2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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After testing and reviewing the base Jetta Trendline and notably nicer Jetta TDI Highline last year, and then discussing my criticisms with Volkswagen's public relations manager, he pointed out improvements VW had since made to the base Jetta's brakes (the rear drums have been replaced with standard discs) while promising a very different Jetta in the new 2012 GLI, and he was right. The GLI fixes most of the negatives I pointed out in my first two Jetta reviews, endowing Volkswagen's compact sedan with a fully independent suspension system, while coming fairly close to matching the best-in-class interior quality of the Golf GTI.

If your lifestyle requires a trunk or you simply like the look of the new Jetta GLI over the Golf GTI's hatchback design, VW's four-door sport sedan is good alternative. It won't give you quite the same premium-like interior quality, with hard plastic door uppers instead of the GTI's soft-touch variety, but the dash has been resurfaced with richer rubberized material and most of the switchgear is at the same level as the German-built VW. The GLI is produced in Puebla, Mexico, alongside the regular Jetta, and before you Euro-snobs scoff at this new cost-cutting reality, know that you won't lose much over the GTI for close to $2,000 in savings.

Right off the mark the GLI gets the same fabulous 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder as the GTI, making 200-horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,700 rpm. Like the GTI, the GLI gets a 6-speed manual in base trim, or for an extra $1,400 the optional 6-speed direct-shift DSG automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles. Power goes down to 17-inch front alloys wrapped in identical 225/45R17 all-season rubber all-round.

Also like the GTI and every Golf model, not to mention all European-bound Jettas, the new Jetta GLI gets a sophisticated multilink rear suspension, so it isn't plagued by the regular North American Jetta's unhappy-go-lucky hop, skip and jump attitude while experiencing bumpy road surfaces during hard cornering. I always cringe when VW's ads say "German engineering" for the regular Jetta… maybe East German engineering would be more apropos? Comparatively the GLI feels rock solid no matter the road conditions, and a lot more like the cars we've come to know and love from Wolfsburg.

The seats are fabulous too, superbly comfortable with 8-way driver and 6-way passenger adjustment, while supportive enough to hold front occupant's backsides in place during aggressive maneuvers, plus they look fabulous in their standard sporty cloth and "pleather" construction with bright red stitching, although my tester's looked even better in black Vienna leather. Likewise the contoured flat-bottomed sport steering wheel is thick, meaty and wrapped in perforated leather with red stitching to match the seats, while detailed in brushed aluminum trim, complementing the aluminum sport pedals below. At each thumb are controls for the audio system, phone, onboard trip computer, and cruise settings.

The standard MDI infotainment system is quite good, highlighted by a nice colour touchscreen interface that's easy to scroll through. Optional navigation works well enough, taking me where I wanted to go each time I entered an address, and also part of the $1,290 Technology package, the upgraded 400-watt 9-speaker Fender audio system sounds fabulous, the perfect accompaniment to the standard 6-CD changer with Sirius satellite radio, aux input, and iPod connectivity. Hindsight being what it is, a simple USB would serve my iPhone 5 and all non-Apple devices much better. My tester also came with a $2,100 Luxury package that includes the aforementioned leather seats and a powered glass sunroof, the latter which is also a standalone item for $1,400.

Automatic climate control is a feature I wouldn't want to go without, and the GLI's standard dual-zone system works well for the most part, although it blows a bit too hard when trying to reach its designated temperature. And call me lazy, but if a car in this class doesn't have proximity sensing access with pushbutton ignition I'm not a buyer. Fortunately VW includes such on the standard GLI list, and therefore I could unlock its doors and start it up without having to fumble through my pockets for keys.

Added to my tester was a set 18-inch rims in a similar "Bathurst" design as the standard 17s, albeit painted inside, upping the options to $4,365 for a total as-tested price of $33,205. The wheels give the car a little more presence, although it hardly needs much. I'm a big fan of the new Jetta's styling, and the GLI designation only ups the ante with a chrome-stripped black honeycomb mesh grille, more body-colour trim than the standard Jetta, mirror housings with integrated turn signals, and twin exhaust pipes.

High on the list of Jetta attributes is a sizeable 444-litre trunk, perfect for hauling what-have-you to wherever, not to mention 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks for stowing longer what-have-yous, with the added convenience of a pass-through if you want to go skiing both kids aboard.

Considering the Jetta GLI's size and performance, its fuel economy isn't bad at a claimed 9.8 city and 6.2 highway for the manual or 8.8 and 6.1 for the DSG, and if performance doesn't matter as much to you as pump savings, you can fill it with regular, as premium gas is only recommended, not required.

At the end of my weeklong test I'm almost entirely impressed with the Jetta GLI, and honestly if the slightly more upscale Golf GTI didn't already exist I probably would be thoroughly impressed. VW's new GLI comes close to matching the GTI's brilliant interior at a better price of $28,840 including destination, and that might just give it an overall edge in today's price sensitive market. Add that to a better than average 4-year, 80,000-km bumper-to-bumper warranty plus a 5-year, 100,000-km powertrain warranty and the new Jetta GLI delivers unquestionable value.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Volkswagen, VW, 2012, Jetta, GLI, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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