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 Grandpa62 on Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 8,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price, fun to drive, roomy, quiet, comfy"
Cons: "no temp gauge, prop rod for hood"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I now have over 7000 miles on my SE and it drives great! The ride is firm, quiet and comfortable. On a recent trip to the coast we got 39-40 mpg on the highway. My highest mileage was 41.3 and I average 33-34 to and from work. Exterior and interior appearance is simple and functional. I'm not a big "whistles and bells" guy so this car was a perfect fit. The new 1.8T engine has plenty of pep The 6 speed Tiptronic is set up to keep the rpm's low but will get peppy as the gas pedal is pushed. Very roomy. Drives like more expensive car."
12 people out of 19 found this review helpful
By Rick on Monday, September 29, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 65,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fast, fun and economical with plenty of cargo room"
Cons: "Rear seat legroom for adult passengers."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"Great car, but a tad bit small when both boys grow to 6 feet tall by 13 years old. Back seat leg room is the only thing this wagen lacks. An all around reliable, economical, and sporty diesel with enough gadgets for anyone."
2 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By Domo on Saturday, September 27, 2014
I don't own this caroverall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I have had this car for two years and love it. Its affordable and has everything i need. Sunroof, touch screen radio, heated seats. I had a few issues with my bluetooth freezing while playing music but once the technology was updated to accomodate my iphone software it has worked fine. Plenty of room in the back for passengers, lots of trunk space and gets great gas mileage. I love the design of the car its sporty. I have the dark grey and it looks great and doesnt show dirt badly at all."
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By platinum13 on Thursday, September 25, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 43,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "cool sounding 5 cyl, push button, rear seat room"
Cons: "no remote start, small navi, no power seat, bland"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"So far this car has really impressed me. This is my third MK6 the other two were TDI's and I have never had one issue with any of them. They are very roomy for a small car and offer better than EPA fuel economy. I travel often and at 80 miles an hour I get 31MPG/ At 70mph I get 34MPG. The down sides are the navigation is small, rear torsion beam, no remote start, no power seats, etc. It really needs more options which is what the 2015 Jetta should take care of. Overall I love the car. I typically only buy American vehicles but there is something about the VW's I love."
4 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By TDI Fan on Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fit and Finish, Road feel, driver feedback, MPG!!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I have owned all the common german brands and many of themm BMW, MB, Audi. I decided that I wanted to get something that had an amazing build quality as to fit and finish but more importantly fuel economy was of importance. I ended doing my research and landed on the Jetta TDI Sortswagon with sunroof and nav with an MSRP of $31,355. I can not say enough great things about this car!! It makes me smile when driving it. I am averaging 40mpg as a whole and it drives like a dream. The suspension is just plain amazing as to being compliant but not too compliant. I could go on and on but the bottom line its just a huge bang for the buck...I can not ding it for anything which is hard to say."
24 people out of 42 found this review helpful
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."
31 people out of 55 found this review helpful