August 17th, 2012
Managing Editor - CheersandGears.com
A few months ago, you had Chris Doane's take on the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI and now it is my turn. I am at the disadvantage that I haven't driven the recent Volkswagen GTI, since that would the GLI's direct competitor. Will my blindness to the capabilities of the GTI have me reach different a conclusion than Chris did?
My 2012 Jetta GLI came in the proper car color of Darth Vader Helmet Black incorrectly listed as “Deep Black Metallic” on the window sticker. The interior is trimmed in black leatherette with red stitching. Standard are 18” alloys with painted black accents. Lord Vader would approve.
Most of the parts on the interior you touch regularly have been upgraded over the lesser Jettas. The wrapped steering
wheel feels just about perfect in your hand as does the shifter. Flat bottom steering wheels are the “new black” for sports cars, so of course the Jetta GLI has that too. The automatic dual-zone climate controls are decidedly better than the manual unit in base Jetta. Unfortunately, only the parts you regularly touch have been upgraded, so that means you still get the very hard plastic door panels and dash present in the base model.
Volkswagen's construction of the Jetta is top notch; every seam was tight and even, the doors feel solid without feeling heavy, and the body panels line up perfectly.
As I mentioned in the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo review, the Fender audio and navigation system offers crystal clear sound and continues to be one of the best car audio systems I have sampled lately. My only complaint here is that the screen size is such on the small side that even my Samsung Galaxy SII phone can rival it for screen space.
The Jetta has the largest interior of the compact class. In that regard, it really is compact in EPA rating only. Sit in a “compact” Jetta and then in a “mid-size” Ford Fusion and you'll wonder what the size distinction is. Rear seat accommodations have class leading room and the comfort that goes with it. The seats are well proportioned and I fit back there nicely. Trunk cargo room is also class leading. The overall package of compact-ish outside dimensions with midsize-ish interior dimensions puts the Jetta in a unique position in the sedan crowd.
This GLI with autobahn package and navigation stickers at $26,000. For your $26k, you get an upgraded multi-link independent suspension in the back, a 200 horsepower turbocharged 2.0 liter 4-cylinder that puts out 207 lb-ft of torque @ 1700, exterior styling tweaks such as a honeycomb grill insert and lower body spoilers.
The Jetta GLI is a bit of a sleeper in terms of those exterior tweaks mentioned earlier, but put the GLI next to a base model Jetta and you will instantly be able to tell which is the more sporty model. Overall the improvements take the staid Jetta and turn it into a more handsome car. One of my favorite changes are the 18” alloy wheels with black painted accents and painted red brake calipers behind.
Out on the road the turbocharged 4 cylinder has an authoritative growl. Torque comes on strong at the low end of the RPM range making the GLI a fun car to launch. Turbo lag was negligible and could only really be noticed if you were already rolling at city speeds and then wanted a sudden burst of power. I found the best way to get around the turbo lag was to down shift two gears rather than just one. I wouldn't call the 2.0T happy to rev; it is clearly most comfortable churning out the foot pounds at low rpm, but it will play along when asked. Fuel economy is respectable for the power and capabilities of this engine, and you can expect to easily crest into the mid-30s if you take it easy on the highway. Volkswagen does recommend premium fuel for best performance.
The Jetta platform itself seems very solid and the multi-link rears suspension is a step up from the twist beam in the base model. However, it is not at the level of “sport sedan” that most would expect. Around town, the suspension gives an appropriate level of firmness and confidence that one would expect from a German sport sedan, but push the GLI hard and at speed around some corners and all of that confidence melts away into a bucket of marshmallow fluff. Given that the Jetta is also a lamb on the highway, I wonder if Volkswagen engineers turned the dial on comfort up a little too high for a true sport sedan.
The Jetta doesn't exist in a vacuum though. So while a sports car buyer cannot ignore the presence of the Volkswagen GTI also in the showroom, family sedan buyers can't ignore the $26,000 price tag and long list of included options. At that price, the Jetta GLI is up against the cars like a middle-optioned Chevrolet Malibu or Ford Fusion. Taken in that view, the Jetta GLI becomes a screaming deal will all of the amenities it comes with that the others don't while sacrificing nothing in roominess. In spite of the Jetta's suspension shortcomings as a sport sedan, it is still has a sportier ride and acceleration than just about any other mid-size family sedan offered at this price.
So is the Volkswagen Jetta GLI a full on German sport sedan? Not really. Is it a sporty, people's car/family sedan with a lot of value for the price? Absolutely! If you're in the mid-size family car market, you would do yourself a disservice if you did not check it out.
Model Year: 2012
Engine: Transversely mounted 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: Front Wheel Drive, 6-speed manual
Max horsepower @ RPM:
Max torque @RPM: 207 ft-lb @ 1700rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 22 City / 33 Highway
Exterior color as tested: Deep Black Metallic
Interior color as tested: Titan Black V-Tex Leatherette
Location of Manufacture: Puebla, Mexico
Volkswagen provided the Jetta GLI, one tank of fuel, and insurance.