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 JIMMY on Sunday, July 06, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,121overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "FUEL MILEAGE, FUN TO DRIVE"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I DRIVE 104 MILES A DAY, THIS CAR GETS THE BEST FUEL MILEAGE, IT AVERAGES 48 TO 53 MILES PER GAL EVERY DAY, I FILL UP ONCE A WEEK WITH AROUND 12 GAL OF DIESEL AND DRIVE UNTILL NEXT WEEK I BOUGHT THE TOP OF THE LINE JETTA,IT HAS A FENDER SOUND SYSTEM, I CANT SAY ENOUGH ABOUT HOW NICE THIS CAR IS,LOTS OF POWER, I WILL BUY ANOTHER WHEN THIS ONES WEARS OUT , IT WILL BE AWHILE"
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By FLJettaOwner on Wednesday, July 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "good solid car for the money"
Cons: "road noise and bumps"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I basically love my Jetta, in spite of its flaws. On the positive side, it feels solid and is roomy and comfortable. My model doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but there are enough for me. I have had zero problems with this car. It handles well enough for me in my daily driving, but can be a little rough going over a bumpy road. My main complaint is the road noise. Also, those black leatherette seats get hot as fire in the summertime. They've taken some mistreatment (spills, mud) but clean up easily and still look great. However, I highly recommend getting some kind of seat covers or cushions since they can toast your bootie when you get in after the car has been sitting in the FL sun for a while."
7 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By VWTurbo on Tuesday, July 01, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 18,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "MPG, Fun to drive, Solid, Safe"
Cons: "Infotainment, Poor interior quality, Road noise"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I have had this car for 10 months and drive approx 100 miles per day. The car drives great and the turbo makes a huge difference on the highway when passing. I have been a little disappointed with the interior quality. VW chosen to replace a lot of the soft touch materials I had in my 08 Jetta and replaced them with lower quality hard touch plastics. The car feels cheaper on the inside than previous VWs I have owned. On the plus side this is the best driving Jetta I have owned and I get great gas mileage. I have average 34 in mixed driving and have hit 40+ on the highway. The seats are comfortable but I do begin to notice some firmness after an hour of driving. The car handles great and for the price I have not found a better driving car. The car could use a better bluetooth system and better sound system."
10 people out of 19 found this review helpful
By shop74 on Tuesday, July 01, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 17,500overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "big trunk and backseat, heated leather seats"
Cons: "no sunroof and no automatic headlights"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I have had Hyundai, Acuras, Volvos and Lexus before this and I am very happy with this car. I will be buying VW from now on. It is a fun car to drive and big. We have 2 little children and no problem on back seat. The trunk is huge took all our stuff to beach trip with no problem. The pickup is great on the 2.5 5 Cylinder engine. I wish I had the sunroof and automatic headlights on my SE but that is all that is missing"
By Pennsylvania on Sunday, June 22, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 33,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, good sound system"
Cons: "Endless ridiculous repairs"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I bought a 2011 VW Jetta SE sedan in November 2012. It had roughly 12,000 miles. Within weeks, service lights went off periodically. The tire light went off, the check engine/get service lights went off. The horn stopped working and needed to be replaced. Then, the driver's side door handle simply failed to work. The door would not open. When I finally opened it, the door would not latch closed again. In addition, when it hit any temperature below 32 degrees F, the doors would freeze shut (no precipitation necessary). I would eventually get a rear door open and have to crawl through the vehicle to get into the driver's seat. Then, my radio mysteriously stopped working. I had to take this car to the dealer a number of times to fix ridiculous problems like this. It has been a continuous disappointment. This car is HORRENDOUS in the snow. The worst ever. Outside of those issues, it has Bluetooth, heated seats, good pickup, and a good sound system. The controls to the music and phone are on the wheel, which makes for safe, hands-free driving. The car has good leg room in the front and good back support. Unfortunately, the random repairs far outweigh the benefits of my nearly-new VW Jetta. I am looking to trade it in ASAP."
16 people out of 29 found this review helpful
By Jereme on Monday, June 16, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 30,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "great car for a good value TDI has amazing mileage"
Cons: "missing auto temperature setting"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought my Jetta for the impressive mileage and have almost always had better gas mileage than the sticker suggested. The ride is very comfortable for the long trips, we drive everywhere, and still enjoyable. The navigation system is out of date and can only be updated through VW which is not good. And I wish it had an automatic temperature setting inside, my wife's Subaru has this. But other than those minor things this is the best car I have ever owned and I will continue to support VW for many years."
7 people out of 13 found this review helpful