By on July 30, 2012

Remember 1985? If you were paying attention to cars, then the then-new Civic Si and Mk2 Jetta GLI were on your radar. Which did you prefer? For the 2012 model year both cars are again new. One of them has changed surprisingly little. The other, though it retains some choice bits, has perhaps lost the plot.

“Neither the Golf nor the Jetta is likely to win any styling awards…”

So reads Consumer Guide’s evaluation…of the Mk2 Volkswagens. The same has been said of the new Jetta. Yet there’s plain, and then there’s downright generic (especially in refrigerator white). The Mk2 Jetta wasn’t a beauty, but its square lines were clearly derived from Giugiaro’s iconic original Golf, and so were clearly those of a VW. The Mk6’s side view could just as well be that of a Toyota.

Yet the 2012 GLI retains more of its predecessor’s essence of than does the latest Civic Si. For one thing, the GLI’s body style remains the same, a four-door sedan, while the Si has morphed from a two-door hatch to a coupe, then back to a hatch, and then in the last two generations to a coupe and a sedan. Beyond this the third-generation Civic hatch was nearly as iconic as the original Golf, with a boxy tail that managed to both catch the eye (as a coherent element within the car’s sharp-edged, oh-so-Japanese styling) and maximize utility. The 2012 car’s exterior seems an unskilled knock-off of its predecessor, with a poorly executed side window outline, less elegant surfacing, and little in the way of identity.

The Mk6 Jetta is 10.5 inches longer than the old one (on a wheelbase that has grown by seven inches). The Civic has grown much more over the years, with nearly a foot increase in wheelbase and (postulating a 1986 Si sedan that wasn’t) a 14-inch increase in length. Even so, it remains nearly five inches shorter than the Jetta thanks to briefer overhangs.

“…interior furnishings are austere…”

Inside the GLI the flavor also remains the same, Mk2 to Mk6. Unlike in the regular 2012 Jetta, the instrument panel upper is squishy, but the interior’s appearance is no fancier aside from red stitching and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. The Autobahn Package’s seat upholstery is clearly derived from petroleum, with a rubbery texture. Ostensibly the front seats are “sport buckets,” but they don’t provide much lateral support.

Honda interiors used to be studies in minimalism, aesthetically, functionally, and dimensionally. For the last two generations, though, the Civic’s cabin has been dominated by a massive instrument panel. The bi-level gauge layout is the most obvious sign that Honda continues to innovate, and the series of lights as you approach the redline is very helpful. Still, the costs of this layout outweigh its benefits. The massive IP colors the entire driving experience.

Classic Civics were never paragons of interior quality, but the 2012 sunk the line to a new low relative to the competitors. Thankfully, the Si’s heavily textured black fabric, on the doors as well as the seats, improves the ambiance considerably. Between it and red stitching that matches the GLI’s inch for inch, the interior no longer seems terribly cheap. Unlike those in the GLI, the Si’s “sport buckets” are truly worthy of the term.

“…quite roomy for the exterior dimensions…”

The Mk2 Jetta had perhaps the most livable rear seat among mid-80s compact sedans. The Mk6 rear seat has legroom easily worthy of a midsize sedan. Perhaps it should, as its 182.2-inch length is nearly that of a midsize sedan. Though the Civic’s exterior is more compact, its rear seat is still easily roomy enough for adults, a big change from the 1986 hatchback. And the 1986 Accord sedan, for that matter.

“…a surprisingly large trunk…”

The Mk6 Jetta’s trunk is actually a little smaller than the Mk2’s, but at 15.5 cubic feet it’s still easily the largest in the segment. The Civic checks in at 12.5.

“…potent 4-cylinder gas engines provide brisk acceleration…”

Back in 1985, a 102-horsepower 1.8-liter engine qualified as “potent.” Over the years, the GLI’s engine has gained 200 cubic centimeters, eight valves, and a turbo, but its 200 horsepower risks being classified as weak compared to the 250-plus-horsepower fours that currently rule the segment. Word is that VW underrates this engine, and it certainly feels stronger than the official specs suggest. A plump midrange (thanks to the turbo), grumbly, somewhat boxerish engine note, and the automated dual-clutch “DSG” transmission’s firm, lightning quick shifts make the 2.0T mill seem plenty energetic in everyday driving.

The Civic Si is among the few other performance-oriented compacts that continue to get by with a mere 200 horsepower (the all-but-forgotten Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V being the third). The 1,944-pound original Si scooted along with a 1.5-liter four that, thanks to the rocket science of port fuel injection, kicked out 91 horsepower (vs. the carbureted Civic’s 76). With the 2012, the Honda’s engine has grown from 2.0 to 2.4 liters. Peak output is up by only four horsepower, but at 201 remains far above the regular Civic’s 140. Torque receives a healthier bump, from 139 at a stratospheric 6,200 rpm to a much more robust 170 at a more readily achieved 4,400. The engine still undergoes a major personality change when the “VTEC” cam lobes come into play around 4,000 rpm.

Grunt south of that mark remains far below that of the Jetta. If you don’t enjoy winding an engine out, the Civic Si isn’t your car. If you do, then you’ll find a more thrilling engine note and surge of power. You’ll also love one thing that Honda continues to do better than everyone else: the Si’s mandatory six-cog shifter feels tight yet slick, engaging as positively as a rifle bolt as you snick from gear to gear.

The Jetta might be larger, heavier, and torquier, but the EPA gives it a slight edge in fuel economy. The official numbers are low 20s in the city, low 30s on the highway with either car. I wasn’t able to observe fuel economy in the Civic. In suburban driving the GLI’s trip computer generally reported averages all the way from 22 to 32. As tends to be the case with turbos, the heft of your right foot makes a big difference.

“…well-tuned chassis components produce impressive road manners…”

The 2012 Jetta GLI doesn’t deserve this evaluation quite as much as the 2005 did. The harder you drive it, the better it feels, with commendable composure and precision. But it doesn’t feel especially agile or sharp. The curb weight difference between the VW and Honda is half what it was back when the latter weighed under a ton, but the Civic remains the lighter—and lighter-feeling—car, 2,906 vs. 3,124 pounds. The VW also feels larger, partly because it is.

The VW’s steering is numb. The Honda’s is number. The GLI’s wheel at least weights up as it’s turned. The Si’s has so little feel or even sense of direction that it requires constant corrections mid-curve. The standard limited-slip differential promises aggressive corner carving, but there’s no sense of carving anything through the Honda’s tiller. If the Si’s steering was half as good as its shifter, it’d be a deal maker. Instead, it’s the most likely deal killer. The 1986 didn’t have over-boosted power steering. Then again, it didn’t have power steering.

“The ride is firm, as you would expect in cars with German origins, but the suspensions are still compliant, even over broken pavement.”

The problem with the 2012 Jetta GLI is that, conversely, the more casually you drive it, the worse it feels. The suspension remains firm, but now to a fault. It’s not compliant over broken pavement. Also, the DSG transmission bumps about when creeping along in traffic and downshifts aggressively when slowing to a stop. Overall, the GLI feels disjointed in typical driving, as if it was initially designed for one purpose then quickly re-tuned for another. In contrast, when driven casually the Si feels as pleasant as—and almost as boring as—a regular Civic, if one with much improved damping. Until you take the engine over 4,000 there’s little sign of the car’s performance potential.

Back in 1985, the Jetta GLI started at $10,510, the Civic Si at $8,188. Cruise, power windows, and power locks weren’t standard on the VW, and weren’t available on the Honda. A pop-out sunroof (remember those?) was standard on the Honda. A conventional one added $350 to the VW. Over the years the cars have gained much standard equipment, including safety features available on few if any cars back in the mid-80s, and inflation has taken its toll. The 2012 Jetta GLI starts at $24,515, the Civic Si at $23,345. Adjust for remaining feature differences (such as the Honda’s still standard sunroof) using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and the Japanese car ends up over $2,000 lower. Add a sunroof (and the other contents of the attractively-priced $2,050 “Autobahn Package”) to the GLI and nav to both, and the price tags rise to $27,465 and $24,845 while the feature adjustment shrinks to only a couple hundred dollars, now in the VW’s favor. For the DSG transmission, which has no Honda counterpart, add another $1,100 to the VW.

The GLI and Si were two very different cars back in 1985. Over the years the GLI has gotten larger and much more powerful, but as we’ve seen its basic character has changed surprisingly little. The Si has also grown and gained horsepower, but unlike the VW has retained only traces of much-loved past Si’s (in the engine, shifter, and seats). Some changes have made the two cars more alike, but overall they remain very different. Which do you now prefer?

Volkswagen provided the Jetta GLI with insurance and a tank of gas.

Mike Ulrey at Honda Bloomfield (MI) provided the Civic Si. Mike can be reached at 248-333-3200.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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107 Comments on “Comparison Review: Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs. Honda Civic Si...”


  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    For me, no torque equals no joy. Give me the VW.

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      Different strokes for different folks. In theory I like a high revving explosion of power. In practice I can’t see myself really driving like that. I’d just feel like I was killing the engine. The Si sounds more fun, but I’d probably own the GLI.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      Want to clear up an error in this statement and one I hear almost every day. First off – all engines make torque (it is what they are designed to do – make mechanical energy usually in a rotating assembly). Frankly if an engine doesn’t make “no torque”, then it’s not an engine. Second – engines make torque but they are often designed to make their peak torque at certain RPMs. Heavier cars need more torque down low to make them move more efficiently – lighter cars can get by making peak torque at higher RPMs and amplify their horsepower output b/c of gearing. So let’s fix this…”no torque” with “no [low end] torque”.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        It is implied and generally understood that when someone says an engine has “no torque” that they mean it is low on torque or that it is not readily available low in the rev range. But thanks for the info.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        I understand its implied but the statement was still incorrect.

        I do have to ask if you’ve ever driven a 2012 Civic Si with the k24 in it? If you haven’t you will realize that engine has quite a bit of low end torque / much more than the K20 it replaced. If you’ve ever driven with that motor you’d likely change your statement. However that aside the VW engine with turbocharger makes more low end power b/c it’s tuned to do so. The Civic Si will likely be more fun to drive canyon carving as it’s much lighter and has an engine that likes to be taken to its redline. The VW more highway cruiser and around town as you have ample torque on the low end and don’t have to shift as much.

        Different strokes, different folks.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        I don’t believe there is a general misunderstanding of how engines produce torque. A gas engine torque between a very specific rev range and either stalls or cannot rev any faster. It’s all about the torque curve and that is very much profiled by the engineers. Regardless of car size or engine size and so long as the power to weight ratio is sufficient, a flatter torque curve makes for an easier car to drive, especially a manual. A car like the Honda Si will feel more sporty and require the driver to keep the engine revving higher than the GLI to get the same performance because it’s torque peak is at higher revs but it will not play well when you are done hooning about and just need to cruse.

      • 0 avatar
        acrimony

        Saying the car has “no torque” is an example of…wait for it…hyperbole. This is how people talk, and conversely, type.

      • 0 avatar
        acrimony

        Saying the car has “no torque” is an example of…wait for it…hyperbole. This is how people talk, and by extension, type.

      • 0 avatar
        oldfatandrich

        Torque or Torquemada—this is giving me a headache. You wanna talk torque, get thee to one of Rudolph’s creations. As a matter of fact, my headache is so severe that I’m going to the garage, firing up my S350 oil burner and letting those air-cooled seats message my fat arse.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “For me, no torque equals no joy. Give me the VW.”

      This is why the Civic comes with this gadget called a transmission…

      • 0 avatar
        cyberc9000

        Probably the dumbest comment on this page so far. Congrats.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        You still have to rev the crap out of the Si’s engine to get any torque. The transmission doesn’t change the fact that the engine is high strung and must be thrashed to get any torque out of it.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Using a Honda engine’s capability is not the same thing as thrashing it. I’ve been in Integras that have seen close to 200,000 miles of redline shifts and their engines are still smoother than those of the competition. As for people who complain about peaky powerplants in sporting cars, just get yourself an automatic transmission, some elastic waisted pants, and a sense of shame. That way you’ll know when to keep your failings to yourself.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Apparently, having an opinion or a preference is a “failing.” CJ, you might want to take your quality snark to YouTube comments.

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        Ubermensch

        > You still have to rev the crap out of the Si’s engine to get any
        > torque. The transmission doesn’t change the fact that the engine
        > is high strung and must be thrashed to get any torque out of it

        When you use the maximum low end torque (max boost pressure) of a turbo engine, you trash it just as much, both thermally (more injected fuel volume) and mechanically (higher forces to transfer). It only makes less noise so you automatically assume the engine it not thrashed. It’s a common fallacy.

        Regarding the cars – the Civic is a very good one. But the Jetta is the better one. Looks like a small Audi, too.

        Surely, soon the prognosed reliability will be discussed at lengths. In this class of relatively cheap to maintains cars it should not make any significant difference, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Mrb00st

        CJinSD: yeah, they run great. As in run through a quart of 5w30 every thousand miles.

        H22’s are worse though. My friend’s with 140k ran through a gallon of oil cruising from raleigh to charlotte at 70mph

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Michael, which one do YOU prefer?

      And would you take either one over the Focus or other direct competitors?

      • 0 avatar

        I prefer how a MazdaSpeed3 drives to either, but have issues with how it looks. I haven’t yet driven a Focus ST.

        If I had to choose between the VW and the Honda, I’d go with the VW largely because the Honda’s steering is awful. Otherwise it’d be a tougher call, with pros and cons roughly balancing out.

  • avatar
    felix

    For me steering is everything. So if I had to choose from these two cars it would be the GLI because the steering is less numb. But I’d much rather have a good hydraulic power steering – MPGs and leaks be damned

    • 0 avatar
      cyberc9000

      I, too, had to be dragged kicking and screaming from hydraulic power steering as not that many good cars offer it anymore. The electric steering in my Golf GTI is surprisingly communicable, though, and I imagine the GLI uses the same parts.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      There are good EPS power steering systems. Honda even makes one: my Fit uses EPS, and it’s not quite Mazda level, but it’s decent.

      I don’t completely understand why the Civic’s EPS is as it is, or why Mazda’s EPS implementations are, in turn, better still.

      • 0 avatar

        Skyactiv Mazdas might have EPS. But last time I checked Mazda used an electro-hydraulic system where the motor powered a hydraulic pump rather than directly assisting the steering.

        The Jetta GLI’s system is fairly good as such systems go. But I do prefer the more nuanced feedback provided by the hydraulic system in the 2.5.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Ah, I didn’t realize that it was electro-hydraulic. Thanks for that tidbit.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      How did Honda screw this up? The steering in the Accord is sublime, quick, nicely weighted and it talks to you. You’d figure that in a performance model, it would be even better. Weird.

      • 0 avatar
        ShoogyBee

        The 2008-2012 Accord still uses hydraulic power steering, whereas the 2012 Civic has EPS across the board. I drive a 2010 Accord LX and I have to agree, its steering is quite nice, albeit a bit too darty off center. I’d imagine that the upcoming 2013 Accord will have EPS, which would be unfortunate if it were true.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Regarding the Honda interior: Somewhere, a robotic driver is looking for his Johnnycab.

  • avatar
    cyberc9000

    The Civic has been a disaster for 10+ years now. The Jetta GLI is the superior car, hands down. In the end though, people should do what I did: walk past both and buy the Golf GTI.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      This or the Focus ST.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Ditto. Unless you MUST have the rear seat legroom, the GTI is a much better and more practical car overall.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Someone explain the assumption that all hatches are more practical than their sedan counterparts.

        Some are, but I don’t see it with the GTI. The cargo area with the back seats up is tiny. It has the measurements of a large trunk, but the space is mostly vertical. I don’t see how you can carry four people and luggage like that. With a sedan, you can usually find a way to stuff everything in the trunk. All the GTI seems to give you in practicality is the ability for two people to occasionally move crappy furniture.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      Our regular civic DX sedan is a blast to drive (2008 model) with the standard transmission. Disaster is subjective, I suppose.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The regular Civic (well, before 2012) had hydraulic steering. The Si, since ~2005, has been electric, and it’s been crippled by it as a result.

        It’s a shame, really, that the lower-spec car is in many ways more fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      Good selling compact 10+ years now, hardly a ‘disaster’. Also, they have recovered sales, #1 compact the past few months, since the earthquake and the snarky auto critics.

  • avatar
    PrivateTucker

    For me, I went with the GLI. I need a family car with lots of room, but also fun to drive on my daily commutes. Gas mileage has been great for what this car is, with fuelly.com recording an average of 31.7mpg with a best of 34.1 for 30 fill-ups.

    Tuning and aftermarket is also a great option if you’re looking into that as it shares many of the same powertrain parts as the GTI.

  • avatar
    mjal

    The VW is “…hands down the superior car…”? Does that include reliability? Please give VW a few years before that statement is made.

    • 0 avatar
      cyberc9000

      The MkVI Golf/Jetta has been around for nearly 4 years now without major issue. The MkV before that had one known problem with the cam followers, which resulted in VW granting a generous warranty extension of 10 yrs/120000mi on the affected areas.

      It’s been a long time since the days of MkIIIs and MkIVs falling apart left and right.

      • 0 avatar
        DasFast

        “Probably the dumbest comment on this page so far. Congrats.”

        I’d nominate your above comment about VW quality issues being in the past as the one that will take home the gold.

        While I’m happy to hear you are having a good experience with your VeeDub, I felt nothing but a profound sense of relief when my ’06 GTI went bye bye. And to answer a common follow up question; it was from the good factory in Wolfsburg.
        VW is producing bigger, dumber cars for the American market and is experiencing major increases in sales as a result. Unlike Subaru who is following a similar formula, Volkswagen does not have a reputation as relatively robust, pragmatic transportation much past warranty.
        It will be interesting to see if their current generation of cars live up to the expectations of a new demographic. While a car enthusiast can live with compromises in the name of driving pleasure, I’d guess the single Mom who’s been fleeced $500 for a 40k mile DSG oil change will not care that it changes gears in three tenths of a second with no interruption in power.
        I predict the current VW sales bubble will be followed by a large contraction after “Joe Consumer” has a few years experience living with their cars.
        On the bright side, when Mazda introduces it’s Skyactiv-D engine as promised, the waiting line for TDI models should shorten considerably.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    “Classic Civics were never paragons of interior quality…”

    I’m going to have to disagree with you there, Michael.

    Have you ever sat in or had the pleasure of utilizing the interior of a 1994 Civic EX (especially with the manual transmission), preferably in dark charcoal (i.e. black)?

    It was far and away the best in class at the time, and would arguably be the best in class today, based on ergonomics and quality of materials.

    It also had dial/switch operation that was of at least equal feel to anything BMW offered, and as a bonus, epic gauge layout & legibility, and extremely supportive bolstered seat comfort and snickety-snick stickshift perfection.

    And it was quick and- and the steering was PERFECT.

    If that car was sold new today exactly as it existed back then, I’d own one right now, and it’s the car that I regret selling most of all the cars I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Just not a fan of Jetta. Don’t trust their reliability. And the Civic has also gone down the drain. I’ve driven a 2007 Si sedan and it wasn’t much better than the 2000 Integra GS-R I had back then.

    Now what I really want to know is why would you buy either one of these clunkers if you can buy a base WRX for $25.5K with awd, 265hp and much more useful hatchback body? Yes, the fuel economy is a bit worse but considering everything else it’s a small price to pay.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Some buyers may be turned off or averse to AWD, but I do agree the Subbie is better value for the money against both Civic/Jetta.

    • 0 avatar
      cyberc9000

      Because it looks like a tumor.

      • 0 avatar
        Mzdaspd304

        +1

        “It’s not a toooomor.”

        -Arnold in Kindergarten Cop

      • 0 avatar
        Synchromesh

        Looks maybe important but only to an extent. Some of us care about content too and Subaru wins hands down in that department.

        Either way, it’s not like either of these cars is a great looker. The Jetta looks like a girlie blandmobile that it is and Civic looks so bad even the article author comments on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Grahambo

        Looks are subjective, but I find the WRX post-refresh to be a great — and special looking (in the best sense) — car in a way that the uber-boring GLI and GLI with their horrendous front ends and the just plain boring SI can only dream of. I may be in the minority on that. No denying its objective tperformance superiority, however.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Probably because the majority of US buyers prefer sedans, no matter how many of us hatchback owners (and I am one) suggest they offer greater utility. Also, the feature content of the Si and GLI exceeds that of a base WRX. Lastly, WRX insurance rates are not very friendly, thanks to all the hooning done by thousands of WRX owners over the years.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        “The majority of US buyers prefer sedans, no matter how many of us hatchback owners suggest they offer greater utility.”

        I’m getting awfully tired of hearing this argument. I’ve had four sedans and I’ve never found them lacking in utility unless I’ve needed to carry a large box or piece of furniture that’s too large for the back seat/trunk and yet small enough to still fit in the back of a hatch. That’s happened, oh, twice in the last 10 years.

        For everyday use, the trunk of my GLI offers much more usable space than the GTI with the seats up. Ditto on the Focus and almost all the other hatches/sedans.

        Ultimately, it comes down to which version I think looks better. I found the GLI to be much more attractive than the stubby GTI. I like the Focus sedan better than the hatch. I’d probably take an Imprezza/WRX hatch over the sedan. I loved the old 3 hatch; now both versions are unbelievably hideous.

      • 0 avatar
        Grahambo

        Looks are subjective, but I find the WRX post-refresh to be a great — and special looking (in the best sense of that phrase) — car in a way that the GLI and GTI (agree with Buick6 below tho, the GTI is stubby looking and has a horrendous front end so i so prefer the GLI between the V-dubs) and the just plain boring SI can only dream of. I may be in the minority on that, YMMV, etc. However, there is denying the WRX’s objective performance superiority, if you’re into that sort of thing. I do see where someone wanting to avoid the boy racer thing (which apparently I have not outgrown) would prefer one of the other options to the Rex.

  • avatar
    mikenem

    I’d take the Jetta. The styling has grown on me. A friend of mine just got an unmolested 95 Civic EX with 68k. Now that’s a proper Honda…

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      See my post above.

      It’s no exaggeration to say the black 1994 Civic EX 5 speed manual I owned was a remarkably well built, quick, fantastic handling car, with amazing interior quality.

      That it had ideal steering, amazing seats, perfection in its stick shift/clutch, and a gauge layout that was as good or better than anything from Germany was icing.

      These cars were that good, and on a somewhat related not, the EX version would regularly sell on the used market within days (if not hours) of being listed for sale.

      Exchange students at the University of Michigan were notorious for buying these cars without even attempting to offer less than full asking price for fear of losing out to the inevitable soon to follow full asking price offers, so they would have a fantastic car to drive during their student career at UofM, which was usually for undergrad + post grad, and often, they would bid as much for used EXs as new ones went for (especially since new ones were in critical short supply and had 20% dealer markups).

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        I knew many a friend/co-worker who owned and loved these cars, but everytime I shut the door of my buddy’s ’94 Coupe, I’d hear (and feel) that Pepsi-Can bang of the door closing. Then I’d notice that cheap, hard plastic of the dash and while the switchgear and cockpit were ergonimically sound, they felt plasticy and cheap as did the seating and the stereo.

        However, the Civic did drive well and that 5 spd was sure-as-hell fun to snick through the gears. It moved like lightning when you wanted it to, sipped gas nicely and was relatively easy to maintain, a plus when you’re a college student and delivering pizza is your temporary career.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        He must have had a different year, trim level or what not.

        I recall that car distinctly and fondly.

        Its doors shut with a vacuum-seal like ‘thwuppp’ and could be done with a gentle tug using one finger. They weren’t as nearly as heavy as a Benz, obviously, just precisely measured, fitted and sealed. And no, they didn’t have a tin quality, even while dashing through midwestern snow.

        The dash of my EX coupe had better dash material (it wasn’t hard plastic nor was it overstuffed vinyl padding) than almost any comparable car today.

        It tracked as straight as a laser, and there wasn’t a millimeter of play in the nicely weighted, properly large steering wheel.

        It was as well damped as a car could be.

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        > black 1994 Civic EX 5

        I still have a 95 Coupe. This was close to the highwater mark for imports, but the car isn’t modern by today’s standards nonetheless. I prefer the more straightforward controls on the generation before this one, and the cabin material of the generation that came after, but these are almost timeless cars. Almost, they’re quite noisy by modern standards. The lack of torque will throw out a lot of today’s younger drivers, but a surprising thing about those little 1.5 and 1.6l engines, they’re great on the highway. If you’re not doing mountains, there’s plenty of breathing room between 90 and 120kph; it’s not fast but neither does it seem like the engine runs out of breath.

        However, and this is very true…. you hardly ever seen Jetta’s from that era on the road anymore.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    The 2013 GLI with Autobahn package will offer HID headlamps, LED DRLs, a backup camera (if you get the nav system) and an ability to partially turn off stability control. I believe the intended competition for the GLI is less the Civic Si, but sporty sedans like the Infiniti G25, Acura TSX, and Kia Optima Turbo.

    • 0 avatar

      The Infiniti G25 is going away for 2013, and it’s not clear that the TSX will be sticking around. The Optima Turbo more directly competes with the Passat.

      As noted in the article, both cars are in between pedestrian compacts and high-performance ones. At some point the market will insist that the GLI employ a more powerful variant of the 2.0T, and at that point the car will have more direct competition.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Neither the Golf nor the Jetta is likely to win any styling awards…”

    ‘So reads Consumer Guide’s evaluation…of the Mk2 Volkswagens. The same has been said of the new Jetta.’

    Totally disagree with the CG. The lines on the new Jetta are so clean and the edges of the rectangle so subtley rounded that I’m shocked that Apple hasn’t tried to sue VW for copyright enfringement. Beautifully tasteful yet still sports some muscle to it.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, their comment was about the 1986 car, not the new one. I’m the one noting that most reviewers have described the current car as generic and bland.

    • 0 avatar
      deliverator

      I’m enjoying my 2008 Si coupe. The owner’s manual suggests shifting around 3500 to 4000 rpm during normal driving. Which is really fine once you get used to it. The engine revs up easily and sounds nice, except when loping along at 4k in 2nd gear, then it gets drony. But I only do that for maybe a distance of one block, going from one stop sign to another.

      Anyway I”m still having issues with the shifter. I beat myself up everytime I don’t get that nice snickety snick engagement with the lever, like it’s something I’m doing wrong. It’s the synchros, mainly 3rd and 4th gear. Second is no problem. Last week I started using some of hte suggestions posted in another thread, and they’ve been working, but do I really need to double clutch on upshifting for the rest of my life?

      I plan to try tonight to let the engine revs drop way, way down when upshifting before movign the lever and then match the revs properly when letting out the clutch, see how that works. It’s a hassle though, and feels like the car is coasting for too long.

      Sigh.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed Spaniel

      “The lines on the new Jetta are so clean and the edges of the rectangle so subtley rounded that I’m shocked that Apple hasn’t tried to sue VW for copyright enfringement. Beautifully tasteful yet still sports some muscle to it.”

      I couldn’t agree more. To my eye, the design is about perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I agree. To me, this is one of the best-looking cars available right now. That only suggests it isn’t ugly, but I’ll actually say it looks good. The Civic could look tolerable with a decent set of wheels. I don’t think I’d ever enjoy looking at it though.

      So that, combined with the analysis of the steering – Mazda driver here, I don’t accept uncommunicative steering! – makes me think I’d choose the Jetta over the Civic. I rarely drive casually in the city, so I can probably tolerate the suspension. A true limited slip diff would be great for winter though. Whatever cheap electronic substitute the Jetta has would probably disappear when I yank some fuses to eliminate electronic interference.

  • avatar
    jaje

    My Gripe on Honda’s Inability to Build a Great Hatchback

    Honda ruined its hot hatch image with bad management. Over the course of 20 years the Honda Civic Hatchback was a lightweight, great handling sporty car with actual utility. In ROW markets this hatchback came with the best engines and flourished. In the US Honda never gave it the engine it deserved and only put in the venerable b16a (DOHC VTEC) in minimal market appeal of the Del Sol VTEC and then only in the 99-00 Civic Si Coupe did the chassis get the engine it deserved. Honda didn’t want its Civic to have performance of its Acura platform mate. It is also the reason why the CTR was never brought over here.

    Then Honda again made an even bigger mistake with the 01-05 Civic Si hatchback. It could not compete with its Acura platform mate so it got the inferior K20 engine. But worse…it got substantially heavier, it went to Mac Strut suspension with little tuning, it came with 15″ economy car wheels and terrible tires, it came with standard brakes and no LSD. Enthusiasts walked away from this car and went to the SE-R or SVT Focus or Celica GTS. However, in Europe and Japan the Civic Si / Type R was given the appropriate bits and again sold well to enthusiasts.

    I honestly think that Honda assumed the US market doesn’t like hatchbacks when in fact it was Honda’s poor leadership is why it failed and Honda only thinks US buyers want sedans and coupes only.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    I bought a new Civic Si sedan in 2007. During the test drive, wringing-out the VTEC felt and sounded great. A few thousand miles later, the reality of living with this engine was a rude awakening. It was impractical to thrash the car into hig-rev ranges in day-to-day, normal driving. Without hammering on the engine and clutch, the car was awfully weak. I might have enjoyed this car if my daily commute included a race track and play time!

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the 2012 Si has much more torque than yours did, just not nearly as much as the Jetta.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I keep hearing people say that, but cannot figure out why. Hondas 4s are so smooth revving that I cannot see why a few revs are so offputting. Or maybe I’m just damaged by motorbikes; or a youth spent freeway driving in 3rd and 4th, to be ready in case someone “challenged me.”

      Anyway, I find it much more bothersome to be lurking around at 1500rpm, with driveline lash, slow acceleration, no engine braking, and especially an automatic futzing around with stuff every time a need a single additional horsepower to accomplish something.

      And if social responsibility is your thing; it’s much easier to drive consistently close to the guy in front of you if you have some revs on the engine. Which, in overclogged SoCal, means more cars across any given line at any given time, less incentive for ricers and other yahoos to sverve in front of you, more cars across per green, etc. All in all a win-win….

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        It’s partly an irrational aversion to high revs (oh no it’ll blow up!), and I think part of it is simply variations in the frequencies people can hear.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    If you take into account model drift, today’s Civic is really the Accord of old and the Jetta would make a nice argument against the original Passat. So the argument that this isn’t like the Si’s of old… well, yes, that’s because there isn’t a Fit Si in the lineup. Today’s Si is something different altogether, discounting the interior, it’s closer in product space to the Integra GSR sedan.

    Actually, the Si Sedan is a pretty good deal in the Honda/Acura lineup. It basically kills the whole ILX lineup by offering more performance at a cheaper price, it’s an affordable downmarket first gen TSX. Those of us who buzzed around in hot hatches in our youth reaaaaaallly don’t want to be doing that now that we are firmly in our adulthood, so the existance of the Si sedan is pretty welcome.

  • avatar
    carguy

    If the GLI would have Honda reliability then I would already own one but in manual form not DSG. Its not overly sporty but makes for a great commuter. If it only wasn’t for the VW dealer/reliability curse.

    It’s sad to say but there isn’t really much reason to consider the Honda. If you want a sport compact then a Focus ST or WRX are simply superior choices.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      > there isn’t really much reason to consider the Honda

      Civic, around $23k, Focus ST is starts $24ish, WRX around $26K. The Focus still has two more trim levels, and the REx interior is downmarket in a different way than the Civic.

      But you Yanks have it better than us with the flatter pricing differences. The differences are much more marked north of the border. In CDN, the Civic is about $27k, the base WRX is above $32k. Add 12% tax on top of that and you’re talking the difference in either a few extra mortgage payments.

  • avatar
    daviel

    With reliability and expense of repairs, I can’t imagine anyone buying a VW over a Honda – any model

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      There is more to choosing cars then simply buying ones that don’t break. It is just one of the factors that has to be weighed and on any given day some may chose one over the other.

  • avatar
    spyked

    It’s all about culture. I like these comparisons. It is so interesting to see how different cultures approach the same basic concept. Sometimes the plan of attack is similar, often times, couldn’t be more different.

    For actual buyers (esp “car-guys”)though, these don’t offer much help. People simply don’t cross-shop Euro brands vs. Asian brands. The cultures couldn’t be more different, and the cultures/desires of the buyers are worlds apart too. Just look at the styling – Euro cars, and VW’s in particular, are about aging well and looking good in 20 years (Jetta is this century’s Volvo 240?). Civics have always been about attracting those I.T. guys that want the scalpel handling and flashy/Tokyo style design.

    Again, great to compare, but in reality, a Honda shopper doesn’t set foot in a VW showroom, and vice versa. Could you imagine what would happen to a Honda guy if he showed up in the parking lot with a VW? He would have NO friends!

    • 0 avatar

      Makes sense, but the data do not support this. On TrueDelta we track which cars people compare. The top ten list for the Jetta is mostly composed on non-European cars. And the only European cars are other VAG products. Sidebar here:

      http://truedelta.com/Volkswagen-Jetta/specs/2012

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      For the mainstream cars, you are probably right, although with VWs recent “repositioning”, that may be changing.

      The performance models are different. Many, many prospective Si or Gti buyers are cross shoppers. Heck, people used to cross shop the Si, the Gti, and the Neon performance model back in the day.

      • 0 avatar
        spyked

        See, I’d think the mainstream cars are maybe the ones that compete across all cultures. The base Jetta and new Passat especially. What’s the difference between a U.S. Passat and a Camry or Taurus? Not much anymore. Especially now that Passat is built in TN, USA. They are going for the same customer. The red-stater with people or stuff to haul.

        I think it’s the more niche cars that are less cross-shopped as it seems the “drivers” out there know what they want in terms of brands (prestige, style, feel) before they even go car shopping. If you want a TT or S5, you might hit the BMW dealer or go look at a C350 Coupe, but I highly doubt a G37 coupe is on the list. Doesn’t fit the profile. At least thats how it comes across in my peer group and on the various forums. Not that 99% of the people on forums can afford the cars they dissing anyway, lol.

  • avatar
    Prado

    “The problem with the 2012 Jetta GLI is that, conversely, the more casually you drive it, the worse it feels. ” Try a base 6mt GLI to resolve your dislikes. No clunky DSG, Less harshness with -1 wheels. I was very impressed when I took one for a spin and think it would make a great daily driver.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point. Some suspensions manage decent ride quality even with low profile tires, but this isn’t one of them. One of the worst-riding cars I’ve sampled in recent memory, if still not in Evo territory.

      The DSG was less of an issue, and isn’t an issue at all in other VWs–it’s programmed for more aggressive shifting in the GLI. I’d go with the manual simply because I prefer a manual.

      • 0 avatar
        spyked

        I just wish VW would make the DSG STOP rolling backwards. I had a CC for two years and I loved it except the fact that it rolled back on the slightest incline. They even put a hill-hold button on the console because it rolls. I understand it’s really just an automated manual, not an automatic, but I agree with the quoted sentiment. For me, I prefer a manual or an automatic, not sure I’d buy another DSG style. Until they can make them behave better at stopped and slower speeds anyway. DSG really isn’t that cutting edge anymore. The ZF 8 speed traditional automatics in the Audis and BMWs are brilliant without the DSG drawbacks.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        “One of the worst-riding cars I’ve sampled in recent memory, if still not in Evo territory.”

        Maybe my standards are abnormally low since everything else I’ve owned has been a Honda or had a live axle, but I don’t think the GLI has a bad ride at all. I have the 18″s. Firm, certainly. But not harsh. Baruth even made a point of the GLI being a more compliant car on the highway than the GTI.

        If the GLI is really that bad, the Civic I traded on it must have been even more atrocious than I thought. The VW rides like a dream in comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        arun

        @ spyked

        Do you mean to say that the car rolls backwards even when you are pressing on the brakes? I mean if you are on an incline and not moving forward, then you were pressing on the brakes, right? and despite that, the car rolled backwards?!

        I am just trying to understand what you wrote there cos I have a CC too but I live in Florida where its practically flat so can’t test out what you are saying…

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        FromaBuick – I agree, Jack’s comments on the GLi when he did the 4 way VW comparison last year were quite positive about the GLi. So I am surprised by Michael’s comments.
        How do you find the steering? Do you agree with Michael on that?

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        mike – His assessment of the steering is about right. A little numb, but firms up towards the locks. “The harder you drive it, the better it feels” – that’s pretty apt. It corners pretty well, but not quite as well as the GTI I drove with a slightly firmer suspension and presumably the same steering.

        I recently drove a Jetta TDI with the hydraulic rack. Maybe it had more “feel” but it was too soft for that feel to translate into “fun.” Oddly enough, the shift linkage felt a little better.

        I don’t get all the hate for EPS. According to some of the comments here, the steering in the Accord I had a decade ago was the pinnacle of front wheel drive precision and feel. Yeah, it was pretty good, but not good enough to want to go back in time and relive those awful seats and 28 MPG highway from a four cylinder. Whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        spyked

        @Arun:

        Yes, you use the brakes when on a hill, however, in the CC with DSG, the car rolls back (or forward) when you release the brake before the gears or throttle “wake up”. You don’t notice it even in normal parallel parking. Makes parking much harder than it needs to be because you have to account for a couple of inches you’ll lose. In a traditional automatic, the car doesn’t roll, even if pointed up hill. In DSG, it’s really just a manual (that of course roll) until 1st gear clicks.

        Certainly not the end of the world, you get used to it, and plan for it. But for me, even after over 2 years, it was the one thing that put me off. Made me wish I got a 2009 CC when they offered the regular 6 speed auto with the 2.0T. The VR6 is only offered in 6 speed auto still, but I wanted 2.0T in 2010, so I was forced into a DSG.

        Good luck with yours! Great cars!!

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Personally I’ve never liked any Honda’s seat. No support under the leg above the knee. For that reason I’d be reluctant to buy any Honda, unless the price was good enough that I could install Recaros.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    I think comparing the photos accompanying this article sum it up exactly. One looks like a conservatively designed mini Audi, the other, ummm, well, donkey cart, comes to mind.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    As a three-time Honda owner, I considered the Civic Si for a whole ten seconds before buying my GLI. I just couldn’t deal with the hideous styling and stupid dash. Also, holy fender gaps, Batman!

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I have a question. On the photo. The Civic SI has it’s picture taken in front of a bunch of overgrown weeds. Did I forget to mention the ugly gray industial building? Then, there is the glare from the sun. Plus, the red is the Civic’s worst color. Is it possible to get a worse picture?

    Then, you find a nice middle class area with perfect landscaping in order to get a nice picture of the VW. And, you get that one in white. Clearly, you wanted a better picture for the VW.

    I smell bias. How can one trust all the negative comments on the Civic SI after the poor picture?

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Calm down, jimmyy. Based on past reviews, Michael hates the Jetta almost as much as hates the Civic. Both pale in his disdain for the new Passat.

      He’s hard on everything. Usually, it’s well-deserved.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      I wasn’t going to mention it, since I’m sure it wasn’t anything sinister, but yes, those aren’t the most flattering pictures of the Civic.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed Spaniel

      Eeek! The weeds pouring out of the interior shots of the dashboard gaps of the Civic are just hideous (but maybe an improvment).

    • 0 avatar

      In general, if the photos are bad it’s because I lacked the time and/or opportunity to take better ones, nothing more, nothing less.

      Honda doesn’t return my emails, so I get cars from a dealer. I don’t have as much time in the car when I have one from the dealer, so the photos are often rushed. I spent my time with the Si getting to a road where I could push the car, not angling for the best photos. The road in question is a good one because it includes a few curves and the buildings in the area are empty. Abandoned buildings often don’t have people maintaining the landscape around them.

      Reviewing a dealer car also means that the photos are taken at whatever time I happen to have the car, often mid-day when sunlight makes good shots difficult.

      Red is the color the dealer happened to have.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Does the GLI come with IRS?

  • avatar
    dwight

    Pass on both. I’ll go for the Focus ST.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      +1 for the ST. At least on paper for now. Until we get a proper review from anyone but the big car mags I’m holding out judgement on the ST. But on paper, man is that car sweet.

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    My son has to haul his college stuff from Dallas to Houston after summer break and we bought the GTI over the GLI. I think the GLI is wonderful (I had a MK-V), the German built GTI just has better attention to detail in the nooks and crannies, door panels fit better, the carpet fit better, it smelled better, rear trim better than in the Jetta’s trunk. The Jetta (on 17’s) did have a better ride and seemed a little quieter. That said the GTI is a blast to drive fast and the steering never disappoints. One more thing, what enthusiast lust after a 6 year old Civic Si, lots of lust for the 6 year old GTI.

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    The Jetta is definitely my choice between the two. I like the tailored look inside and out. Not unlike Audi’s before truck grilles, bleary eyed headlamps and broken taillights became the Audi mantra.

    The Civic looks like a Neon gone wrong with a dashboard penned by someone with a very short attention span.

    However, I’d rather have Suzuki’s Kizashi for the same or less money.

  • avatar
    VerbalG

    With respect to steering, is there often variance within a make and model? I ask this because I’ve recently test-driven a 2013 Mazda3, 2012 Honda Civic SI sedan, 2013 Hyundai Elantra, 2012 Honda Accord, and 2012 Honda Civic SI coupe. Of these, I found that the SI coupe handled the best by far as far as cornering, and that the Mazda3 is vague in it’s steering. In fact, the Accord had more responsive steering then the Mazda(!) I did not expect this at all and made me wonder if (a) I got a “bad” Mazda, (b) 2013 is much worse then 2012, (c) as a non-expert driver I’m not pushing the cars the right way to find out, or (d) I’m smoking crack. Any comments/responses would be welcome!

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      e) Car preferences are subjective and you shouldn’t let what reviewers think sway your opinion. If you preferred the SI coupe, then buy that.

      I don’t drive too many different cars, but every once in a while I’ll drive a rental and wonder if I’m driving the same vehicle I read about or if the rental is somehow defective. So I know the feeling. Furthermore, read enough reviews and you start to wonder if the reviewers are all driving the same car.

      I have no idea whether steering calibration is actually different between samples of the same car. I guess you can’t rule it out; however, I think the most likely answer to why those cars drove differently than you expected is a difference of opinion. And your opinion is not wrong because you don’t have a racing license.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Back in 1985, a 102-horsepower 1.8-liter engine qualified as “potent.” Over the years, the GLI’s engine has gained 200 cubic centimeters, eight valves, and a turbo, but its 200 horsepower risks being classified as weak compared to the 250-plus-horsepower fours that currently rule the segment.”

    In 1985, 102 HP sure felt potent pushing maybe 2000 lbs of lead sled through a nicely atuned 5 spd manual. The new Jetta somehow still keeps this very appealing aspect, though will admit the Mk6 could use a bit more oompf. Suppose thats why VeeDub offers the GTi.


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