Full 2012 Volkswagen GTI Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Volkswagen GTI gets new LED daytime running lights and minor feature-availability revisions, but otherwise carries on unchanged.
On numbers alone, the case for buying a 2012 Volkswagen GTI isn't particularly strong. It's slower and porkier than its main hot-hatch competitors, and gets bested by all in our acceleration, braking and handling tests. Wait, slower and porkier? Even Robert Shapiro might have a hard time swaying a jury on this one.
Fortunately for the defense, there's more to the GTI than numbers. Away from the test track, the GTI remains fun to drive and its compliant suspension is quite good at smoothing budget-starved urban pavement. The GTI's interior is also uncommonly upscale, offering premium materials, a restrained design, supportive front seats and plenty of room for either rear passengers or cargo.
Under the hood is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-4 engine making 200 horsepower -- the same engine used in a host of other VW models. There's no denying the power deficit to the hot-hatchback competition: as much as 60 hp. Yet the GTI's mill still proves enjoyable in the driving experience, delivering useful low-end torque, a throaty exhaust note and even fuel economy. You can also pair the 2.0-liter with VW's DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which combines the easy clutch engagement of an automatic with the precise powertrain control of a manual.
If speed and handling are your true priorities, there are better choices. The Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX both outgun the GTI in a straight line, while a Mini Cooper S is more nimble in the corners. But overall, the VW GTI adds up to more than the sum of its performance numbers in a way that its competition cannot match. It will ease you through the work week, then put a grin on your face as you head out of town for the weekend.
The case for the 2012 Volkswagen GTI is very solid indeed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Volkswagen GTI is a high-performance version of the Golf hatchback. Two-door and four-door body styles are offered. (An even higher-performance variant, the limited-production Golf R, will also be available this year.) There are two main trim levels: base and Autobahn.
The base GTI's standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, foglights, heated outside mirrors, launch control (with DSG only), a sport suspension, full power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles (DSG only), cruise control, a trip computer, air-conditioning, heated front sport seats, plaid cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary audio jack and iPod integration.
The base GTI can be fitted with the Convenience and Sunroof package, which gets you a sunroof, multifunction steering wheel controls, a touchscreen interface for the stereo and an in-dash CD changer. The GTI with Sunroof and Navigation adds adaptive xenon headlamps, LED running lights and a touchscreen navigation system.
The range-topping GTI Autobahn includes the preceding features, plus different 18-inch wheels, partial-leather seating, keyless ignition/entry and a premium sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2012Volkswagen GTI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. In California-emissions states, a cleaner partial-zero-emissions-vehicle (PZEV) version of this engine is also available.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (called DSG) is optional. The DSG operates like a standard automatic, but it can be shifted manually by utilizing the shift lever on the center console or the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
In Edmunds testing, a GTI with a manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Competitors are at least a half-second faster. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined for DSG-equipped GTIs. The manual transmission achieves slightly less, at 21/31/25 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for the 2012 Volkswagen GTI includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the GTI earned a top rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In Edmunds performance testing, braking from 60 to zero mph required 129 feet -- a full car length longer than the Mazdaspeed 3's impressively short 115-foot halt.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among sporty hatchbacks, we rank the 2012 GTI's interior at the top. Retro plaid seat fabric aside, the cabin reflects a serious and mature design, with hints of Audi's upscale trim and switchgear throughout. You won't find better materials in the segment, nor front seats that are as sporty and supportive for punchy driving or casual cruising. Unfortunately, you also won't find many places to stash phones, wallets and sunglasses, since the GTI continues to suffer from a lack of useful storage spaces.
Gaining access to the surprisingly roomy rear seats is naturally easier with the four-door GTI, but ingress and egress to the two-door's rear seat is relatively painless. Behind the rear seats, the cargo area can hold up to 12.4 cubic feet -- double the capacity of a Mini Cooper, but about average for other hatchbacks. This volume increases when the split-folding rear seats are down, opening up 46 cubic feet of room.
If you go by the spec sheet, the GTI isn't as quick or nimble as other sport hatchbacks. But unless you're battling for the quickest quarter-mile or lap time, the VW provides a better overall driving experience. Turbo lag is nearly undetectable and torque steer is apparent only when the car is driven with reckless abandon. Either transmission choice performs admirably, with the DSG offering smooth shifts. In everyday driving, the GTI feels solid and composed, though some enthusiast drivers will probably complain that the suspension tuning is too soft for truly aggressive driving.
On the flip side, the GTI gets high marks for comfort and ride quality compared to the competition. At highway speeds, the cabin is as quiet as any you'll find in a luxury car, while a compliant suspension smoothes over normal bumps in the road. All told, the 2012 Volkswagen GTI strikes an impressive balance between performance and comfort that will satisfy most drivers.