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2012 Volkswagen Jetta Performance Review

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


Performance: 7.6

Volkswagen overhauled the Jetta last year, but for 2012, the redesigned Jetta GLI enters the lineup. Essentially, the GLI is a performance-tuned Jetta that gets the same turbocharged engine that’s found in the Volkswagen GTI. Most reviewers love the amount of power the GLI has, but say its larger frame makes it less nimble and more of a sporty city cruiser.

  • "Driving feel appeared not to have suffered from the rear-suspension change. In fact, the Jetta testers steered, stopped and cornered with the convincing aplomb of higher-price machines." -- USA TODAY
  • "Both manual and automatic transmissions will be on hand, including Volkswagen's well-liked DSG on TDI and 2.0T models." -- Autoblog

Acceleration and Power

Most test drivers agree that performance enthusiasts will be quite pleased with the new Volkswagen Jetta GLI. It has a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine and comes standard with a manual transmission, but there’s an optional automatic transmission that comes with paddle shifters. If you know how to operate a manual transmission, reviewers say that’s the best option because it’s significantly more fun to drive than the automatic. The GLI, however, requires premium fuel and uses the most gasoline of any Jetta, according to the EPA. Models with manual transmissions average 22/33 mpg city/highway, while models with the optional dual-clutch automatic transmission net 24/32 mpg.

The Jetta has three more engine options. The base S model has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower. It has a standard five-speed manual transmission and an optional six-speed automatic. Models with automatic transmissions average 23/29 mpg, and models with manual transmissions average 24/34 mpg, according to the EPA.

A 2.5-liter 170-horsepower five-cylinder engine comes with SE models. With a manual transmission, SE models average 23/33 mpg, and models with an automatic transmission average 24/31 mpg. Most reviewers say lower trims, like the SE, have less power than the GLI, but are powerful enough to satisfy the average driver.

The TDI trim has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged clean diesel engine. The TDI engine only makes 140 horsepower, but reviewers say it is still powerful thanks to its 236 pound-feet of torque. The TDI engine is also the most fuel-efficient, averaging 30/42 mpg with either an automatic or manual transmission.

  • "Is it a GTI sedan? Not quite. Now that the Jetta and the Golf have grown apart, there is a pronounced difference. The GTI feels lighter, quicker, and a bit more raw; the Jetta GLI feels heavier and a bit more refined. Even the engine note is a bit different; the GLI has a deeper voice than the GTI. All in all, the Jetta GLI feels like a GTI that's grown up a bit - it's put on a bit of weight, but it hasn't lost its edge." -- About.com
  • "Once under way, the direct-injected, 200-horsepower turbo two-liter four is throaty and responsive." -- Left Lane News
  • "With either transmission (on SEL trim), acceleration is decent with the 5-cylinder engine. Passing and merging muscle are about what you would expect from a compact car; not great, but Jetta moves along well enough." -- Consumer Guide

Handling and Braking

With the addition of the GLI trim, most test drivers are focusing on that model’s handling capabilities. Many times, they compare it with the Volkswagen GTI, which is the performance-tuned version of the Volkswagen Golf, and find that the GLI’s handling can’t compare. That observation, however, is understandable because the Jetta is significantly larger than the GTI, making it a speedy highway cruiser, rather than a sporty hatchback that can fling itself around corners.

While less expensive Jettas can’t compete with the GLI’s performance abilities, reviewers are relatively pleased with the lower models, though they find that the suspension sends bumps through the cabin and it lacks the sporty feel older base model Jettas are known for.

  • "Feel from the wheel is above-average, if not overly communicative, and the seats do their best to hold you in place, unless your personal curb weight is on the malnourished side." -- Autoblog
  • "And while the base-model Jetta actually handles rather well, the GLI has that much more grip and poise. The 2.0T engine's power output (200 hp/207 lb-ft) is a bit tame by today's standards, but the engine still produces plenty of thrust when it's needed, and you can't go wrong with either the six-speed stick or the quick-shifting DSG twin-clutch automatic." -- About.com
  • "The power steering in the GLI is light and controllable, just what we want for fast back-road work. … Lighter is better, as long as the feel is preserved. There’s plenty of feel to be had here." -- Left Lane News
  • "Other Jetties, however, are not particularly sporty, which is disappointing for a Volkswagen. Jetta is more than competent, however. It's composed in fast turns with good steering feel and strong brakes." -- Consumer Guide

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