Everything it needs to be
The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is the epitome of the compact sport near-luxury car. With subtle yet classy styling, it encompasses performance without compromise.
What we call compact sedans in North America is considered compact executive saloons in many parts of Europe. This is perhaps the best way to describe the latest crop of new compact sedans from every car manufacturer.
Take a moment to look up the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and Subaru Impreza in our galleries. Now, tell me that these cars are not some of the best looking, compact cars you’ve ever seen. Heck, some of these could actually be categorized as near-luxury cars! The 6th generation Jetta falls into this category, no doubt, but it’s the GLI trim that makes it an Executive car.
Executive = Power
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI features what is arguably one of the best engines ever conceived in Volkswagen’s long and storied history. In its most basic form, such as here in the GLI, it produces 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.
Despite the seemingly meager 100 hp/litre turbocharged output, the GLI will cross the 100 km/h mark in just under 7 seconds. This may not make the GLI a pocket rocket but what really impresses is how the power is delivered. In fact, the car feels faster than the numbers suggest.
Engine gusto reaches 207 pounds at a very low 1,700 rpm and holds on all the way to 5,000. Max horsepower rushes in at 5,100 rpm and so momentum never really drops. The near total absence of boost lag further enhances the impression that the car is really moving.
Another aspect that sets the common small car from an executive’s ride is the ride. Volkswagens, especially those endowed with such letters as R, GTI and GLI, have always been particularly gifted in the suspension department.
Somehow, Volkswagen long ago figured out how to maintain tolerable levels of comfort all the while limiting pitch and roll. The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is possibly the best example of give and take. The car drives with superior confidence regardless of the surface’s condition.
Unlike the base Jetta, the GLI sports a rear multilink independent suspension. This setup aids in keeping the car’s rubber in constant contact with the pavement which in turns sends all the right signals to the driver, inviting him or her to push a little harder.
Two other aspects play a huge role in making the GLI very rewarding to pilot. The first and prominently important aspect is the car’s electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering. With nearly perfect power assistance and feedback, the car is a willing partner in any type of manoeuvre the driver wants to put the car through. The other is Volkswagen’s super-slick and easy shifting 6-speed manual ‘box. The light shifter and clutch action enables the driver to perform rapid gear changes. As well, impeccably distanced throttle and brake pedals make heel-toe rev-matching downshifts pure bliss.
Volkswagen, like every other member of the large VAG family, can put a cabin together. Unlike the unique mechanicals, the 2012 Jetta GLI features only a few upgrades from the regular Jetta.
Red stitching, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and special leather/cloth seats round out what is otherwise a spacious, well crafted place for up to five occupants to hang out.
The seats are supportive, designed for both comfort and spirited driving and, by their looks alone, enhance what could be considered an interior good enough for an Audi. Fit and finish are without flaw.
The only negative note I can make concerns the location of the start button on the centre divider; it’s not exactly intuitive nor is it chiefly aesthetically pleasing to glance at; it reminds me of a silver pimple.
While on the topic of less-than-pleasant things, know that the car’s ESP cannot be switched off. Nowhere is there a switch that would permit me to deactivate this otherwise useful nanny. “Otherwise” because it is not inconceivable that the owner of a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI would like to occasionally track said car. I’m still having a hard time digesting this issue... I’m going to drop the matter before I start to flip out as I did when I first found out.
Executive = smart
The GLI will not stand out as would a Mustang GT but for many, this is a requirement. How the GLI will make its way under your skin is through the way it drives and how satisfying it is to push the 2.0T near its redline.
Other reasons will be its incredibly low fuel consumption. As a self proclaimed leadfoot, I still managed to consume only 9.0L/100 km! Like golfing? The huge trunk will easily swallow two bags and pull-carts with room to spare.
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI has a base price of $27,475. This entry fee includes sport seats, handsome 17” alloys, a dashingly handsome front end, a choice powertrain and a great driving experience.
The car’s closest competitors are the 2013 Acura ILX and BMW 1 Series. The ILX fails to ignite anything other than its own spark plugs and the 128i is $8,000 more for less car overall.
The GLI is an ideal stop-gap between a base $15,875 Jetta and a $37,800 Audi A4 sedan. In the end, it manages to blend performance and luxury, making it perhaps the best near-luxury compact executive saloon currently on the market.
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