s more, a similar GLI built at home will likely be even quicker than Volkswagen’s show car. RacingLine touts an awesome 480 bhp from its turbo kit — plenty of shove in a compact car.

All photos courtesy of Volkswagen unless otherwise stated

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10 Responses

  1. I dunno what it is about this car…

    I dont love VWs. I barely like them. In all of the 100,000 car shots Ive taken over 15+yrs… Vw shots are less than 1%. I just dont like them.

    But this:
    I love the red and black treatments. I love the pizza-cutters over the wheels. I love the thin air-intakes behind the front wheels. I like the paint and body kit. SHIT, I even like the front end treatment.

    Now… the rest, it can go burn in a tire fire. I cant stand electronics and all of that nanny bullshit in my car. If ya could take that and put it on anything… Id just appreciate the S H I T out of it.

  2. The GLI is a nice little package. I’ve driven one and it’s basically what you’d expect…90% of a GTI in sedan form. That being said…I have no idea why you’d pick one over a GTI. I looked at both back in 2020 and the shorter wheelbase makes the GTI slightly more fun, and I personally will always go hatch over sedan because the space in a hatch is more useful…and the current GTI has more power to boot.

    Right now the selling point on the GLI is that it doesn’t have all the touchscreen hell the current GTI does, but it still has the nightmarish haptic button steering wheel, so are you really gaining that much? VW has also said that the touchscreen nightmare and haptic buttons are finally going away in the next few years.

    For a few grand more than a GLI you can have a base A3, which isn’t quite as engaging and isn’t available with a stick, but I’d personally rather have the interior upgrades at the cost of a slightly less engaging drive. I wish VW would do more to differentiate the GLI, but it just kind of sits in a weird place in their lineup. Can we maybe get a Jetta Type R and have it undercut the nonsensically expensive Golf R? Now that would be interesting…also allegedly VW changed the DSG tuning on these and it’s now basically a torque converter response wise. No bueno.

    1. I had a mk V GLI and it was a great car. It had the red grille trim and plaid seats for a little fun but looked like a ‘grown up’s car’. I believe HP and torque were exactly the same as the GTI of that generation. The LSD made it pretty good in the snow. It was an absolutely fantastic commuter car and I loved driving it. The only bummer was the reliability. I had the intake manifold replaced under warranty 3 times, along with other stupid things like the steering rack.

  3. I love those dish aero wheels. They just make me happy for some reason. Are they bespoke from Rotoform for this car, or available to the public (in order to make Adrian mad when I replace my OEM wheels).

  4. I find it kind of funny a turbo that spools up down low around 2-3k rpm is touted as a “big” turbo.

    The turbo off a 6 liter I put on my 1.9 diesel doesn’t even spool up in 1st gear. I get about 2psi of boost just from restriction from about 2000rpm until 3800rpm when it finally ramps up.

    Pulls hard from 4000rpm to the 6500rpm rev limiter and is so big that if I let off and coast the turbo takes a few seconds to spin back down and will give me boost at lower rpm if I get back on the throttle.

    Stock turbo was 90hp, this one is 330whp on a SOHC 2-valve diesel that doesn’t even have a cross-flow cylinder head.

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