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 tm on Thursday, December 18, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun to drive and economical to maintain"
Cons: "interior materials are inferior"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"This is my second Jetta TDI. This time I opted for all of the options. The vehicle has been very reliable with zero mechanical issues during the first 35K miles. The only issues that I have experienced have been with the inferior interior materials. Love the mileage and reliability!!"
By R on Monday, December 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 60,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Cons: "Cloth interior"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Very happy with my 2012 Jetta. I owned a 2005 Dodge Neon when I turned 16 and totaled it when I went to college, and after that I owned a 2000 Buick Century and of course neither of those compare! My opinion might be a bit biased since the Jetta is much nicer than my two previous cars, but I don't see my opinion changing anytime soon. Everyone I have known to own a Jetta has absolutely loved it."
1 person out of 3 found this review helpful
By rtrdad on Thursday, December 11, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 3,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "quiet, great clutch and shifter feel, good MPG's"
Cons: "smidge more power would be ok, 60K timing belt"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Had my Jetta for 2 months. Its my daily commuter. I traded in a 2013 Versa Sedan for the Jetta. I was not in the market for a car but saw VW had a sale in October for 5K off sticker ! My Jetta S 5 speed was 17,700 and I got it for 12,700 plus taxes. It was a no brainer as that was nearly the amount of the Versa. The Jetta is a quiet, steady , sturdy machine. It is not a speed demon but I was looking for the cheapest Jetta not the fastest. The S has lots of bang for the buck like keyless entry with truck release, an AUX jack for the radio etc. The seats are firm but my big body is getting used to them. Fit and finish is superb and even with the 2.0 its a more than adequate interstate cruiser. I wish it had cruise control and an I-pod interface. I average 36mpg and get over 40 on the interstate."
4 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By James on Friday, December 05, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 30,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I can't be more pleased with my car. 42 mpg overall, plus quick enough to be fun. I like the fact that the car leaves a much smaller "carbon footprint" than it's hybrid competition. VW doesn't take weight out of the body to get it's fuel economy so you still have that safe, solid German feel."
3 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By tkpdc on Sunday, November 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 24,000overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Pros: "great gas"
Cons: "not a tough car I feel like it can break any time"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"We have had this car for 2 years it has devaluated so fast and it's has given so much problems with electrial. I know people are very happy with their Jettas it's sad that we have had such bad experience. We Want get rid of it soon. Their customer service was great."
10 people out of 23 found this review helpful
By Tweetconn on Wednesday, November 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 10,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Roomy, Fun to Drive, Quiet, Quality Driving Feel"
Cons: "Prop rod for engine hood, No engine temp guage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought my 2014 Jetta in March. My 2001 Jetta GL had given me great reliability and good service for 169000 miles and is still running great. After I sold it to a colleague I bought my new one. It has 10000 miles already and has been trouble free. It is roomy and quiet. The exterior and interior are not flashy but then neither am I. There is no learning curve for the controls in the interior. Everything is well laid out and easy to use. The seats are supportive and have lumbar support. The ride is firm but not harsh. The new 1.8 turbo engine is super. It does not use oil. My best mileage is 42.3 mpg but averages 32-34 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The 6 speed automatic shifts down quickly, keeping the rpm's relatively low. All you need to do to accelerate quickly is step on the gas. Trust me, the 1.8 has plenty of power. The SE drives like a larger car. Lots of trunk space too."
5 people out of 6 found this review helpful