We’ve been waiting to drive the all-new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI for a while, and were quite interested to see how it turned out. Partly because the Jetta GLI, like the GTI for the Golf, has always meant VW’s sportiest offering, and is also a great bang for your automotive buck.
The other reason we were so interested is that the GLI is based on the all-new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta, which is a large departure from the previous model. In the past, the Jetta was very much a 4-door sedan version of the Golf Hatchback – so the Jetta GLI ended up being a sedan version of the GTI, perfect if you wanted or needed a trunk instead of a hatch.
But recently, the new Jetta parted ways with the Golf, and the designed-for-America Jetta became much larger, a bit less expensive, and to be honest, a bit less special. So we wondered if the new GLI would also lose some of its former pizzazz, or would rekindle the love affair we’ve always had with the model.
Well it certainly looks the part. While the lines of the GLI are still conservative, VW has spiced up the recipe with some GLI-specific goodies, like a new honeycomb grille, aggressive front air dam, handsome 17” spoke alloy wheels, and nice touches like dual exhaust tips. Our tester was a reserved and tasteful Frost Silver Metallic, but we might opt for the Candy White or racy Tornado Red.
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI’s beauty is more than skin deep, as VW has seriously upgraded the hardware as well.
To start, powering the GLI is VW’s turbo 2.0-liter, four cylinder, pushing out a respectable 200 horsepower with smooth power delivery and notable bottom end torque. There’s also a rich, throaty rumble from the exhaust that makes sure you know you’re in Volkswagen’s performance version of the Jetta. Our tester also had the optional DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, notable for ridiculously quick shifts and sporty feel. Our particular tester had a roughness to the shifting we’ve never felt before in any other DSG-equipped VW, so we’ll chalk it up to a rough life at the hands of other journalists.
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That aside, the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI feels fast and refined. And thanks to an independent rear suspension unique to the Jetta GLI, the ride is smoother while offering crisper handling. That’s a win-win. And there’s that wonderful European feeling of precision and control that allows swift progress and makes any trip more enjoyable.
To those who have owned GLI’s in the past, the new, larger Volkswagen Jetta GLI will feel a little less sporting – maybe a little more grown up – but is still a great drive. And we also enjoyed mpg in the mid 20’s – especially good considering how this car goads you into driving hard. Keep your foot out of it – good luck – and you should be able to get close to 30 mpg on the freeway.
That larger exterior size pays off in a huge interior, with plenty of room in the back for adults and supportive front sport seats up front. Another Jetta GLI upgrade, soft-touch materials throughout feel much nicer than the slightly low-rent ones found on lesser models. We especially loved the Jetta GLI’s flat-bottomed, Formula One-inspired sport steering wheel.
The best feeling of all is that you can have a true European Sport Sedan for the price of a typical Asian competitor. The well-equipped 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI starts at just $23,945. Go full-boat and get the GLI Autobahn, which includes goodies like 18” alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, power moonroof and sweet-sounding Fender Premium Audio system, and you’re still only looking at $26,195. A great value.
So the new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a slightly different vehicle than Jettas that have worn the badge in the past. A little more grown up, a little roomier, but still a great driver’s car that will put a smile on any enthusiast’s face. And our favorite Jetta, by far.
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2012 Volkswagen Jetta - Build Your Own
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