By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.3
The new-in-2011 Volkswagen Jetta took the automotive media aback, while taking the U.S. consumer (seemingly) by storm. In its second model year, and with Jetta sales up some 70 percent in the first nine months of 2011, VW's strategy of lower prices, less content and more volume would seem to be the right one for a company hell-bent on tripling U.S. sales before the end of this decade. While Corolla intenders may be swayed by base Jettas selling for under $17K, enthusiasts might be reassured by the return of the Jetta GLI to the Volkswagen showroom. The GLI, which is to conventional Jettas what the GTI is to VW's iconic Golf, couldn't have come soon enough, as the only thing of even slight interest (in 2011) to an earlier Jetta enthusiast was the Jetta TDI.
Despite its overture to the Corolla buyer, our U.S.-specific 2012 VW Jetta still provides a level of build quality and handling dynamic not typically provided by Korea or Japan. In short, it remains a more enthusiast-oriented entry in a rather civilian category. The argument for its consideration is bolstered considerably by the return of the GLI.
If you've enjoyed the Jetta's historic mix of practicality and personality, then you will be dismayed by the maximizing of the former and minimizing of the latter. The newest Jetta isn't, to be sure, a German Corolla, but base models are lacking both character and content when compared to their predecessors, while those equipped with popular options very quickly lose their pricing competitiveness.
Having introduced in 2011 an all-new car with an all-new mantra, the 2012 VW Jetta GLI turbocharges the day with the return of the 2.0 liter DOHC Turbo in combination with a fully independent rear suspension and numerous interior upgrades. Beyond this big news is the addition of a new "S with Sunroof" Jetta, offering (you guessed it) a tilt-and-slide power glass sunroof; front center console with armrest and storage; and cruise control. Also, a new TDI Premium package includes a sunroof and Fender Premium Audio.
Driving Impressions Given the range of price and powertrains, it's should come as no surprise that today's VW Jetta can generate as many impressions as it has derivatives. To its credit, Volkswagen...tailors the Jetta platform to those powerplants. And to that end, the base Jetta - propelled by 115 horsepower - provides a ride-and-handling combination that sums up "base" pretty succinctly. It is comfortable and reasonably composed, but will win no bonus points for precision or agility. The Jetta with a 2.5-liter or diesel engine under the hood steps up the game with more composure and competence, but would still not fall into anyone's definition of recreational. That, of course, is saved for the 2012 Jetta GLI and its 2.0 liter turbocharged four. Despite sharing little of the Golf/GTI in its current DNA, the addition of the turbocharged 4-cylinder also includes upgraded suspension bits, better braking and improved rubber. It's a transformation. Finally, the grunt of the 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel makes the Jetta diesel supremely relaxed - and amazingly efficient.
2.0L Diesel Power
With the proliferation of hybrid powertrains among mid-size sedans, we still think there remains a good argument for diesel, especially when offered at a mid-$20s price point. Great drivability, in combination with a 600-plus-mile range, makes the Jetta diesel a popular choice for those people putting real mileage on their personal cars.
For those hoping to combine the engagement of a manual with the convenience of an automatic, stop worrying; VW has done it for you. The DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) employs two clutches and steering-wheel-mounted shifters to provide the perfect blend of git-up-and-go, whether it's on the open road or stop-and-go.
The big news for 2011 was, well, the big news; this is a Jetta four adults can sit comfortably in. The Jetta's longer wheelbase translated into considerably more interior volume (rear passengers can actually cross their legs!), while the more substantial roofline allows for more generous rear-seat headroom. In back, the Jetta trunk proffers a class-leading 15.5 cubic feet, which can be increased with the Jetta's split-folding rear seatback. As on the outside, the GLI interior provides key differentiation in the guise of sportier buckets, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and aluminum foot pedals.
Enthusiasts of the earlier Jetta will think this newest iteration has been beaten with a bland stick. Given that there isn't much to love, there isn't, by extension, much to dislike. The Jetta's overall profile is clean, although the more expansive sheet metal can easily dwarf the wheels if those wheels are the base 15-inchers. As Volkswagen notes, the GLI boasts a more dynamic look than the standard car, but that would be easy; in the same vein Lady Gaga is more dynamic than Lady Jane. The GLI benefits from a more distinctive honeycomb grille, deeper front spoiler, GTI-style foglights and red-coated brake calipers.
The entry-level 2012 VW Jetta essentially defines "base" in the model spectrum. At its launch the hook was an under-$16K window sticker plus destination. This year that figure starts $500 higher, but remains a bargain when compared to Jetta pricing just two years ago. That said, the standard spec is well behind what is typically offered on a domestic showroom (Chevy's Cruze) or Korean showroom (Hyundai's Elantra/Kia's Forte). Power is supplied by your father's 4-cylinder, a 2.0-liter, 8-valve lump producing but 115 horsepower. A/C, power windows/locks, basic radio with CD and remote keyless entry sum up the significant equipment. To VW's credit, it also provides a full complement of standard safety features, including electronic stability control and VW's ICRS, which automatically unlocks all doors, disables the fuel pump and turns on all interior lights once airbags have been deployed.
With a budget of $25K we'd be torn between the 2.0L TDI Clean Diesel with Premium and Navigation or the reintroduced 2.0T GLI, sporting the very visceral 2.0-liter Turbo, more aggressive suspension and those visual enhancements that tie an owner in with all that's happening automotively. VW's diesel is a sweet spot in the compact/mid-size segment, providing miles and smiles with abundant torque and 40-plus mpg on the highway. With its 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the GLI combines open-road performance with track-biased agility.
From its entry-level – and antiquated – 4-cylinder to a pedestrian in-line five and responsive turbocharged diesel and gas, the 2012 Jetta has seemingly something for everyone. The base 2.0 is, of course, the price point car, while the 170 horsepower offered by the in-line five makes for a pleasant, and still efficient, commute. As noted, we'll take the 2.0 TDI Jetta or 2.0T offered in the new GLI. Both 2.0-liter powertrains are fun and efficient; the gasoline variant is more fun, the diesel more efficient.
2.0-liter in-line 4
115 horsepower @ 5,200 rpm
125 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/34 (manual), 24/32 (automatic)
2.5-liter in-line 5
170 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
177 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/33 (manual), 24/31 (automatic)
2.0-liter in-line 4, turbocharged (GLI only)
200 horsepower @ 5,100-6,000 rpm
207 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/33 (manual), 24/32 (automatic)
2.0-liter in-line 4, turbodiesel
140 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm
236 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30/42 (manual), 30/42 (automatic)
By Alex on Saturday, March 01, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,600overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Pros: "0 percent finance for 60 months"
Cons: "HIGH cost of ownership."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"This requires 91 octane gasoline. Which is not sold in the US. On the advice of my salesman, we put 89 octane. My valves are now "dirty", and require a $1000.00 to $700.00. Based on my internet research, this is normal for this car."
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By Grandpa Bill on Thursday, February 27, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I am a grandpa in my 60s but I love cars and have owned many brands and styles including sports and convertibles. The Jetta TDI with the manual shift I have is fantastic. It is quick and nimble because it is light and has the turbo and the manual and it is actually fun to drive. But it is still a four door family car. I haul grandkids and there is plenty of room for three in rear; the trunk is huge about 15+ cu.ft- and the seats fold down, you can put big long stuff in there. I have Nav, Blue tooth, leather, good sound, power driver's seat, all for about $26k. I love BMW 3 series, but this car is 1/2 the price and a great value. But main reason for owning this car is the mileage. On diesel (yes it costs more) I get 30mpg combined and 40+ highway. I fill up a couple times a month and can go 450-500 miles on a tank."
By Chuck on Sunday, February 23, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 24,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great value"
Cons: "Slightly rough ride"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Quicker than it looks especially in sport mode, disappointed it's not 4wheel disc although brakes are more than adequate huge trunk interior well laid out"
By Shotgun on Wednesday, February 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 62,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fuel mileage, 6 speed transmission, OK performance"
Cons: "OK performance"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Fuel mileage is great. Summer in combination of city and highway is always right around 45mpg. Winter - due to reformulated diesel fuel - is at about 42. Minimal maintenance and great dependability to date. My brother-in-law owns an earlier year's version and recommended it to me. Couldn't be much happier. Acceleration could be a bit better but I consider it a reasonable trade off for the great fuel mileage. I regularly cruse at 70/75 with no issues about stability or drift; obviously made for the autobahn. I'd love to own (and be able to afford the gas) a 1969 Dodge Charger with a 440 but given the realities of the day, this is an excellent choice."
By Pick251 on Thursday, January 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 63,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "See review!"
Cons: "Lacking AWD & 8 spd. DSG"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I've owned this car for nearly three and a half years, and, although there have been some relatively minor issues here and there, I think this is an excellent car on many levels. Given the complexity of the engine and transmission, as well as many other attributes, I think this car offers a great deal of value for the money. It is beautifully designed and thought out. Furthermore, it blows away the competition in fuel mileage. It does better in the city than advertised and on occasion even on the highway, depending on various factors. Of course the Prius V does well and has almost as much room, but has nowhere near as much torque, which is very evident in the summer in hilly terrain with the car packed full of wife and children and the accompanying accouterments. My personal best in this car is 44 on the highway, and it regularly returns about 32 in the city. Overall, I'd say it averages around 37-38mpg. This is based on miles driven divided by fuel burned, and not the computed figure given on the instrument panel. It would be nice if the car were a little wider and the rear seats were a bit roomier. It would really be outstanding if VW offered the Passat All-Track TDI Sportwagen here! Anyway, I find it astonishing that there are people out there who cant or wont give this car its do. It has plenty of power for the intended application, and I've had no issues with it in the snow. The OEM Continentals were excellent, and my current set of Michelin MXM4 Primacy may only be marginally better. Bottom line... if you love Diesel efficiency and torque, combined with a relatively sporty handling, plenty of cargo space, and beautiful lines, then you'll appreciate this car."
8 people out of 10 found this review helpful
By Joe on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Driving Dynamics is very good"
Cons: "Poor quality such remote and bluetooth"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 6
"CAR WAS PURCHASED AT THE END OF NOV, 2013 AT THREE COUNTY VOLKSWAGEN IN NJ. TWO ISSUES WERE NOTICED THE NEXT DAY: (1) REMOTE ONLY WORKS VERY CLOSE TO THE CAR. (LESS THAN 10 FT) (2) BLUETOOTH AUDIO STREAMING FUNCTION NEVER WORK PROPERLY MORE THAN 10MINS. CAR WAS SENT TO DEALER AT DEC 30. I WAS TOLD FEW DAYS LATER: A) NEW PART NEED TO BE ORDERED AND HAD NO IDEA HOW LONG SHOULD I WAIT; B)MORE THAN 12 PEOPLE WERE IN THE WAITING LIST FOR THE BACKUP CAR. I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TOOK MY CAR BACK SINCE I NEED A CAR TO COMMUTE. AROUND JAN. 10, I WAS TOLD NEW PART WAS RECEIVED AND CAR WAS SENT TO DEALER AGAIN. FEW DAYS LATER I WAS TOLD ISSUES WERE NOT SOLVED AFTER REPLACING THE PART AND FURTHER ASSISTANCE WAS NEEDED FROM VOLKSWAGEN. I WAS TOLD THE ASSISTANCE FROM VOLKSWAGEN STILL DID NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM AND ‘OTHER KIND’ OF FURTHER ASSISTANCE WAS NEEDED FROM VOLKSWAGEN AT JAN. 16. I HAD TO WAIT LONGER. I WAS TOLD ‘OTHER KIND’ OF FURTHER ASSISTANCE FROM VOLKSWAGEN DID NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM NEITHER AND THE DEALER HAD NO IDEA WHAT THEY CAN DO EXCEPT WAITING. I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TOOK MY CAR BACK AGAIN. TILL NOW, THE CAR HAS BEEN IN DEALER MORE THAN 3 WEEKS WHICH I ONLY HAD OWNED THIS CAR 8 WEEKS, AND THESE ISSUES ARE STILL THERE."
3 people out of 4 found this review helpful