2012 Volkswagen GLI Sedan Review | Edmunds.com

2012 Volkswagen GLI Sedan

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Volkswagen GLI Features and Specs

Features & Specs

  • Engine 2.0 L Inline 4-cylinder
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • Transmission 6-speed Manual
  • Horse Power 200 hp @ 5100 rpm
  • Fuel Economy 22/33 mpg
  • Bluetooth Yes
  • Navigation Yes
  • Heated Seats Yes

Review of the 2012 Volkswagen GLI

  • C Edmunds Rating
  • The 2012 VW GLI is a quicker, sportier version of the Jetta upon which it's based, but its GTI brand mate is sharper to drive and has a nicer cabin.

  • Safety | Rating Details
  • Pros

    Fuel-efficient and sprightly engine; spacious cabin; well-equipped.

  • Cons

    Competitors are quicker and handle better; numb steering; delayed throttle response with DSG transmission; lackluster interior materials.

  • What's New for 2012

    After a two-year hiatus, the VW GLI returns as an all-new model based on the recently redesigned Jetta.

Full 2012 Volkswagen GLI Review

What's New for 2012

After a two-year hiatus, the VW GLI returns as an all-new model based on the recently redesigned Jetta.


Traditionally, there haven't been many cars to choose from between "econosport" compact sedans typically made by Japanese manufacturers and pricier luxury sport sedans normally produced by German automakers. Seeing an opportunity, Volkswagen filled that void years ago with its GLI, a Jetta fitted with the GTI's performance-oriented engine and suspension tuning. We liked the last iteration (VW dropped it after 2009) and now the concept has been reborn as the 2012 Volkswagen GLI.

It's easy to be a little concerned about the idea of a snappier version of the new Jetta, since we haven't been very fond of the all-new small VW sedan so far. The car reflects a number of changes designed primarily to make it more affordable, notably lower-quality interior pieces, a wheezy engine for the base model and a relatively unsophisticated rear suspension (not to mention rear drum brakes on the entry-level models). Granted, the new Jetta offers a roomier backseat and is still a nice car. But as we noted in our reviews of the Jetta, you pay less, but you also get less.

Thankfully, the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI undoes some of the base model Jetta's cost-cutting changes, but not enough of them to put the car on even standing with the GTI. For instance, there is a more sophisticated multilink rear suspension and an upgraded steering system, but the resulting handling isn't as sharp as the GLI's hatchback cousin, let alone other sporty sedans and hatches. The interior also gets a thick sport steering wheel and a soft-touch dash (versus the Jetta's hard plastic one), but it's otherwise the same. On the upside, the GLI does share the GTI's 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which proves both energetic and fuel-efficient.

While the 2012 VW GLI is more appealing than the vanilla regular Jetta, too much carries over. The GTI is quite simply a better car, and although it's about $1,000 pricier, we think it's definitely worth it. Of course, there are also excellent competitors like the upcoming Ford Focus ST, 2012 Mazdaspeed 3 and 2012 Subaru Impreza WRX. And if you're simply looking for a sedan with lively acceleration, a turbocharged 2012 Kia Optima or V6-powered 2012 Nissan Altima could be good alternatives.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2012 Volkswagen GLI is a front-wheel-drive four-door sedan available in two trim levels: 2.0T and Autobahn.

Standard equipment on the GLI 2.0T includes 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, full power accessories, heated mirrors, height-adjustable front sport seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface.

The GLI Autobahn adds 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, heated windshield-washer nozzles, automatic climate control, a cooling glovebox, heated front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and a nine-speaker audio system. A navigation system and keyless ignition/entry can be added to the Autobahn.

Powertrains and Performance

The 2012 GLI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual known as DSG is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, the GLI with DSG went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is on the slow side for the class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the manual and 23/29/25 with DSG.


Every 2012 GLI comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.

In Edmunds brake testing, the GLI came to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet. This is below average for a compact sedan, let alone one with sporting pretenses.

In government crash tests, the pretty much identical Jetta earned an overall score of four stars out of a possible five. Within that rating, it earned four stars for overall front crash protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.

Interior Design and Special Features

Past GLI models were essentially four-door sedan versions of the hatchback GTI. This is no longer the case, and it's perhaps most noticeable in the cabin. Not only is the Jetta-derived GLI's design different from the Golf-derived GTI (though they were certainly drawn with the same restrained pen), the materials used to construct it are of a lower quality. The doors in particular are covered in an abundance of hard plastic. It's also missing some of the GTI's extra-mile features like an adjustable front armrest and rear air vents, along with its tartan upholstery and optional leather. The GLI makes do with plain black cloth or "leatherette" vinyl.

On the upside, the GLI is quite roomy. It's easy to find a comfortable seating position, and a pair of full-size adults can sit in the back with room to spare. The 15.5-cubic-foot trunk is actually bigger than the Honda Accord's. We're also fans of the available touchscreen stereo interface, which features a redundant control knob ideal for controlling an iPod.

Driving Impressions

As with the cabin, driving the GLI is a letdown compared to the GTI. The steering isn't as sharp when turning into a corner and it has a considerable numb spot on center that's more indicative of the less sporting Beetle Turbo. Ultimate grip and handling are also disappointing whether you're comparing the GLI to the GTI or one of the other "hot" hatches or sedans it competes with. However, those simply looking for a quicker, sportier version of the Jetta will likely find the GLI a solid upgrade.

This is especially so since the 2.0-liter turbo engine is still a bright spot, offering a nice wallop of torque and cool, snarling noises. The standard six-speed manual is the transmission to get. It's direct and remarkably easy to drive, even when stuck in traffic. The DSG automatic is less desirable. In its normal Drive setting, throttle response is annoyingly delayed. Switching to Sport corrects this, but then the transmission becomes overly eager to downshift and hang onto revs. Using DSG's manual mode corrects both issues, but at that point we figure you might as well stick with the regular manual.

What Others Are Saying

Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

My 2012 gli autobahn

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI Autobahn 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6AM)

Originally ordered GLI Autobahn with Nav in Aug'11 when 2012 GLI was announced but that, in particular, and other GLI models were extremely difficult to be found. Car has done 8500 miles, and am overall quite satisfied with it. Had two main issues: bass spkr used to break even when played at normal sound levels, and rear attachment inside on top of right rear tire came off at 4000 miles making scrapping sound with tire when four people would sit. First issue was somewhat fixed by dealer, and second was completely fixed by replacing attachment under warranty. Of course not a BMW/Audi but an excellent value. Paid 29200 out of door including NJ sales tax. Car has performed very well.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

Loving the gli!!!

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI Autobahn PZEV 4dr Sedan w/Nav (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6AM)

I really love my GLI - it looks great, I get asked questions about it all the time and it gets second glances in parking lots and driving by. The 2.0 turbo engine is an absolute peach, don't be fooled by its relatively low power numbers, it pulls effortlessly. There are also a great variety of modifications available if thats your kind of thing. The DSG transmission takes some getting used to but it shifts extremely fast and smooth. The manual would be nice but it feels kind of rubbery. Ride comfort is OK. The car is a blast on the back roads with scalpel-precise steering. Great seats, decent interface, and a ton of trunk space make it practical as well. Overall very happy.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

Fantastic sub $30k sport sedan!!

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI Autobahn PZEV 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)

I have owned several performance sedans through the years including a current generation Nissan Maxima SV with sport package, 07 'Civic SI, 05' Subaru Legacy GT Limited, Mazdaspeed 6. I was able to grab this 12' GLI Autobahn for $23500 which is a steal honestly for what you get. Coming from my SI, the GLI has way more torque and much better gas mileage while having equal handling, but with better interior materials. I average 29mpg in mixed driving and on straight freeway trips usually see 34-35mpg and as high as 37mpg. Had the APR stage 1 ECU update done and the car is a rocket now without even a dent in gas mileage. Some interior plastics could be better but overall a great car!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Vw 2012 gli

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)

I was looking for a car a) Under 25k MSRP, b) Sedan c) sporty engine with a slick 6 speed d) independent suspension e) At least 30 +/- 2 MPG highway f) FWD with some form of LSD Your options are slim - I ended up having to choose between an Si and a GLI (Focus is close). Main diff between the 2 is the engine/power band feel in day to day life - Free revving Nat Asp. Si vs. turbo 2.0T, low end torque vs. high end power. In the end, GLI has a better interior than current Si, I could not wait for re-designed Civic, which is out in the fall and VW had better financing. If you plan to keep it for 100K, I recommend extra warranty.- Entitles you to lower APR's in some regions; check with dealer.

5 of 12 people found this review helpful

Phantom red

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI PZEV 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6AM)

Bought My GLI over the Mini Cooper Clubman "S", I Love the dynamic stability control (dsc), The DSC Transmission is what "sold Me" and Pushed me toward the GLI, and away from my favorite Car, Mini Cooper "s".. Who Knew..BUT My Next Two door car will be 2020 John Cooper Works Coupe. Another reason besides the DSC, is the cargo space I Needed, being a stay-at-home-dad, and the roomy back seat in the four door GLI, and the trunk cargo area....the Mini Clubman can't compare.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

Fantastic sport sedan

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Vehicle: 2012 Volkswagen GLI Autobahn 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)

In a perfect world, everyone could afford a 65k BMW M3. If you're like me, you want a fun to drive car which gets good mileage & doubles as a family car and doesn't cost a ton, the GLI autobahn hits on all counts. This car tells you what to expect when you turn the ignition and it lets out a low growl, and it will make the chore of driving around town an absolute pleasure. Around town it hugs turns and twisties and gets up and goes as fast as any other sedan in its class. Was easy to install car seats making the wife happy. It may be a Jetta but has a distinctive enough look that it turns heads. I'm a bit concerned about reliability long term, but bought a warranty for peace of mind.

Talk About The 2012 GLI

Gas Mileage


  • 22
  • cty
  • 33
  • highway
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Identifix Reliability Ratings

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