The latest Volkswagen Jetta didn't do much to appeal to enthusiasts in its first model year, but with 2012, the VW Jetta gets its GLI back--and that model earns a rating of 7 here at MotorAuthority.
The GLI succeeds many past models that took Jetta basics and transformed them with better tires, quicker steering, and a more sporty interior. The 2012 goes a step further, even, by adding a completely different rear suspension than the one found on base cars, and a soft-touch dash, too.
The basics: Volkswagen's Jetta grew significantly last year, to help the brand reach more American buyers. It also gained a less expensive interior and a torsion-beam rear suspension, cost-cutting moves that helped VW bring in a sub-$16,000 Jetta for the first time in years. The recipe's worked so far, with Jetta sales up more than 50 percent on the year.
While aficionados complained about the not-quite VW handling and interior, engineers were already putting the finishing touches on the GLI. They started with a rorty turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a well-known entity in the VW world, with 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. The engine's coupled to a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmissions, both fine units. We prefer the paddle-shifted DSG, but with either, the turbo's flat torque band and grunty vocals give an urgency to the GLI that's completely missing from the base four-cylinder, five-cylinder, and diesel Jettas. VW claims a 0-60 mph time of less than 8.0 seconds, and with the DSG, quotes EPA gas mileage at 23/29 mpg.
The GLI's handling is a cut above the base Jetta as well. The torsion-beam rear end of other models is swapped out for a multi-link rear end that's also found in the new VW Beetle Turbo. The GLI also has tighter spring and shock values, and rides 15 mm lower than other versions--plus, it has XDS, an electronically simulated limited-slip differential for the front wheels that helps keep wheelspin to a minimum. All the changes work fairly brilliantly: the GLI turns in crisply thanks to its electric power steering, with a tolerable level of feedback. The ride quality's better than just about everything in the class, and the GLI hangs in for wide sweepers and tight corners better than most other compacts, save maybe for the latest Ford Focus. It's a pretty agile piece, with just a whiff of torque steer making its way down to 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels and tires.
The GLI doesn't look radically different from the conservative Jetta. It does get a distinctive grille, a front spoiler, fog lamps like those on the GTI, and red brake calipers. Inside the dash wears a soft cap of rubberized plastic that relieves the dollar-store feel of the base Jetta; it also has sporty red-stitched bucket seats that have lots of bolstering but not too much firmness, and a flat-bottom steering wheel with red stitching.
The Jetta's a Top Safety Pick according to the IIHS.
Base prices start at less than $24,000 for the GLI with power features, a USB port and Bluetooth. An Autobahn trim package settles in just over $26,000, and adds a sunroof, leatherette seats, a Fender audio system and dual-zone climate control. Another $1000 nets navigation and pushbutton start.
For more information on the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta lineup, including specifications, photos and related news, visit TheCarConnection's full review of the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta.