Why the VW Jetta GLI Keeps the Manual Transmission and the GTI Doesn't

2025 volkswagen jetta gli
Why the VW Jetta GLI Keeps the ManualVolkswagen

With the announcement of the 2025 Jetta GLI and its continuation of the manual transmission on Tuesday, Volkswagen continues to pull some serious weight in the enthusiast circle. But, while the sedan-bodied performance car offers two transmission options for 2025, its hot-hatch sibling, the GTI, only gets the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for the foreseeable future. What gives?

Well, the disconnect in transmission choices for 2025 stems from the North American wing of Volkswagen, not from its German headquarters in Wolfsburg. Because the Jetta GLI is a North American-exclusive model, the folks at Volkswagen's U.S. headquarters in Reston, Virginia decided to exercise some autonomy and keep the manual transmission, according to Mark Gillies, Volkswagen of America's director of public relations.

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"It’s simply that Golf GTI is a world car and the only market that wants a manual is North America," Gillies said in an email to Road & Track. "Since we control technical development on the GLI, as it is a [North American Region] car, we were able to retain the manual."


Indeed, the Jetta GLI has long been a North American model, first introduced Stateside in 1984. Since then, the sports sedan has largely followed the generations of GTI, making its mark by being a slightly more mature alternative.

"As it has evolved, the Jetta GLI has kept pace with Americans who want the performance of a sports car and the cargo space of a small sedan," Volkswagen said in a press release marking five decades of the Jetta GLI. "Unlike the Golf GTI, the top-of-the-line Jetta had a four-door option, seating for five, and a spacious trunk, which better fit the needs of the average American family."

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Additionally, the assertion that North American market buyers are generally more manual-hungry isn't particularly surprising. While stickshift operators are a rarity here in the U.S., most Europeans learn to drive manual transmission cars and don't covet the mechanical experience in the same way. This carries over into the car market, where U.S. demand forced automakers to maintain the offering in iconic performance models for the market, like the BMW's E60 M5 and the new Z4 M40i Handschalter. Similarly, Porsche said in 2021 that the take rate for manual versions of the GT3 is as high as 70 percent in the U.S.

As far as the Volkswagen performance models go, the manual take rate in the U.S. is high, too. According to data compiled by Motor1, the Volkswagen Golf GTI manual transmission take rate was around 50 percent in 2023, while the Jetta GLI number was slightly lower at 40 percent. However, while the U.S. market accounted for about 7500 GTI unit sales in 2023, the desire to please U.S. buyers with a manual for the hot hatch was reportedly overridden by Euro 7 emissions regulations that were expected to be more strict than ended up being, as well as the overwhelming popularity of the DSG transmission globally. By the numbers, Volkswagen said that a mere five percent of global GTI customers opted for the six-speed transmission, with the other 95 percent choosing the dual-clutch automatic.

With over 47,000 Jetta units sold in the U.S. last year, Volkswagen likely has some wiggle room when it comes to offering a manual-equipped Jetta GLI. The compact sedan was the company's fourth most popular model in 2023 and the best-selling passenger car by a wide margin, indicating the cost to build a few extra six-speed Jetta GLI units shouldn't break the bank for Volkswagen of America.

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