A well balanced fun to drive sedan at an affordable price

When Volkswagen redesigned the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, they designed the car to make it more affordable, and appeal to a broader demographic to increase sales. VW went with a smaller and less powerful base engine, a less expensive twist beam rear suspension, rear drum brakes, and a more economical interior with harder plastics. While doing this, they increased the interior room, and significantly lowered the entry price. The new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI reverses this trend by putting back some of the features that they’ve removed to appeal more towards those who would pay a higher entry fee for more performance and a higher quality interior. To be more specific, the GLI comes with the carryover 2.0L 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with 200 hp, 207 lbs/ft of torque, a four corner independent sport suspension, four wheel disc brakes, and nicer interior materials.

So what claims does VW make about the new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI? They say it’s “the complete Volkswagen package: A well-balanced, fun-to-drive, German-engineered performance vehicle at an accessible price… that’s sure to appeal to both automotive enthusiasts and everyday drivers alike.”  We had the opportunity to test whether the GLI is in fact the complete VW package and if it measures up to Volkswagen’s claims.

Our first impression of the GLI was that it looks fairly conservative with hints that it’s not an ordinary Jetta, but something a little more satisfying and aggressive. The front end of the car is defined by prominent horizontal lines across the front bumper and two black honeycomb grills, one above and one below the bumper. On the side, it wears 17” alloy wheels that look sporty, and there’s a subtle character line runs from the front to rear. In the rear, it has darkened taillights and dual exhaust tips.



We found the interior of the GLI roomy, sporty, and tasteful. Headroom and legroom are among the best in the compact sedan class. Fitting a front facing child car seat in the back did not sacrifice front seat comfort. The rear seat can fit three people and even trumps room and comfort of some larger vehicles. Outward visibility is good. Our GLI came with cloth seats contrasted with red stitching which were supportive and comfortable, but heavier drivers may find the bolstering restrictive. V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces are available on the Autobahn trim level. They look and feel pretty much like real leather, but is a step down from the leather available in the previous GLI. The flat bottomed three spoke leather wrapped steering wheel is meaty and feels great. The alloy pedals and alloy trim around the shifter look nice, and it has a soft touch dashboard not available in non-GLI trim levels. The sun visors, however feel cheap. Overall, the GLI has a pleasant and roomy interior that I enjoyed spending time in.

The controls are intuitive, simple to operate, and well arranged. Our GLI didn’t have the optional navigation system which would likely complicate some of the controls, but did come standard with a touch screen premium radio with Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, and multifunction display.

So what’s it like to drive? The 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with 200 hp, 207 lb2012 Jetta GLIs/ft of torque collaborating with the 6-speed automatic transmission brought the car from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds with some turbo lag and unsettling hesitation when accelerating from a stop. This is not the quickest car in its segment, but it felt satisfyingly smooth and brisk once we got going all the way to the 6,000 rpm redline. In normal mode, the transmission shifts smoothly and is tuned to save fuel. I kept it in Sport mode to keep the revs in the sweet spot and to optimize the fun. My preference though would be the optional 6-speed manual transmission. The steering is responsive and provides good feedback. Handling is nimble and fun. The four wheel disc brakes produce short stops, and feel solid, but I would often feel the power assist step in as if I meant to press the brakes harder than I actually did.

The ride in the GLI is firm, but comfortable and nicely damped for a sporty sedan. The exhaust note sounds great and is deep for a 4-cylinder. Tire and wind noise are heard but are good for its class.

The GLI’s trunk is huge compared to others in its class. Its opening is low and wide, but the hinges are exposed and can squish cargo if the trunk is filled to maximum capacity. The rear seats flip down from a release inside the trunk. For expanded cargo, the 60/40 split rear backseat fold almost flat. Interior storage is also good with a somewhat large glove compartment, and multiple bottle holders and cup holders. Below the floor of the trunk is a temporary spare tire.

So does the GLI live up to all of VW’s claims? Yes. This is a very well rounded sedan that’s fun to drive while managing to balance ride, handling, power, control, and offer plenty of room. It doesn’t blow you away in any one category, but as a whole, it manages to do enough to appeal to everyday drivers and enthusiasts. While others cars in its class may accelerate faster or handle better, they all give up something somewhere like comfort, noise, or practicality. This car is comfortable, livable, and is fun to drive without putting you in the penalty box in any one particular area. Like VW said, “It’s the complete Volkswagen package.”

Vehicle type: Front Engine, FWD, 5 passenger, 4-door
Base price including destination: $25,365
Price as tested: $25,600
Horsepower: 200HP @ 5,100 – 6,000 rpm
Torque: 207 lb/ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm
Redline: 6,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic and Sport mode
0 – 60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds
EPA Rating (city/hwy): 24/32
Required Fuel: Premium fuel recommended for maximum performance
Curb Weight: 3,157 lbs