Why you should care about the 2019 VW Jetta GLI's customizable drive modes

2019 VW Jetta GLI
Image credit: Josiah Bondy

In the future, cars will be far more customizable. Think about the endless options on your typical smartphone, including the ringtones, the wallpaper options, the tweaks you can do for app notifications. Because we’re all heading to a driverless car future, the options available for drivers will be almost endless as well, starting with how the car itself drives.

In a recent test of the 2019 VW Jetta GLI, a 228-horsepower racer, I found I could adjust basic settings using the Drive Mode button, located to the right of the driver. With a click, you can select options like normal, comfort, and sport. That’s fairly standard in many VW models and in plenty of other makes and models from Nissan, Mazda, and others. 

What’s far more interesting in the Jetta GLI is the custom mode, which lets you tweak the drive modes in more detail. I was surprised by the setting for the exhaust, which you can adjust in volume. (It’s noticeably louder when you set the exhaust for sport mode, and quite a bit quieter in normal mode.) To tweak settings, you select Custom then use the small pencil icon to make further adjustments. A pop-up for each specific option appears.

For example, you can also adjust the Dynamic Chassis Control or DCC to comfort, normal or sport. DCC adjusts the suspension of each tire as you drive, so in sport mode you can feel the road more intuitively, and in comfort mode you glide over bumps. I tested this multiple times on highways and around curves on country roads, and there is a distinct difference.

Sport, eco or comfort

In the custom drive mode screen, you can also tweak the settings for steering, front differential lock (for traction and handling), drive system (throttle response), the exhaust, and climate control (in eco mode, the car disables air conditioning). I’ve never seen this level of control in a passenger car like this, although the settings are even more varied in a Dodge Challenger and other sporty cars. The idea is that you want to feel the road and maintain control of the car for more spirited driving. Cornering in particular feels more responsive. 

On one drive, I forgot I'd left all of the settings in sport mode, and two passengers started complaining about the bumps on the road and felt a bit nauseous because the corners pulled harder that they wanted. I was able to press the Drive Mode button and quickly select comfort mode, which helped everyone feel less like they were on a track.

I could see someone tweaking the settings to provide a blend of comfort and tighter control, leaving the suspension on comfort but choosing to tightening up the steering, for example.

As usual, my thoughts drifted to how this might change as cars become ever more advanced. When a car drives for us, we will want to do something to feel like we’re in control. It might be settings for whether the autonomous car tech is more aggressive about passing other cars and getting us to a destination faster.

It might have more to do with making all of the suspension settings more comfortable during certain parts of a drive, but then we would take over on country roads when the corners and straightaways are a bit more fun and challenging.

On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully self-driving cars. 

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.