2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Toronto, Ontario – After a two-year hiatus, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI returns, and with a starting price of $27,475, it undercuts the old 2009 GLI by $2,500.

Those familiar with VW products will know the letters GLI are to the Jetta what GTI is to the Golf. The GLI is the sportiest of Jettas, and here it gets the 200-hp/207 lb.-ft. direct-injection turbo four and six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch DSG from the GTI.

There have been a host of other improvements to the “North Americanized” lower-priced 2011Jetta, a car that took criticism for it’s generic styling, an interior that was a step back in quality for the VW brand, the regression to a twist beam rear axle from multi-link rear underpinnings and an ancient low-tech 8-valve 2.0-litre four in the base model.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Click image to enlarge

That said, in TDI clean diesel form, the 2011 Jetta was named Best New Family Car under $30,000 by the Auto Journalists Association of Canada.

The 2011 Jetta has proven to be a success for VW with sales up 164 per cent, and it accounts for fifty per cent of VW Canada’s sales – thirty per cent of those being the base Trendline with the aforementioned pre-Columbian lump under the hood.

Now arriving at the other end of the Jetta spectrum is the nameplate’s halo car. Is this 2012 GLI more than just a 2011 Jetta with some GTI guts? Yes.

Addressing two major complaints with the 2011 Jetta, the 2012 GLI gets a multi-link independent rear suspension and the dash is constructed of pleasantly squishy soft-touch plastics. Other nice interior touches include the flat-bottomed GTI steering wheel with red stitching, dual-zone climate control, USB/Aux input, Bluetooth, six-speaker audio with touch-screen, 6-CD changer and Sirius satellite radio integration.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Click image to enlarge

Outside, the GLI gets a more aggressive front fascia with fog lights, side skirts, a new rear valance and diffuser plus twin chrome tipped tailpipes. The car sits 15 mm lower on its standard 17-inch alloys, but you’ll be wanting to spring for the $975 18-inchers – they give the car some needed visual swagger. Like the GTI, the Jetta GLI is fitted with the Electronic Transverse Differential Lock (XDS) that mitigates inside front wheel spin when cornering.

Five colours are available: red, black, white, silver and dark grey.

First impressions behind the wheel are favourable, starting with that lovely multi-function GTI steering wheel in your hands. While the dash design may not be as adventurous as some competitors, it surely is logical and handsome in a timeless fashion, and build quality impresses.

As with all Volkswagens, the seats are right on the money, dishing out comfort and support in equal measure. With backseat legroom being best in class, no apologies need be made to rear passengers. The trunk is also largest in class, and the rear seats are a 60/40 split for added utility.

Once again, VW/Audi’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four proves itself, delivering a nice torquey push from just about anywhere in the rev range. Granted, 200 hp doesn’t sound like much these days, and as we’ve seen in the Audi TTS, 250+ horses from this engine is there for the taking.

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