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2012 Volkswagen GTI Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Volkswagen GTI was new.


Performance: 8.5

Test drivers consider the 2012 Volkswagen GTI a middle-of-the-road upscale small car. It has good handling and good power, but it isn’t the fastest or most nimble car in the class. What sets the GTI apart, however, is smooth on-road performance that makes it a comfortable commuter car. But if top-notch performance is your priority, reviewers say the BMW 1-Series and Mazdaspeed3 have more power and better handling.

  • "So VW doesn't catch one of its two chief competitors, the MazdaSpeed3 in terms of torque or horsepower, and its handling isn't as Formula One-edgy as the other, the Honda Civic Si. Instead, it's a smoother, more refined, better balanced hot hatch that still maintains the feeling of a relatively lightweight, cheeky little car." -- Motor Trend
  • "On numbers alone, the case for buying a 2012 Volkswagen GTI isn't particularly strong. It's slower and porkier than its main hot-hatch competitors, and gets bested by all in our acceleration, braking and handling tests." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

Other cars, like the Mazdaspeed3, beat the Volkswagen GTI when it comes to speed, but the GTI still poses tough competition because of its superior refinement. It has a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower. It comes standard with a smooth six-speed manual transmission that reviewers prefer over the optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG), an automatic transmission that can also be shifted manually.

The EPA estimates that DSG-equipped models have the best fuel economy at 24/33 mpg city/highway. Models with the manual transmission achieve 21/31 mpg.

While reviewers think the GTI has ample power, they steer enthusiasts to competitors like the BMW 1-Series and Mazdaspeed3, which are more powerful.

  • "Yet the GTI's mill still proves enjoyable in the driving experience, delivering useful low-end torque, a throaty exhaust note and even fuel economy." -- Edmunds
  • "GTI is plenty quick by any measure. There's not much turbo lag. The automated-manual transmission in our 4-door test car behaved somewhat erratically, with jerky upshifts and downshifts. It also would occasionally clunk as the car came to a stop." -- Consumer Guide
  • "If your desire is a satisfying driver's car, then there is no question that the six-speed manual is the box to get. It's just more fun.” -- Autoblog
  • “The GTI is still some 60 horses short of the engines found in the Mazdaspeed 3, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and the Subaru Impreza WRX, and acceleration is not likely to improve." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Unlike its power, the Volkswagen GTI’s handling receives high marks for being precise and responsive. However, the GTI still isn’t as sporty as some test drivers would like it to be. They say it’s actually tuned too softly for an exceptionally sporty drive, which is good for everyday drivers, but bad for enthusiasts.

The brakes receive a more critical evaluation, with reviewers saying that they are not as strong as what they expect from a German model.

The 2012 Volkswagen GTI has an optional Cross Differential System, which anticipates and minimizes wheel spin and traction loss through corners. This enables the car to take hard corners faster and with better traction.

  • "In everyday driving, the GTI feels solid and composed, though some enthusiast drivers will probably complain that the suspension tuning is too soft for truly aggressive driving.” -- Edmunds
  • "Firm suspension tuning irons out small imperfections well enough, but we notice thumping over sharp bumps. Scalloped surfaces can trigger abrupt vertical body motions. On the whole, GTI rides exceptionally well for a sporty car." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The GTI also comes with the most precise electronic power steering in the business, with a lightness and feedback that belies its system. Conversely, the brakes felt okay, but not solid and powerful like most German brake systems. Fade came too easily in mountain road sprint exercises." -- Motor Trend

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