Gas-powered versions are below average by the numbers, but the turbodiesel engine available in the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta gives it hybrid-like fuel economy that's more often attainable by everyday drivers.
The basic Jetta this year comes with VW's 2.0-liter four--the "two-point-slow," as fans know it. Its primary virtue is gas mileage: the EPA rates it at 24/34 mpg when it's teamed with a five-speed manual gearbox; and it's only offered in the sedan body style.
Next up is the 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine. In either wagon or sedan Jettas, it's pegged at 24/31 mpg with the six-speed automatic, or at 23/33 mpg with the five-speed manual. These numbers are at the low end of the compact class, and even mid-sizers like the Hyundai Sonata and the new Toyota Camry are rated at about 35 mpg on the highway.
The GLI is the newest Jetta, a sedan with the 200-horsepower turbocharged four well-known to VW fans. With a six-speed manual, it's rated at 23/33 mpg.
Our favorite Jetta, the turbodiesel TDI, earns the best mileage for 2012. The sedan and wagon versions with the manual transmission get 30/42-mpg ratings, and so does the automatic-equipped sedan. With the automatic, the wagon earns EPA-rated mileage of 29/39 mpg. The sedan can cover more than 600 miles on a single tank of diesel, and in our experience, it's much easier to get close to the maximum 42-mpg rating in the diesel, than it can be to hit the 40-mpg ratings of some hybrid sedans.
In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)