2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review and Fun Drive by Larry Nutson +VIDEO


2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel


Yes. Fun-to-drive; lots of fun. With 200 horsepower at my command, for me every Stop sign was a temptation for a full-throttle blast.

Back nearly thirty years ago the Volkswagen brand “owned” the fun-to-drive characteristic or purchase reason. The venerable Beetle was fun to drive, but it all really kicked in with the introduction in the US market of the Mk1-based GTI in 1983. A year later the first Jetta GLI followed.

Fast-forward to today and there are now many other brands on the market that offer fun-to-drive models. It’s no longer a VW exclusive. But that’s ok.

The Jetta was all-new in 2011 and has been selling very well. It’s VW’s top selling model. Capping the Jetta lineup for 2012 is the GLI. The 2.0L TSI turbocharged four-cylinder generates 200 horsepower…double that of the original…and 207 lb-ft of torque. Drive is through the front wheels. The standard 6-speed manual is smooth to shift. Gone is the sloppy-shifter of the old days. Optional is the DSG dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. I love hearing the quickness of the shifts with the DSG transmission…and perhaps a better choice if you live in a heavy traffic city like Chicago.


Watch the VW Jetta GLI promo video


Premium fuel is recommended…not required. EPA fuel economy estimates are 22 city mpg and 33 highway mpg for the 6-speed and 24 city mpg and 32 highway for the DSG. With the 14.5 gallon fuel tank you’re good for all-day driving on Route 66 or your favorite interstate for 460-480 miles. I did a couple highway runs not for fuel economy measurements but to observe wind and tire noise. VW has done a nice job of keeping the interior quiet and comfortable for conversation or listening to your favorite sounds from the Fender Audio System.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

On the outside the GLI has a few unique design elements. Noticeable is the lack of a Jetta badge. A GLI badge is mounted to the front grille and the lower left of the trunk lid. The black honeycomb grille is much to my liking…actually, I’m not a fan of the standard Jetta multi-bar grille. The front spoiler is deeper with GTI-style vertical fog lamps at the outer corners. At the rear, there are smoked taillights and dual exhaust outlets.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

On the inside the well-bolstered sport bucket seats feature red stitching with matching red stitching on the flat-bottom steering wheel, shift boot and handbrake. I like the sport seats bolstering. It’s just enough and yet doesn’t squeeze you too much especially in heavier winter clothing. Aluminum pedals are the big rage in many cars today. They’re OK, but can be slippery right after you enter a car with snow still on your shoes.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Out at the corners the GLI has 17-inch wheels standard and 18s on the GLI Autobahn. A Motorsport Black 18-incher is also available. The ride height is lower by 15-mm and the spring and dampers are re-tuned. Also unique to the GLI is a multilink independent rear suspension featuring three transverse and one longitudinal link per wheel. Standard is VW’s XDS cross differential system that helps prevent inside wheelspin during hard cornering.

Brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS of course, and the calipers are painted red on the GLI.

The GLI comes in three trim levels starting at $23,495. The GLI Autobahn is $25,545 and with Navigation is $26,445. The DSG trans is $1100 extra.

I’ve mentioned that VW did a nice job in managing wind and tire noise. Engine noise at highway speeds is low, too. When I first started the GLI engine I was surprised by the sound. It wasn’t that of the usual 4-cylinder but more substantial and affirmative…if an engine can be! I had to ask myself if this was a 5-cylinder. Acceleration from stop to 60 is in the mid-6 second range, according to published reports and my seat-of-the-pants.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Overall the ride is very comfortable and refined but push the GLI onto a sweeping freeway on-ramp and the suspension leaves you very much in control and feeling secure. The steering is electric power assisted and provides the right amount of effort and feel. I don’t like too-light steering. The seating for five is comfortable with plenty of rear seat room. And, the Jetta has always been known for its large trunk. So with 15.5 cuft of space a weekend jaunt with the family or friends is no sweat.

If the GLI doesn’t fit your pocket book, image, or needs, Volkswagen offers 12 unique Jetta models with prices starting at $16,495 for the Jetta S powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder. An SE model is powered by the 2.5L 5-cylinder and starts at $18,495. And then, if you are a high mileage driver and the 2.0L TDI Clean Diesel fits the bill one can be had priced at $22,525 and will deliver 42 highway mpg.

Noteworthy in the Warranty is Volkswagen’s Carefree Maintenance Program that covers all scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 mile at no additional charge.

VW has approximately 600 dealers throughout the US, so the purchase experience AND the ownership experience should be relatively convenient and help in keeping the GLI not only fun-to-drive but also fun-to-own.

Woohoo! Larry Nutson

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