2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
The Auto Channel
There was more than a little consternation amongst the Volkswagen faithful when the latest version of the Jetta debuted last year. With a dramatically different demeanor meant to appeal to a broader, more mainstream, audience, the 2011 Jetta apparently showed that VW was abandoning its old customer base in search of a greater market share.
Not at all. While the Jetta continues as VW's top-selling model in the U.S., with sales up more than 74 percent in the first seven months of calendar year 2011, the performance-on-a-budget VW fan has not been forgotten. Welcome the 2012 Jetta GLI, with 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque from the lovely (and surprisingly economical) 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged and intercooled direct-injection four-cylinder engine matched to either a manual or twin-clutch automated-manual DSG transmission, both six-speeds. Front suspension is the same MacPherson strut design as in other Jettas, suitably re-tuned for sport handling. At the rear, say goodbye to the "decontented" torsion beam axle and drum brakes and hello to an independent multilink setup with discs, all the better to extract that final bit of cornering ability when the road isn't quite perfect.
Outside, the GLI gets a sportier look from a revised grille and front bumper fascia, 17-inch alloy wheels replacing the SE's sixteens, and darkened taillights. Inside are more upgrades, including leather coverings for the steering wheel rim, shift knob, and parking brake lever handle, alloy pedals, and an upgraded audio system with Sirius® satellite radio, the Media Device Interface with an iPod® cable and Bluetooth® connectivity, and more. The premium Autobahn model adds 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, a sunroof, VW's V-Tex leatherette upholstery, heated front seats and windshield washer
nozzles, a cooled glove box, automatic climate control, and a Fender® premium audio system.
So there is a Jetta for every taste. Want an alternative to the common Asian and American compacts, at a competitive price? That would be the 2.0 S, with a 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Looking a bit upscale but don't want to break the bank? That would be the core-model 2.5 SE, with a 2.5-liter, 170-hp inline five, five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and higher standard equipment specification and more option possibilities. Think SEL for ultimate SE. For the diesel faithful, there are several trim levels of TDI, with namesake 2.0-liter direct-injection turbodiesel mit 140 horsepower and a healthy 236 lb-ft of torque, sprightly performance (slow, smoky Rabbit Diesels were a long time ago) and near-hybrid fuel-sipping with a much more engaging driving experience. 40 mpg highway is no problem.
And, of course, the GLI, which I've been driving the past week in Autobahn trim with the DSG. In that form, it's the best sporty Jetta yet. It's a touch larger, but not too large -- and the improved interior space is appreciated, especially by rear passengers. The TSI shows all that is right about turbos, with copious amounts of torque immediately for instant acceleration, no lag, and fuel economy ranging from low twenties around town to low thirties on the highway. And the fun-to-drive factor is better than ever, thanks to a fine suspension tuning that combines responsive ability with comfort.
APPEARANCE: Differences from the other Jettas are subtle, with a honeycomb-pattern grille insert and more vertical "air dam" front bumper fascia a large chrome-trimmed auxiliary air intake flanked by GTI-like vertical foglamps at the front, red-painted brake calipers on the four-wheel discs behind the alloy wheels, small door sill extensions, and smoked taillights and dual exhaust tips at the rear. It whispers, it doesn't shout, with a simple, conservative design that should age well and still look appealing when the car is paid off.
COMFORT: If you wondered where the VW of old has gone, here's your answer. As ever, the Jetta GLI feels like it belongs in a class above any direct competitors. Befitting its premium status in the Jetta lineup, the GLI has V-Tex leatherette upholstery, with red stitching that matches the stitching in the leather on the steering wheel rim, shift knob, and handbrake. German synthetic cows seem more like real cows than some other manufacturers' allegedly real cows, so it neither looks nor feels cheap. Or synthetic. The seats are appropriately bolstered and manually-adjustable, including driver's cushion height, and more comfortable and supportive than expected. The steering wheel is (manually) adjustable for both tilt and reach, so all drivers can find their most comfortable (and safest) seating position. Audio and driver information system controls on the steering wheel spokes add convenience; shift paddles behind the spokes add a sport ambiance. Metallic and metal-look trim gives a contemporary sports look, without distraction or glare. Instrument panel design is classic Volkswagen, simple and functional yet good-looking, with easy-to-read instruments and simple controls. The Fender-branded audio system sounds better than a Twin Reverb in the back seat (and is lighter in weight, too, even if it does have more power at 400 watts. No tubes and large transformers…), with nearly all of the music choices expected today. The iPod connection is in the locking glovebox, a plus. There are plenty of small storage spaces, and all door pockets can accommodate water bottles. Rear passengers get plenty of leg and head room thanks to the stretched wheelbase, although a high central tunnel means that the center position is best for small people and short distances -- as in just about every other compact or midsize sedan. A 60/40 folding seatback plus ski passthrough add versatility, as does the huge trunk. A space-saver spare is found under the floor.
SAFETY: The Jetta has driver and front passenger frontal and seat-mounted side airbags plus full-length side curtain bags, plus standard antilock brakes, four-wheel discs in the GLI. It gets a four-star rating from NHTSA for front, side, rollover, and overall crash performance.
RIDE AND HANDLING: No complaints here. The GLI has struts in front, like all other models. Their torsion beam axle is replaced by an independent multi-link setup, and all springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are retuned a bit more firmly for better control and less body roll when playing hard. Ride height is reduced 0.6 inches, lowering the center of gravity for further handling improvements, and alloy wheels with lower-profile tires make yet another contribution. The Autobahn package replaces the standard 17-inch wheels and 225/45 tires with 225/40 18s for quicker turn-in. The newest GLI is great fun on an appropriate backroad, and delivers all-day comfort as well. No compromise necessary.
PERFORMANCE: VW Group's 2.0-liter TSI engine is a shining example of turbocharging at its finest. Turbo lag is an annoyance of the distant past - with maximum torque (a healthy 207 lb-ft) at 1700 rpm, and little dropoff after that - power is instantly available at almost any time, even without downshifting to bring up revs. Intercooled and breathing through four valves per cylinder, actuated by dual overhead cams, it produces a maximum of 200 horsepower at only 5100 rpm. Revving is not strictly necessary, but the engine won't complain when that's desired. The automated twin-clutch manual DSG gearbox is a good match -- in automatic mode it's hard to tell there's no torque converter to cushion shifts and when shifting manually it's quicker than a conventional automatic -- or manual. Only when it's cold is it a bit slow, but it's always a good idea to let anything with oil inside warm up before heavy use… The GLI is quick and fun when wanted, and can return low 30s on the highway with no difficulty. Playing moderately on back roads was still good for low 20s, ditto for city driving.
CONCLUSIONS: The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is back and better than ever.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn
Base Price $ 26,645 (23,495 base 6M GLI) Price As Tested $ 27415 Engine Type DOHC 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable intake cam phasing Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 5100 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 1700 rpm Transmission 6-speed twin-clutch automated manual (opt) Wheelbase / Length 104.4 in. / 182.2 in. Curb Weight 3157 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.8 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended Tires 225/40R18 92H Dunlop SP Sport 07 A/S Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESC standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 32 / (20-32) 0 to 60 mph est. 7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Autobahn package includes: 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, V-Tex leatherette seating, heatable front seats, heated washer nozzles, cooling glovebox, climatronic automatic HVAC, Fender® Premium Audio System $ 2,050 (over base) DSG automated manual transmission $ 1,100 (over base) Destination charge $ 770