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 Frank K on Saturday, September 13, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,800overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fair price, great mileage & interior comfort."
Cons: "Still looking for one-I'll get back to you..."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My wife and I could see in the showroom that the 4-door Jetta had more rear seat legroom than virtually any car we've ever had, yet it has the smallest wheelbase. While snooping brands and dealers I stumbled onto the diesel version in internet reviews and the most eye-popping thing that jumps out at you is that the mileage numbers on the side windows you see on all new cars are UNDERSTATED for the Jetta. Our car is 30/41 but I'm reading and hearing from people that this car can get 50+ on the highway before we bought it. So with that and some other solid attributes going for it, we bought the diesel version. Our local driving number since buying has been at or near 40 since day one. And the new clean diesel is the most underappreciated option you will find on any new car lot in the USA. Much less long term maintenance, among other advantages. I'm still looking for something bad to say about this car. Well, trips to the gas station aren't as numerous as they once were, assuming you like shelling out $50 more rather than less often. One problem that diesel engines have had in the past is starting in frigid temperatures but the service guy told me that can be easily handled with gas tank additives available at auto stores. The interior is well laid out, and the standard rear back-up camera is a gift from auto Heaven. I shudder when I think of the money we've wasted on cars over the years that sadly lacked the overall quality and value of our Jetta. And no--I don't have a relative at the dealership and I don't own any VW stock."
27 people out of 48 found this review helpful
By Mike on Thursday, August 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 29,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to Drive, Well Equipped, Sporty"
Cons: "High Depreciation, Expensive Maintenance"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Pros: This car is good for a good professional just starting out in the work force. It was four doors making it ideal for daily living. The sporty features on the car make sure you do not get bored on your daily commute. The turbo makes sure you can have a bit of fun on the weekend. They car comes nicely equipped. Cons: The depreciation is greater than that of its Honda and Toyota counter parts. The repairs and replacement are more expensive than its Japanese competition; however, cheaper than its German competition."
11 people out of 18 found this review helpful
By JJ on Monday, August 25, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 85,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Pleasure to drive"
Cons: "40,000 mile maintainence is pricey$$!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"If you are driving a lot and need room this is a very good car for mileage, handling, and roominess."
6 people out of 11 found this review helpful
By Phil on Monday, August 25, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 28,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"One of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the road. Recent trip from mich to Florida. I 75 driving At 70 mph. Got 55 mpg. Only thing I have a problem with is the navigation system. But them I'm not a big tech person Overall my jetta premium tdi with navi for the k Last two years. Has been fantastic"
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By rpauls on Sunday, August 24, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 22,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Seats, steering wheel, build quality (feels solid)"
Cons: "Highway acceleration, higher speed cornering."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Bought in early 2014 with 3,000 miles, now has 22,000 miles . Very nice car for it's purpose. I am an outside sales rep and the car's clean, handsome lines represent me well at this price point (inside has received compliments as well, I suspect the seats help). I have received many compliments on its looks. Inside, I have the leatherette seats and they are very comfortable. Steering wheel is wonderful. Driving experience is mixed. Accelerates well in town, but the I-5 struggles when at freeway speeds and want to accelerate to make a lane change or merge. Will go to "S" mode often. Fuel mileage is better than expected on the highway, not so great in the city (this might be because of my city driving habits, frequent stops at businesses). Handling is adequate at best in tight cornering, not assuring. Otherwise, nice ride with new tires I just put on. Did handle one of the roughest Wisconsin winter's on record last year with no issues (did well in snow, ABS was setup just right, heater was great, never any stress starting, never a rattle) and that earned a lot of respect from me. Car feels solid as a brick. Despite some mixed driving experience issues, I really like the car and plan on getting another VW in the future, likely a TDI or turbo depending on price. A nice car to spend a day in."
4 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By Jake on Thursday, August 21, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 5,802overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "solid , safe, great price"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"they say the 2.0 l is slow, I didn't buy this as a Porsche it gets around town just fine and on the interstate it cruises at 80 miles p/hr. with the best of them, and plenty of pedal left, very pleased with the handling& brakes."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful