2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review

Sport compact fun, with civility and without the big spoiler

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Review

The competition is fierce in the small to midsize sport sedan market. Nameplates such as Honda, Mazda, Subaru and Mitsubishi all have venerable winners including the Civic Si, Mazdaspeed3, Impreza WRX and Lancer Ralliart.


1. GLI models come with a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder making 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.

2. Other performance features include a sport-tuned fully-independent suspension, a 6-speed manual or DSG transmission, four-wheel disk brakes and VW’s XDS electronic limited slip differential.

3. Interior highlights include sport seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel with red stitching, plus aluminum pedals, shifter, dash and door trim.

4. GLI models start at $23,495.

The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is no slouch either, with a proven record of performance and desirability. But to generate some additional noise in the market, Volkswagen decided a change was in order. It appears, at least on the surface and at the test track, they made the right choice.


The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI comes standard with a 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine. Performance rates at 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. Matched to a 6-speed manual transmission or the optional 6-speed automatic Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), we spent the afternoon doing hot laps of the track, exploring the outer limits of adhesion and driver confidence. Both are in relative abundance, with the driver holding on as long as the car.

Power assisted front vented and rear solid disc brakes provide excellent stopping power. We do experience some amount of brake fade as our time on the track progresses, even running out of stopping power once while approaching a tight right-hand turn under hard braking.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Engine

Traction Control is standard featuring a host of acronyms such as ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation), EBA (Engine Braking Assist), EDL (Electronic Differential Lock), XDS (Electronic Transverse Differential Lock) and ESC (Electronic Stability Control). Hill hold assist is also included to stop unwanted rollbacks. Considerably aiding lap times is the electronic differential, which uses the stability control system to slow the inside tire in a corner, stopping wheel spin and delivering maximum grip and cornering speeds.

The GLI’s biggest performance weapon, however, is its fully independent rear suspension. Regular Jetta models don’t get this feature in a bid to save cost, something that was decried by the VW faithful at the car’s launch.

In the fuel economy department, this performance model still scores well with 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with the 6-speed manual and 24/32 with the DSG automatic.


2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Front

Exterior design cues exude the typical Volkswagen front/rear fascia and side profile. But the GLI is no slouch in the styling department. Lines are clean and crisp like a finely tailored suit, business professional, of course, being an upstanding German car.

Upper and lower body character lines add to the professional look, while multi-spoke alloy wheels, an aggressive lower front grille and fog lights let you know there is plenty of sportiness to enjoy underneath the all-business exterior.

Brushed aluminum sport pedals and dead pedal add a sporty touch to what is already a racy interior package. Large, round white-on-black analogue gauges feature the obligatory speedometer and tachometer, as well as coolant temperature and fuel gauge, outside temperature and much more.


A three-spoke flat-bottom leather steering wheel with red stitching offers multi-function controls and excellent feedback with electromechanical speed sensitive power steering. It also features telescoping and height adjustment. Additional leather wraps the manual gearshift knob and emergency brake.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Interior

Seats are superb, as is rear seat room and trunk space. VW is known for its excellence in space efficiency and roominess; the new GLI takes this to the next level. Power window controls are located where they should be, on the door as part of swooping armrest design element. Power mirrors and door locks are situated directly above. It is so logical to design and interior this way. Why do other automakers make it so complicated sometimes?

Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity makes syncing your iPhone easy. A premium AM/FM, 6-disc CD changer with 6.5-inch touch screen, SIRIUS satellite radio and 6 speakers is standard. Upgrades including the RNS 315 Navigation System or the all-out 400-watt Fender premium audio system with eight speakers and subwoofer.


Driving the all-new 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI on the track and over country and city roads, the car impresses with a quietness belying the reasonable price and a ride quality equal to, or in several ways better than, its main competition. 

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Action Front

Priced to start at $23,495 for the manual transmission, Jetta GLI should command a strong following of contented, driving enthusiasts looking for fun, roominess and classic style all rolled into one exceptional package.

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2011 Volkswagen Jetta Review