Last year, the Volkswagen Jetta sedan was transformed from a slow-selling compact into a nearly mid-sized four-door, with a price tag retuned for American pocketbooks. Enthusiasts criticized its cost-cutting suspension and interior, but VW's had months of record Jetta sales to bolster its bold move.
For the 2012 VW Jetta, there's little change except for the addition of a turbocharged GLI model that's wild, rorty fun--but not quite the family-car bargain you'll find in the Jetta sedan and SportWagen, especially in the diesel TDI versions.
The Jetta lineup earns a score of 8 at FamilyCarGuide, primarily for the SportWagen and mid-line sedan models. Its large back seat, big fuel-economy numbers and predictable handling team up with good safety scores and a good level of standard equipment.
We pair the sedan and wagon together, but there are key distinctions between them. The Jetta sedan adopted its own body last year, with three more inches of wheelbase and four more inches in overall length. It's now almost a mid-size vehicle, with admirable head and leg room for adults and everything smaller, in all seating positions. Trunk space is tremendous, and the Jetta's rear seat can flip down with a pull on two levers mounted inside the trunk, expanding cargo space for heftier errands. Balancing out the super-sized interior are cost-cutting measures that you'll feel and touch: all but the base Jetta sedan have vinyl seats that may sound inexpensive, but feel pretty good, even after hours of driving. The interior's also molded out of hard plastic, the kind of material that's been banished from cars like the Chevy Cruze. (GLI models have a softer dash cap, though.)
The wagon, which rides on the old Jetta platform, has a tighter back seat. It also has a much richer interior, with sophisticated finishes and high-grade materials. The cargo area is flexible, with fold-down seats that maximize its utility.