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The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta hits showrooms for the new model year with a big victory notched into its serpentine belt. Critics said the move away from independent suspensions, high-dollar interiors and premium pricing would cost it customers--but VW's beat that bet, and the Jetta's selling better than it has in a decade.
It's no stroke of luck, though. Careful planning and marketing have given shoppers a Volkswagen choice in the cheap-compact class for the first time in a long time, and in a grim economy, that means more people considering the brand. Budget shoppers care less that the Jetta’s rear suspension is an older, cheaper design that’s not fully independent, or that the cabin wears harder plastic than it has in the past. They look past the sluggish base four-cylinder and see the Jetta's much roomier back seat, essentially a body custom-tailored for American buyers, and features like a Fender sound system and Bluetooth to meet their more basic needs.
This year, VW's taken some steps to cater more toward the other VW buyers, the ones more obsessed with handling and heritage. The new GLI model's an instant favorite, with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, its soft-touch dash and its different, independent rear suspension. We're still enthusiastic about the TDI's 42-mpg fuel economy, especially in the SportWagen, which rides on the last-gen Jetta platform and still carries a torch for old-school VW interiors (and tight back seats)--and this year it gets a sunroof and navigation package, making it a great long-distance tourer.
In the grander scheme, the Jetta still shines in its class, in its traditional ways. Handling still is sharper than anything in this class, with near-perfect ride quality that still eludes the Asian competition. The Jetta--even in base form--steers and brakes with a more intimate feel. Only now, six-footers can fit behind tall drivers in the Jetta's back seat, even come out ahead on leg room. It's not progress on all fronts, but with its new take on value, the Jetta pitches itself squarely into a class of cars where its soft-pedaled style and its emphasis on core engineering actually make it stand out more.
- GLI's turbo thrust, tighter rear suspension
- Diesel fuel economy bests many hybrids
- Spacious back seat
- VW handling still better than (X) handling
- A huge trunk
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Low-key styling in a class of extroverts
- Base interior's obvious cost-cutting
- GLI, TDI versions aren't much less expensive than before
- Navigation system isn't as well-developed