Joining us this week for a review is the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 6-Speed manual with Autobahn Package and Navi. The Jetta in this trim stickers at about $26,445 (the fleet manager is getting me the actual sticker later), and has very few options left to select other than automatic transmission and small accessories.
In May 2011, we reviewed a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SE 2.5. During that week, I took the Jetta on a 750 mile trip. I had no love for the 2.5 liter 5-cylinder included in that car. The fuel economy I observed over my 750 mile highway trip didn't even match that of a V6 Chevrolet Camaro and the power wasn't even close. Like most 5-cylinders, that Jetta also had a rough feeling under hard acceleration. About the only positive thing I could say about the power train was that it had good torque to scoot around town with. It looks like Volkswagen might agree with my opinions. Recently rumors have popped up that Volkswagen will replace the 2.5 5-cylinder with a smaller displacement turbo charged 4-cylinder.
The interior was letdown if you didn't keep your perspective on this car's entry price. It was built well enough, but there were lots of button blankouts and dial deletes. Driving this car for 750 miles, I had to keep reminding myself, "$16k base price... $16k base price". Considering $16,000 barely gets you into a FIT over at Honda... that makes the lower end Jetta a not-to-bad proposition.
So the question becomes: Can the budget minded Jetta, that bases just above $16,000, be transformed into a performance sport sedan worthy of the GLI badge at $26,000. After 70 miles so far today, the Magic 8-Ball says: "Signs point to yes"
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First off, the 200 horsepower 2.0T in the GLI feels much more powerful than its rating suggests and part of that comes from the 205 ft-lb of torque also available. There is turbo lag present, but it is very easy to drive around and in fact makes things a bit more fun when you feel the surge kick in. The shifter has unusually long throws for a car with sporting intentions and the clicks between gears have a bit of grit to them. I'll get back to you more on that as I put more miles on the car.
One of the main features that makes a GLI an upgrade over the other models is the completely replaced rear suspension. I haven't had a chance to try that improvement out yet.
The interior feels decidedly upmarket. Flat-bottomed steering wheels are clearly the new black for sports cars and the Jetta GLI is no exception. Leather wrapped and trimmed with red stitching, it feels perfectly sized in your hand. The automatic dual zone HVAC system is upgraded from cable operation to electronic. My preliminary experience with the navitainment system has been positive so far, but I was listening more to the turbo whistle than the satellite radio. Even the gauge cluster has been upgraded.
Naturally, interior dimensions don't change between SE and GLI models. The Jetta's interior room puts it almost into the mid-size class of vehicle rather than the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus compacts it is priced against.
Externally, the Jetta GLI gets some minor styling tweaks, but those tweaks seem to be enough to transform the pedestrian SE into something more aggressive looking. Personal opinion, but I really love the way the standard 18" alloy wheels with painted accents look on this car.
We'll have this car until next Thursday when we swap into another Volkswagen. So fire away your questions in the comments section for our Interactive Review of the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI.
In the meantime, here are some preliminary cell phone pics.