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2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn review:

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

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The first thing I noticed was that the car feels very light, unsurprising as its curb weight is just over 3,000 pounds. Over a succession of rises, it lifted at each crest, to the point where stability control had to step in as I also had to negotiate a slight bend on the way down. It made for a breathless moment.

The DSG more than proved its worth when I left it to shift in its sport mode. As I braked in the last few yards before a turn, the transmission willingly changed down a gear or two, leaving me with plenty of power as I gave it gas for the turn exit. When I tapped the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, it shifted quickly and unerringly, always ready with the right gear.

Volkswagen has been offering the DSG for more than five years now, so has had time to perfect it. It uses two computer-controlled clutches, each covering one set of gears. While one is engaged, say in third gear, the other sits poised above either second or fourth, depending on which gear it anticipates you will want next. The better the programming, the better it will be at anticipating the next gear.

In GLI trim, the Jetta gets red brake calipers and disc brakes, instead of drums, at the rear wheels.

But at times, the 2-liter, four-cylinder engine was not quite ready to give me the benefits of its 200 horsepower. Even with the engine speed kept above 3,000rpm, the turbo lagged, making me wait a few portions of a second before it could give its all.

The suspension also could have been screwed down tighter. There was a lot of body movement as I threw the car into turn after turn. However, over a long drive I began to appreciate the movement, using it as a seat-of-the-pants measure of load balance among the tires.

But the biggest problem with the Jetta GLI is that it is not the GTI. Although the two cars share the same power train, the Jetta GLI is a sedan, and therefore cannot be a hot hatchback. Volkswagen, seeming to recognize the more conservative nature of sedans, did not give it launch control, one of the most childish and fun things about the GTI.

In sum
The other Jetta models all get by with boring engine and transmission combinations, but the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is the exciting one. Volkswagen may have had direct injection and turbocharging for some time now, but other automakers are only starting to recognize the benefits. The DSG is also an excellent everyday and sporting transmission.

The navigation and phone systems available in the Jetta GLI are good, but do not push the tech envelope in any significant way. The standout piece of cabin tech is the stereo, with its Fender audio system leading in sound quality for cars in this price range.

The Jetta GLI's sedan body has an inoffensive, mundane look, but proved practical, with plenty of trunk and comfortable cabin space. The seats, an upgrade for the GLI model, were particularly nice.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Volkswagen Jetta
Trim GLI Autobahn
Power train turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed dual-clutch transmission
EPA fuel economy 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.8 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list download
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Fender 400-watt 9-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $23,495
Price as tested $25,545

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