2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn automatic: Perfect car for the perfect road

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn

If there’s such a thing as perfect road for every car—and there must be—that road for the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI would wind through the woods. It would be narrow but not claustrophobic. It would have curves, tight enough to require downshifting to second gear but with occasional blasts to third.  There should be hills, but more importantly, little rises and hollows, some right in the middle of a turn so a driver has to tiptoe through the loft ‘em ups but really crank it when the car hits a mid-turn pavement perigee.

OK, so maybe that latter is an overstatement because the pavement is really on the ground and it can’t get much closer to the earth. But there should be no doubt that the GLI is capable of flying down a road such as this. Because if there’s a perfect word for the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI, it’s agility.

In that, it’s very much like the Volkswagen GTI, and in fact, one could be excused for saying that the Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a Volkswagen GTI with a trunk. One would be wrong of course, but the two Volkswagens do have definite and deliberate similarities.

Some differences are obvious. The GTI is a hatchback and the GLI a sedan, and the GTI is a standalone model, not a version of the Golf, while the GLI is a Jetta GLI. We don’t know why.

Less apparent is the wheelbase. The GTI has 101.5 inches between the front and rear wheels while the GLI measures in at 104.1 inches. The GLI is a lot (relatively speaking) longer than the GTI, at 182.2 inches versus 165.9 inches. The GTI is a smidge over an inch taller, however, at 57.8 inches. The standard GLI stands a little over an inch higher than the other Jetta models, the former at 56.6 inches, the latter at 57.2.

The Jetta GLI and the GTI have the same engine and transmissions, however. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four is rated at 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. It’s stronger than the gross numbers would suggest, however, as torque peaks at a low 1700 rpm, remarkable for a small four-cylinder, turbocharged or not.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn interior with automatic

The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn with the automatic transmission comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The advantage of the low torque peak—and in reality, a broad torque spread—isn’t necessarily felt in drag race style acceleration but in driving around town, or more importantly for the GLI, on the perfect road. Torque is just a toe tap away, and it’s torque that makes acceleration.

The engine comes paired to the same choice of transmissions, a conventional six-speed manual transmission or Volkswagen’s DSG dual-clutch automatic. The latter is familiar to fans of sporty Volkswagens, but those who aren’t, it’s like a manual gearbox but with electronic controls. The Jetta GLI can be left to shift for itself, however, like a regular automatic, but it can also be shifted up or down with the gearshift or with paddles on the steering wheel.

It’s frustrating to those who have spent years perfecting manual transmission talents, but the DSG transmission is quicker on the upshift or down, neatly matching revs on the downshift and even making neat sounds doing it.

The Jetta GLI also gets the same rear suspension as the GTI. While lesser Volkswagen Golf and VW Jettas have a twist-beam rear suspension, the GTI and Jetta GLI receive the same fully independent multi-link arrangement. The Volkswagen XDS cross differential system first used on the GTI is used on the GLI as well. The XDS system helps prevent wheelspin on the inside front wheel during hard cornering.