By on March 7, 2012

Glee (noun) [\glē\]:
(a.) exultant high-spirited joy; merriment

(b.) a television series in which smooth-skinned actors in their middle twenties attempt to portray teens navigating the tumultuous rapids of modern adolescence by the application of close-part harmony; immensely popular when it debuted, but trailed off in the second season when it began getting a little preachy and then there was that part where Rachel was all like, “Finn, I need to let you fly free,” and…

(b.) Some TV show which I have never seen.

(c.) The best car in the current Volkswagen Model range.

Whaddya mean it’s pronounced “Gee-El-Eye”?

Now, no review of Volkswagen’s warmed-up compact sedan would be complete without a few Oh! Snap! cracks at how thoroughly Vee-dub has un-pimped the regular Jetta. Fans of the German marque are appalled – appalled I tells ya – at the dumbed-down, embiggened and encheapened Kraut-rolla the once-sprightly Jetta has ballooned into.

‘Twas as though they had wandered into the VW showroom expecting the usual delicious and slightly unreliable bratwurst and been handed an Ikea hot-dog instead. Yes, a bargain at just 99 cents, but made of gym-mat foam and not tasty pork by-products.

Critics were apoplectic, and the buying public responded immediately – by completely ignoring them and snapping up thousands of Jettas. I quite enjoy that, as it must have punctured a few bombastic egos.

Not to worry though, as VW still sells a premium smokie-on-a-bun for all you sausage enthusiasts out there.

And here it is. In profile, the GLI is quite a bit better looking than I remember, a slick blend of sleek aerodynamicism and teutonic crispness set off by the traditionally chunky five-spoke Volkswagen alloys, and-

Oh wait, no, this is a Kia Rio. Oops.

That’s better. No, wait: no it isn’t.

One criticism of the GLI immediately is that it appears to be just fifteen feet of some car. I imagine that if you went down to the Car Store and asked for, “One Car, please. What? Oh I don’t know… German flavour I suppose,” then this is what you’d get.

Yes, it has two-tone, multi-spoke alloy wheels and a colour-matched grille – but what doesn’t these days? I will say that the Glee looks fairly good here in black, but if you take a look at the car Jack drove in his 2.0T Intramural League test, a silver GLI can be about as bland as unsalted porridge.

However, methinks this is a very, very good thing. A Lamborghini Reventon might look like a stealth fighter, but the Glee is actually a stealth car: just another five-seater people-pod; one more unremarkable corpuscle blending in with the flow on an arterial highway. Handy if you’re going to cane it a little, but more on that in a bit.

The interior of the Glee is slightly less stealthy; most notably, that flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the tiniest bit boy-racer. And, as apparently dictated by some international sporty car interior standard first established in the early Eighties, there’s plenty of red stitching everywhere.

Other than that though, it’s a sensible, conservative sort of place to be, with comfortable seats, an immense amount of rear legroom and a cavernous trunk. And there’s another advantage too.

If you were picking up your new fiancee’s parents at the airport, and you didn’t quite get along with them just yet, being in that not-good-enough-for-our-son/daughter zone (that sometimes never goes away), you could be perfectly safe arriving in a GLI.

A GTI? A ‘Speed3? A WRX? Those’d be something different, but this car would elicit a future-father-in-law’s reluctant nod and/or a near-mother-in-law’s mollified sniff. It’s not showy. It’s not racy. It’s sensible and circumspect and even a little bit nice. Maybe this kid’s got a good head on his/her shoulders after all.

Then, on the drive home, you completely. Ruin. Everything.

First, a painful admission. I had championed Subaru’s flat-four turbo as being the best-sounding four-pot on the market today. I was wrong.

It took four different axle-backs on the back of my personal WRX to find the right blend of growly aggression without boorish bellowing. VW got it right straight out of the factory with a thrumpety symphony that’s part panthera tigris purr, and part strafing-run Stuka. The ubiquitous 200hp 2.0T has never sounded better.

As such, you will want to dip into the power reserves early and often, and with a phenomenally low torque peak providing insta-shove around 1700rpm, the Glee provokes… well, just see definition (a.)

Right. Nearly forgot to complain about the lack of a traction control button. Yes, this is either a silly oversight or one of the chintziest cost-cutting measures imaginable, but it didn’t really bother me once.

We live in a world where a Hyundai puts out a turbo-four with a full 25% more power than VW’s version, but there’s more to it than just peak horsepower figures. The Glee isn’t underpowered, and it’s not overpowered. It’s right-powered.

Yes, there are moments where a little more thrust would not have gone amiss, but the whole package is so composed-yet-thrilling that you find yourself willing the car along, wringing it out, diving into the corners and blasting out of them. Meanwhile, your future mother-in-law is clutching her purse with a white-knuckled grip implying that hissed undertones are about to be exchanged with her son/daughter on the subject of That Young Man/Woman.

But what do you care? It’d be easy enough to back off the throttle and find that the GLI is a comfortable cruiser with its softer-than-a-GTI suspension. The Fender-brand stereo is phenomenal and the fuel economy can even be quite good, if you’re gentle.

Yet whenever I climbed into my 6-speed tester, I experienced a kinship of the sort that Tazio Nuvolari must have felt, nursing his somewhat-wheezy Alfa-Romeo to that now-legendary victory over the Auto-Union juggernauts. It seems Mazda isn’t the only company that knows something about Jinba Ittai.

The GLI is a joy to drive, and shockingly, shockingly good in wet weather. Perhaps it’s the relative softness of the suspension, perhaps it’s the soft-compound of the Continental winter tires this tester was equipped with, but the level of grip that the GLI has in a wet corner is extremely surprising and gratifying. But then, so’s the rest of the car.

Business-like exterior, comfortable interior: a sedate-looking sedan that’s capable of thrilling dynamically but prefers not to shout about it. Maybe I’m stretching, but the GLI could just be this generation’s E39 BMW. It’s that good.

But – and here comes a But so big that it should be written in flaming letters three miles high; a Mix-a-lot-sized conjunction that I don’t like (and I cannot lie) – but, it’s still a Volkswagen, and that means Your Mileage May Vary.

After a charming week with the GLI, I found myself sitting at the ferry terminal late at night, waiting to pick up my wife (I’ve been married for coming-on 6 years, the in-laws threw in the towel long ago). Docking was inevitably delayed, and as I waited, the local station began playing Young the Giant’s “My Body.” As the first kicks of the bass drum came through, the back panel of the GLI decided it was time to start buzzing like the trunk of a 90s Civic with a Bazooka tube. At all volumes.

This car, you understand, had all of 1500 miles on the clock, and while press cars generally take more abuse than somebody who expresses a political viewpoint in the comments section of a Youtube video, I generally have to say this failing was unacceptable. Unacceptable, or at least very disappointing.

Volkswagen has always been like this. Some owners have never had a problem, others have had nothing but problems. Still others have had a up-and-down track record that reads like the fortunes of a character on Days of Our Lives. Uh, which I have also never seen.

So can I recommend the GLI? Yes, though not unreservedly. It’s a fantastic car, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be next season.

Volkswagen provided the car reviewed and insurance

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113 Comments on “Review: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Take Two...”

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Just the right amount of power? So I’m sure you wouldn’t have any interest at all in this:

    Or one from any of the other companies that do it.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      I actually live near these guys:

      And yes, I’d mod the car. But it doesn’t really need it, you’d be happy with the amount of power. Moreso than you would be in the GTi.

      • 0 avatar

        I honestly think this is a great review of a car that looks nice, but that I would never buy as my faith in this manufacturer has been destroyed due to an ownership of one of their recent models.

        However, with that out of the way, a photo and some comments on rear leg seat room would have been very useful for many people, I assume, who are curious about the more mundane things like rear facing car seats for infants/toddlers, etc.

        And p.s. – that Kia looks fantastic, even if I know I won’t like the suspension (unless they pulled off an engineering miracle).

      • 0 avatar

        They didn’t, and you won’t.

        Also, the Rio I had last week had two problems, a loose metal bracket rattling really badly up in the headliner and a non-functioning driver-side passive entry receiver, so it’s got Brendan’s GLI beat on that score as well.

        But I wouldn’t conclude anything from a sample size of one.

        The Jetta’s been about average so far in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, and given VW’s recent track record should stay that way for at least three years.

        Rio? Too soon to say. Hyundais have been pretty good lately, but Kias sometimes don’t fare as well.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, MK. I just knew it intuitively. I’ve approached Kia with an open mind on test drives of or in at least a half dozen of their cars, and not once did the suspension fail to disappoint, including on the new Kia Sorrento. I’ve noticed the same thing about the suspension of Hyundais, too, with a 2007 Azera rental having a suspension that was so discombobulated on the highway, it was literally comical (the Genesis suspension is schizophrenic, and the Tucson is just plain harsh; although the short test drive I did in a 2011 Sonata was the exception – nice suspension on that car).

        As for the Jetta, I realize some don’t put stock in Consumer Reports, but for those who do (I do; they aren’t perfect, but I’ve found much consistency between their claims and my experiences), I literally just read through their 2012 New Car Edition, and the Jetta SE 2.5 placed dead last in its category (and by a huge margin).

        And yes, reliability, fit and finish, road and wind noise were all major deficits.

        How is it that the GLI, which is differentiated by a few options and the 2.0T motor, but otherwise is the same car, can be that much better?

        Or is Consumer Reports wide of the mark on the Jetta?

        (The Passat also fell to mid-pack, from its former top billing in both the Entry Level Family and Family Sedan category).

  • avatar

    Nicely written. Nice scenery too :) I like how you slipped in the Rio. I knew something was wrong with the picture, but I didn’t realize that it was a completely different car.

    And yes, my 90’s Civic has developed a buzz in the drivers side door panel, but only at 80+ km/h, so it blends in with the buzzy engine :)

  • avatar

    A nicely written review.

    I guess I should also comment on the car. As I’m nowhere nearly as good a writer, I’ state my opinion more simply:

    Me want a GLI.
    Me know better.

  • avatar

    Do the headlights still burn out far quicker than other brands?

    Most cars that I notice with burned out headlights are VWs.

    Not as many as a few years ago, but if an on coming car has a burned out headlight, it’s most often a VW.

    I just don’t trust the electrics.

    • 0 avatar

      isn’t this the truth

      it seems to be that blowing various lights seems to be normal for volkswagens

      they don’t actually bother to fix the problem… just replace the bul bs as a normal service regimen

      • 0 avatar

        Volvos are the same.

      • 0 avatar

        My Mazda Protege5 reliability requires new headlights every 20 months. And they’re such a pain to get to I let the dealer do it. Even my independent prefers not to deal with them.

      • 0 avatar

        Michael, if you are referring to the right side low beam, I totally agree with you there. It’s due to the washer bottle being in the way of the plug, not that I’ve had to replace a bulb, but simply because I was trying to ensure the low beam bulb was properly installed as my right headlight is aimed too low.

        I figured a pair of pliers would help remove the plug from the bulb. The high beam bulbs look to be MUCH easier to get at as you simply twist the bulb out from it’s mounting and then unplug and reverse the procedure to reinstall.

        I also know how to go about adjusting the headlights too, thanks to Google.

      • 0 avatar

        Peter Egan once wrote about trouble lights spitting up bulbs faster than a machine gun. He never owned a Protege5.

      • 0 avatar

        My Protege5 would feast on headlight bulbs. I had Silverstars in there and that car would eat them at about the 4 month mark. The little metal swing arm that held the bulbs in place was extremely painful to press into place. I hated replacing the bulbs. The headlights though, when operating correctly, were glorious.

    • 0 avatar


      I think a lot of the issues stems from what bulbs they choose to use as some versions are more prone to burning out prematurely, others seem to last much longer and thus has nothing to do with the electrical wiring itself.

      It’s like choosing cheap bulbs and then have them blow frequently or go with quality bulbs and have them rarely blow (like Hondas of the past).

      • 0 avatar

        Why do these manufacturers make a replacement wear item like a bulb so hard to get to? They should all be user serviceable, unless it’s their plan to make you go to the dealership and cough up the bucks. I have a serious problem with this sort of engineering just on principle.

    • 0 avatar

      “The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”
      ― Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching

  • avatar

    Ah, German reliability. You never know when those sneaky krauts are going to send their panzer tank division of electrical problems through the black forest of your car and end it with a wonderful Blitzkrieg at the VW service department.

    You’ll be the envy of hipsters everywhere in the meantime. The VW logo in current context instantly has me humming Deathcab for Cutie songs.

  • avatar

    Savvy GLI owners know the first mod, to be done within hours of delivery, which is to wedge a racquet ball underneath the package tray and the metal framing underneath to eliminate the Fender system subwoofer rattle. Yeah, it’s all part of a being a VW owner.

    • 0 avatar

      With my Bose system on another brand of German car, the forum-recommended mod is to take the subwoofer entirely out of the car and stuff it full of polyester batting to muffle the boominess. I also spent the better part of a football game putting Dynamat everywhere I could. Worked.

  • avatar

    Great review!

    So true on so many points. I think almost everyone would love to have a VW/Audi but almost no one wants to even think about the possible costs that might bring.

    In a way, comparing Japanese luxury to German luxury is a little like comparing the Iphone to Android. The Iphone kills on looks, perceived quality, and overall want factor while Android relies on features, value, and essentially geekiness to appeal to the masses. The one difference, Apple (unlike German cars) may have terrible reliability but has tremendous customer service that actually wins it customers.

    The other side to VW/Audi/MB ownership is simple maintenance costs even if NOTHING goes wrong. After driving Chevys, Nissans, Hondas, Lexuses, and Infiniti’s… having to pay 100+ for routine maintenance is a rude shock (although Lexus & Infiniti are certainly catching up in that dept) and something I always make fun of when talking to my friends who have taken the brave German ownership plunge. Having to add 1 quart of oil every 1000 miles is just stupid.

    Still, I’m glad there are people out there who just don’t give a damn about reliability and bang-for-buck so that we can at least see these cars driving around.

    • 0 avatar

      The VW dealership I regretfully purchased a 2006 VW Passat 2.0T from confidently and steadfastly told me, all the way up to the rungs of el big cheese manager of the service department, that burning one quart of synthetic oil every 1000 miles (or even slightly less), -CONSISTENTLY- was well within VW spec.

      These conversations began early on in that new car ownership experience.

      I cast no aspersions, but merely relay my factual, personal experience.

      When I expressed a somewhat skeptical glance, and asked some very reasonable follow up questions, I was non-plussed with a robotic refrain of “[i]t’s within VW specs, sir.”

      • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        Wow. I know our ’07 Passat 2.0T likes to consume oil, but not a quart every 1,000 miles. If I have to put a quart in between oil changes (10,000 miles) that is a lot.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you’ll find that every manufacturer considers 1 qt/1000 miles to be “normal” oil consumption. The vagaries of tolerance stack will always produce some outliers in that range, and the can of worms opened by admitting that it’s a problem means that they’d rather stonewall than fix it.

    • 0 avatar
      Franz K

      Brother do you ever have that one back _____ wards

      ( the iPhone and German cars lack of reliability comment )

      The Germans ? As long as its NOT an Audi / VW / Chrysler era Mercedes , the Germans reliability is quite good . Fact is they’re right up there pushing hard on the Japanese ( especially in the last year or two what with all those Japanese Car-BQ episodes lately )

      Apple vs ( paranoid ) Android ? Apple iPhone wins the features / reliability / quality/ durability battle hands down , with Apples Customer Service being second to none ( ” Hello ? Android Customer Service ? You’re where ? New Deli ?? )

      But to return to the GLI . From experience I can guarantee you the only thing worse than VW-Audi’s reliability/durability is the run around you’ll get from the VW – Audi Customer Advocate ( sic ) service

      So ….. I’d pass on this

      • 0 avatar

        My Mac is going strong in its seventh year. That has never been the case with any PCs or VWs I’ve owned.

      • 0 avatar

        My wife’s ThinkPad is still going strong at 8 years old, though last year it got relegated to secondary laptop status.

        Business grade laptop != consumer grade laptop.

      • 0 avatar

        Obviously everyone’s experiences will differ (just like German cars)…but if you look up recent surveys of products like the study by Squaretrade in 2009, Apple is, at best, mid-pack in terms of reliability and at worst, it is dead last (when you listen to tech support guys working for corporations). I agree Android has zero customer service, in fact, that was my point. Part of Steve Jobs genius was to recognize that service is a golden opportunity to get customer loyalty…in essence, it turns what was a losing proposition (your unreliable product) into a winning tactic. This is something that German car companies have fundamentally failed to grasp.

        I also question your claims of German reliability. I have not yet met one person with a Mercedes SUV that doesn’t hate it after 18 months because of the problems (something that both CR and TrueDelta agree on). And your vague reference to Japanese Car-BQ doesn’t really make sense unless you are counting the fact that people are too stupid to make sure their floormats aren’t stuck under their brake pedals.

  • avatar

    “at the dumbed-down, embiggened and encheapened Kraut-rolla the once-sprightly Jetta has ballooned into”

    I believe the NCS Jetta is actually a fair bit lighter (like, 300lbs less) than the old MkV and about as much as the MkIV, despite being able to fit actual people in the rear seat, which the MkV barely managed and the MkIV most certainly could not.

  • avatar

    Here’s hoping that the Dart R/T delivers.

    I’m not going back to VW.

    Also, went back and forth from Kia to VW 4 times before I realized what you’d done.


  • avatar

    a nicely positive but still fair review. I acutally like the car and fell that VW does things better when done simply. They get into trouble most often with overambitious engineering efforts.

    Being a former jetta owner, I’m interested in your take on the touchscreen radio, which I did not like becuase you had to take your eyes off the road to operate it.

    • 0 avatar

      I know I would not like to have the touchscreen in any car I’d buy. I try to use my friend’s touchscreen and I have steady myself even while riding in the passenger seat and then stabbing the darn thing is just cross-worthy.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendan McAleer

        It’s fiddly. I programmed it to my favourite station and didn’t touch it once, as it’s hard to navigate while on the move; especially so if you’re driving the car as it clearly wants to be driven. Also, the exhaust-note is good enough to throw the stereo out the window.

  • avatar

    Brendan, would you mind sharing what axle back system you ultimately chose for your Scooby?

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      A Maddad Whisper 2.5″ single-tip axleback, STi mid-pipe and a Rocket Rally 3″-2.5″ downpipe. Probably leaves 5-10hp on the table over a 3″ turbo-back, but is worth it for the stealth (I also painted the canister back). The car has a VF-35 in it.

  • avatar

    Three exhausts? You should have just bought a Stromung first.

  • avatar

    B Mc, do you find that the Rio5 looks like a SEAT?

  • avatar

    Nice-looking car. The Jetta, too.

    I’d consider the Jetta if it didn’t have a VW electrical system.

  • avatar

    Smooth move with the Rio there.

    Not surprisingly they bear similar profiles, given that the guy who designed the car was a design chief at VW and Audi from 1994-2005.

  • avatar

    This review is now among the site’s classics. I reckon the ttac shadow of Jonny Lieberman applauds.

  • avatar

    A few of my friends bought E39s when they were new. They adored them on the test drives. They were anxious for delivery. They talked about them almost constantly for a week or too. One of them planned on buying a weekend home to keep his new 528i at while freeing up space for an M5 in the city. Then stuff started going wrong. The guy I talked into an M5 over a used Ferrari blew up the clutch in two weekends. The 528i lover got sick of warning lights and dealer excuses. The design of the E39 was great, but the execution was garbage. Looking at this anonymous and dated car, I can believe that it will sabotage its owner’s life like an E39, but that alone does not an E39 make.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, my Dad had an E39 530i and a Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T, zero problems during the 4 years of ownership.

      • 0 avatar


        Similar experience with the e39 as well. I owned a ’99 528 sport from 2002 – 2010. I had one repair I had to pay for during the first 4 years I owned it, however at about 105k miles, window regulators failed on 3 of the windows ($500-$600/each) and other electrical issues popped up. Great car, though.

    • 0 avatar

      On the one hand, I find it incredibly satisfying to watch boisterous European car snobs eat crow.

      On the other hand, after owning three increasingly dreary Hondas, I decided I wanted a car I actually enjoyed driving. The Accord has become a barge, the new Civic is a piece of junk, and the new Si makes me take back all the nasty things I said about the last Corolla XRS.

      Honda sucks now; I’m content taking my chances with VW.

      • 0 avatar

        I think we’ve all left the Honda family, aside from a few Fit owners. Hell, I went to Mazda (Miata, Mazda2) and Ford (08 Mustang GT).

        I don’t think I’d go to VW though. They do have a swagger about them, but I hate paying to fix things that shouldn’t be breaking.

    • 0 avatar

      I run an ’02 530i manual as a daily driver. The cooling system has been replaced in its entirety – some parts twice.

      Right now I drive around with all sorts of weirdness going on in the instrument panel. The effects of the recession means that I have to live with it for a while longer.

  • avatar

    Excellent review, but we really need a new feature here at TTAC: 2012 VW Jetta GLI; 3+ Years Later

    Then we’ll know if VW has achieved Toyonda-level quality. Or not.

    • 0 avatar

      Most drivers don’t need Toyonda-level quality — merely average (by current TrueDelta standards) is sufficient for most drivers. Look at the numbers for “average” and it’s really not bad at all.

  • avatar

    Nice work Brendan – a very creative and informative review. I would also have to agree with your conclusions – its a great car but I know better then to trust VW again.

  • avatar

    I’ve asked this before, but it never gets old: Is that a hood prop rod on a $30k car?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard two schools of thought on this:

      a) A $30k car shouldn’t have a prop rod; it’s ‘better’ than that.


      b) The market demographic for the XYZ car doesn’t lift their own hoods anyway, so what’s the difference?

      I’m a wrench-turner, but I prefer no prop rods. I think it’s debatable whether a prop rod is actually cheaper.

  • avatar

    Minor epiphany: The mistrust of VW reliability is similar to how people felt about Hyundai ca. 1998, except that their respective trends are going in opposite directions today.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Good point, but the question is, has VWoA made anywhere near the efforts that Hundia made to erase that perception?

      When I see almost new VWs sold as CPOs buy dealers who advertise that the resulting warranty is “better than new” (which it is, because the 2-yr. comprehensive CPO warranty tacks on to the end of the 3-year new car warranty), I kinda wonder.

      • 0 avatar

        All VW has to do is offer a ten year, 100,000 mile warrant (just as the later Hyundai dealers did) and they would have MILLIONS of new buyers… of course, VW NEVER would offer such a warranty, as they would lose MILLIONS of dollars from all the repairs! Assuming, of course, that the dealers didn’t just blow-off all the owners, which seems to be VWoA current policy.

  • avatar

    “Then, on the drive home, you completely. Ruin. Everything.”

  • avatar

    “Fans of the German marque are appalled”

    For me, that was the case when VW first started de-contenting and vanillizing their product, but honestly, it’s gotten to the point where I’m not only not appalled, I just stopped caring and paying attention altogether. They have slipped off of my screen of cars to consider buying. They are clearly not cars built for enthusiasts anymore, so enthusiasts will eventually stop caring.

    • 0 avatar
      Franz K

      Yet for some reason , just like with their sister , Audi , the silly things just keep on selling . Go figure !

      • 0 avatar

        That’s ok, I understand the business case for their move. I don’t think it’s the right one for the long term as they are eroding the qualities that made them stand out in the first place, but clearly the current sales numbers makes opinions like mine irellevant!

    • 0 avatar

      What are you going to buy instead? Honda? Hyundai? Ford? Used BMWs? Please.

      I’m going to laugh when “enthusiasts” run out of brands to buy as manufacturers continue to cater to people who actually buy new cars, instead of people who merely complain on the internet.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s when we make our own cars.

        Most will be compact-ish station wagons, with manual transmissions, connected to clean emission diesel mills capable of combined 40mpg city/highway, with all wheel drive with a rear wheel bias under all but the most challenging conditions.

        There will more cargo and people volume than there is in many highly priced, curvaceous SUVs/CUVs, with generous rear seat leg room, the cars will be a model of reliability and easy to work on and mod for the wrench turners, and there will be all the equipment one needs, and none that one doesn’t.

        Priced at just $14,900 for the base model, or $18,900 in full trim, it will be true value.

        I may just buy a Skoda Yeti diesel manual, now that I think about it (no, I won’t, since it’s not sold in the U.S. – drats!).

      • 0 avatar

        No, we’ll just keep buying cheap new appliance cars for daily driving and snapping up cheap used project cars on the side.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Great writing, Brendan.

    I want this car. It’s a nice balance of fun and utility. The interior is nicely updated from cheapo Jettas. In dark colors it looks expensive and tasteful. And I like a sporty car that can cruise in comfort & quiet when wanted.

    I’m OK with One Car in German Flavor, please. The proportions are right and the looks won’t wear thin. Your Rio ambush didn’t fool me for a second!

  • avatar

    Great review Brendan. I know all about terrifying my reluctant-passenger inlaws.
    On another note; you get ‘91.3 The Zone’ in Vancouver? I thought it was a Victoria radio station?

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    This is a really, memorably good review.

    I’ve noticed two things on every GTI/GLI I’ve driven: lightish and numb steering, and a reeeally long clutch throw. Throws the whole thing out of whack for me (first world crisis!).

    Any better on the Mk.6?

  • avatar

    Great review. I’ve had my GLI for three weeks and my impressions pretty much match yours. The conservative (but very German) styling was actually a selling point for me and most people think it looks more expensive than it is. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about the wheels in particular. In the eyes of regular people, VW still carries a bit of a premium aura, without the social climbing D-bag stigma of a BMW or Audi. Great car for impressing girlfriends or coworkers while simultaneously not annoying potential father-in-laws or showing up your boss.

    It also should attract cops a lot less than my old Mustang did, although it’s still very easy to speed in this car. I’ve set the speed warning on the multi-function display to go off when I exceed 70 MPH on the drive to work, just in case.

    For me the car’s a perfect balance of economy, practicality and fun. As for the whole VW reliability thing, I decided it was worth the gamble. Sure I could have bought another Honda and probably never had to fix a thing on it in 10 years, just like the ’02 Civic I traded in. But then again my Civic was a soul-sucking penalty box and the new one’s even worse. I’ll deal with a few extra repairs if it means a more enjoyable ride. However, I’m also fully prepared to dump the car the first time it breaks once the powertrain warranty runs out.

  • avatar

    Great review, very nice work.

    I want a GLI, but … would never go back to VW after what I went through with my B5 Passat.

  • avatar

    I want to like the Jetta…I really do. It would fit the type of car my mother is looking for perfectly…subtle, relatively simple in design, and entertaining enough to not be as boring as her 2003 Corolla. But then I remember it’s a VW…and that she keeps cars for 10 years…and doesn’t do well with “problem” vehicles. That’s about the time I decide to not recommend it to her. Sad, really…

  • avatar

    As good as the GLI is I still MUST get the GTI instead. Hatchback FTW. I too was burned by a B5 Passat but I am really starting to see a trend that VW reliability has been improving. Regardless, I want something fun to drive this time and there aren’t a lot of choices in the fast, fun, hatch/wagon w/auto tranny category that are made by reliable manufacturers. I am willing to take the risk again knowing full well what I may be in for. Besides, if it turns out to be a lemon I can just sell it and get something else.

  • avatar

    Bottom line… almost all of us think this is a good car. But whether or not any of us would be willing to own one comes down to individual believe about whether the VW ownership experience is going to bite you in the ass or not. Pushing out good product is one thing, but if they truly want to lead North America, they will have to do something to get people over the reliability (perception or not) hurdle.

  • avatar

    More expensive than competition… check.
    Less power than competition… check.
    Less reliable than competition… check.
    VW brand premium… check.

    I’ve only met one kind of people who own VW’s: happy owners. Because everyone else has had a Jetta/Golf/Passat/Beetle (including me) that was such an intolerable POS that they moved on to other car brands.

  • avatar

    I like the metric only speedometer. Reminds me of the ’85 Jetta diesel I drove when I lived in Ontario and also reminds me of my brother’s B4 Passat TDI. I thought VW was using metric/imperial speedometers for everything now so that’s kind of a neat thing in my opinion. I love the looks of the GLI, too bad it already has questionable rattles at 2200 kms.

    • 0 avatar

      VW and Audi generally use European gauges for Canadian models, so the speedos only have km/h, and warning lights are icons rather than the text ones (“CRUISE”, “BRAKE” etc) on the US models.

  • avatar

    Thanks for a great read! Best-written article I’ve read in a long time.

    My first non-junker at 18 was an ’84 GLI (yes, I put bazookas in the trunk), and your review brought back some great memories. I may have to visit the VW dealer for a test drive.

    hmmm… I hope they fixed the leaking windshield…that leaked directly onto the fuses/relays…that left me stranded whenever it rained…

  • avatar

    OK, great review and it has started me thinking. i have a 2008 GTI, had the DSG recall done and a PCV valve replaced under warranty. I now have 61K miles and I’m starting to worry. The car has been great, 28-30 mpg, fun to drive and all but – there’s that BUT again. I change my own oil and really VW, could you have at least cut an access panel (like the wife’s Highlander)to get the filter – but NOOOOOOOOOOOO, I have to unscrew 12 torx screws and wiggle the whole bottom cover out. That and requiring premium gas, Mobil 1 0-40 – 9 bucks a friggin quart. And even though I’m in my 50’s – my insurance is higher than the wife’s Highlander which cost 11K more!

    I wonder about the bang for the buck, is it a time bomb waiting to puke it’s guts on the highway or just get me a reserved seat in the dealer’s waiting area each month. I missed getting the updated 2.0 motor by a few months so mine has the rubber band timing belt instead of the chain. That is a known expense coming up too.

    Keep or sell? What to do……

    • 0 avatar

      Why sell a car that hasn’t given you any trouble? Shop around for deals on other oils that meet the VW specs. Try the BITOG forum to look for coupons and rebates.

    • 0 avatar

      Sell before timing belt is due. Crap is expensive.

      • 0 avatar

        As expensive as a new car payment? So do you always sell your cars before any major maintenance items come due?

        FYI – The parts for a timing belt job on a 2008 GTI are under $275 and that was the most expensive that I found. Most kits on ebay were under $150.

      • 0 avatar

        Add in that labor. Parts are pretty cheap for timing belt replacement kits. Also, a prudent owner would go ahead and get all the seals behind the timing belt done as well such as a cam seal, main, and water pump. It adds up pretty quickly and by the time the car needs this maintenance, it’s about to hit full depreciation around the 100k mark. Tires and brakes are next. Then, with most cars, the dreaded AC repair is coming around the 120k mark.

        Not sure if the numbers work. Depends on the person I suppose.

  • avatar

    With the first Jettas just being Rabbits with trunks, I never really saw them as anything outside of budget cars.

    These new ones at least don’t look like budget ca… oh wait they look like Kias. Nevermind, I see the problem.

    Didn’t the Kia and Jetta have the same designerstylist or something?

  • avatar

    Update – I just spoke with my service guy at the dealer (yeah, dealer) cause they’re good and stand behind their work. Anyway, the timing belt service, includes more stuff than just the belt, bottom line, $1,175.00 out the door. Not as bad as I thought and I still have 35-40K miles to decide.

    • 0 avatar

      The kits I found include the water pump, rollers, etc… Your mistake is taking it to the dealer for this work. Buy the parts yourself online and take to a reputable indy mechanic and save hundreds of dollars. Although, that price might not be too bad depending on what all they are doing. If that includes a coolant flush, water pump, oil seals, gaskets, belts, hoses, etc… it might be a good price.

      A car still costs money to keep running after the payments stop and this cost isn’t out of line.

      • 0 avatar

        I remember my SVT Focus was $740 to do timing belt, water pump and every imaginable seal that was accessible. This was at a third party shop. I assume a VW is about the same.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s the secret to happy VW ownership –
        Don’t take it to the VW dealer, go to the forbidden forest on the second full moon of spring, then find the secret trap door in the roots of ‘Old Man Oak Tree’.

        But first, be sure to have brought a bottle of Oban Scotch because you’re going to need it as a gift for the wood-gnome that you’re going to meet inside that secret door.

        Once you have given the gnome the Scotch and made love with him three times in silence, he will fix and maintain your VW. If the wood gnome is wearing an eye patch and drooling tobacco juice you’re at the wrong tree. Continue your quest elsewhere.

        People who have bad experiences with VWs just don’t know how to maintain them properly.

      • 0 avatar

        Is there a FAQ/Sticky on vwvortex about how to properly seduce the gnome? I was thinking of buying a Corrado.

      • 0 avatar

        The gnome will work on Corrados for free, because they’re so sweet.
        I too have a Focus SVT. We rule.

  • avatar

    Great review. I’m glad to see this sort of unbiased review, whereas most other reviewers focus on decontenting and on plastic interior parts. I guess those reviewers have never been in a Honda or in a Toyota.

    The 2012 Honda Odyssey Touring I paid north of 40k for has a lot of plastic for a van that expensive, so I don’t see what the issue is about the GLI.

    I recently replaced my 2006 Accord, and I pretty much looked at every car which offers a good driving experience and/or has a manual transmission which costs between 20-35k.

    When it came down to the GLI, TSX, or a outgoing 2011 328i, I like everyone else gave pause to think about the reliability I perceive VW to have.

    Then I realized – judging a brand by perception of reliability these days seems to be an idiot’s gambit. Is the factory in Mexico where robots assemble GLIs/Jettas really that much different than the factory in Alabama where Hyundai robots assemble Sonatas, or the BMW factory in SC where SUVs are assembled by robots?

    The playing field is increasingly level for vehicles assembled by a high level of automation. Since the GLI is one of those, and since VW is staking their entire fortune on changing their perception in North America around reliability, I feel pretty good about the odds my experience owning a 2012 GLI will be a positive one.

    I recall in 2006 when my mother needed a new car, I advised she purchase the newly redesigned Hyundai Sonata. She had the same perceptions of low quality and inferior product that most others had, but I told her they seem to be turning the corner, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her new Sonata turned out to be as reliable as my new Accord.

    Turns out the Sonata was the better car than my Accord. While I drove it like it would never break down, by 90k I had around 7k of post-warranty repairs (thankfully covered by GEICO).

    I love the GLI, and I think they really nailed this car right. Had they offered Xenon lights and LED tail lamps, it would’ve been perfect. That’s my only complaint.

    • 0 avatar

      You are making the mistake that many others make in assuming how or where a car is assembled makes has the biggest impact on reliability. I would argue that it is the parts quality and engineering that has the most to do with long term durability. This was also confirmed with my last VW experience where none of the parts failures had to do with how they were installed. My VW was assembled in Germany if that makes any difference which it doesn’t.

      • 0 avatar


        I do agree, though I wouldn’t have until recently.

        Modern high volume assembly truly involves ‘plugging in’ modular components using common tools and substructures, requiring little technical skill on a relative basis.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think I’m making a mistake. I trust automation to assemble a better end product, regardless of where the robots and assembly takes place.

        I don’t think Hyundai engineers a better or more durable car than VW.

        I do think Hyundai relies on technology far more than any other manufacturer, thereby improving reliability/durability.

        I also think the parts in a VW are not much better or worse than the parts quality or engineering in Honda, Toyota, Kia, Ford, etc.

        If I told everyone in 2005 that Hyundai would have better reliability and perception of reliability in 2012 than Honda and Toyota, I’d be put away.

        VW is relying on growth in North America the next 10-15 years, because they expect flat to negative growth in Europe and slow to no growth in Asia. I am placing my bet they are taking reliability seriously and that these newer cars will fare better than they have in the past.

      • 0 avatar

        Well in the past VW parts quality and engineering was not nearly as good as Toyota, Honda, etc…

        Google- VW ignition coil packs, MAF sensors, ABS modules, 1.8T sludge, control arms, tie rod ends, window regulators, B5 vacuum lines, EGR valves, etc… I had many of these issues with my B5 plus a few more, and they had nothing to do with assembly method. It’s all parts quality and engineering.

  • avatar

    The GLI is the only Jetta that I would buy over its Golf/Sportwagen counterpart. It would probably be my top choice if I were shopping in this price range.

  • avatar

    The key here is definitely finding a trustworthy independent mechanic. Doubly so if you go the TDI route since not even the dealers seem to have a clue how to do much with them.

    So why is it that we seem to have a choice between reliable but dreadfully dull cars or interesting but difficult to live with cars? At one time there seemed to be a plethora of reliable AND fun cars, but these days it seems like an impossibly small niche.

    I don’t mind trading some reliability for fun, but it seems all the really fun (and expensive) cars all have more problems. Why is that? It seems like enthusiasts would be more forgiving, but I see tons of stories here and elsewhere of people burned by VWs (or Audis, or Merc, or BMWs), which implies they’re even more critical.

    So is VW really that unreliable these days, or is the target audience just more critical? I’ve read reams of horror stories from Dodge’s dark days and yet those people by and large forgive them because that’s all they’re willing to drive. I see some of that in VW fanboys, but there’s a much bigger group that just drops them off at the crusher and goes to Honda.

  • avatar
    GTI Guy

    Two weeks in with my GLEE (thanks for that – may never get it out of my head) – guess I’ll need to change my handle, and take my 2000 GTI 1.8T off your records MK..

    Still haven’t responded to the dealer’s survey – waiting for the other shoe to drop and to see how they handle it, but I’m loving the car – along with the in-laws, the CEO, young engineers,FB friends, pre-school teacher, gas station dude – and yes, the wife.

    Was going to choose between the Diesel/stick Passat Unicorn (existing in theory, but nobody’s ever seen one) and the upcoming Fusion or Mazda6 – but got caught by surprise at the auto show, just as I had been with my last VW and the wife’s 2006 Mazda5. Took advantage of my paternity leave when the 3rd kid came, telling the wife I was going to look at a fire-sale 2011 Routan and the test drive sealed the deal – she didn’t argue (Mazda5 works just fine with 3, thank you very much..)

    Decent price through TrueCar and reasonable dealer experience locating and retrieving my car 150 miles away (only Platinum Grey AB in NE – although I had to pay a couple hundo for some rubber/plastic Appearance Pkg) – but ended up splurging $1500 in the end to extend the warranty to 7yrs. Good experience with the last car, but won’t have the Saturday’s free any longer to give it the attention it may deserve.

    Sent my old beloved GTI to a good new home courtesy of Vortex (he took an overnight train from B-More to Beantown) – was tough to say goodbye, but the GLI has healed those wounds quickly..

  • avatar

    Excellent article Brendan, one of the best I’ve read here. You captured the inherent “rightness” I feel every time I drive my MKIV GLI VR6 with 118K miles. The Force is strong with this one.

  • avatar

    Hi, all. Nice to be here – Lurked long enough.

    I have had VWs, and while I understand some of the reliability complaints, there is a lot of urban legend out there. Dealers are a large part of it.

    My wife had a 2000 Passat GLS wagon – 1.8 with the Tip. We got the car in January of 2003, had it until May of 2010. It was a one (careful) owner car with 39,000 miles on it; it had 162,000+ when we traded it in.

    Yeah, we did the front control arm thing, the timing belt replacement, replaced a couple of Kombi valves and the secondary air pump the bad valve took out, and I put a remanufactured ABS controller into it right befor trading it in, but really, that’s a lot of time and a lot of miles, and it was a great car to drive and live with every day right up until the end, and it never burned a drop of that expensive 0W-40 Mobil 1. Yeah, we bought an extended warranty.

    At the same time period, I owned (still own) a 2003 SVT Focus, like a couple others who have posted here. Bought that new and will turn over 100,000 miles any day now. Great car, but it had the dual-mass clutch issue at 34,000 miles (replaced under warranty), rear wheel bearings, both seat heater elements went bad, it needed a new head unit, one heated mirror went out and just a month or so ago I replaced the gauge cluster. So it was no more trouble-free than the VW – but again, that’s a lot of miles, and again a fine driving car.

    Would one of the 4-wheeled Sominex tabs from Toyonda have been better, reliability-wise? Probably.

    My 3-season car now is 2011 GTI Autobahn. Stage I APR chipped.

    It’s fabulous. I have driven lots of new cars in the past year, and nothing drove like this thing, or felt like it, until I got to the $45k+ level. 13k miles now and no issues, unless you count a screw in a tire. So I’ll chance the VW reliability legend, based upon my experience, because the cars are so nice to live with and drive great.

    Oh, and the Hyundai/Kia 2.0T is not making fully 25% more hp than the VW 2.0T – everyone knows VW’s turbo fours are making more than rated crank hp at the wheels, and have been, for the last 15 years. Inside Line’s Turbo Optima showed 234/239, and their GTI showed 203/214, on the same Dynojet (and both on 91 octane), so more like 13%. My APR flash gave me a Dynojet reading of 230/265, for $600. The VW 2.0 TSI is easily and cheaply chipped to any competitor’s power levels, and has way more support than they do.

    We shall see, but in the meantime I’m having a blast.

  • avatar

    Is this another one of those under-geared (therefore pointless) 6-spd boxes like my ’03 GLI had? 3200 RPM at 80MPH so I could feel the motor pull in 6th and waste 2-3MPG on premium fuel for the privilege? You can buy a Vette that gets 5 more MPG and 200 more HP….

    How many RPMs are you turning at 80MPH?

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