2012 Volkswagen GTI

7.8
2012 Volkswagen GTI

The Basics:

Volkswagen's GTI was once the benchmark for the hot hatch, but in recent years has been challenged from all quarters. While the GTI retains its conservative styling, attention to detail, and overall fun demeanor, it is now outpaced by others in terms of power, style, and handling. For 2012, the situation doesn't improve, as the newest year model carries forward from 2011 essentially unchanged.

That's not all bad, however, as the 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI powerplant sticks around, and both two-door and four-door body styles do too. A new Convenience and Sunroof package available on the base GTI adds tilt/slide sunroof, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and the Premium VIII touchscreen stereo system with in-dash CD-changer to the mix.

The 2012 Volkswagen Golf feels like a premium vehicle, and it's priced like one too, especially its fuel-efficient TDI edition.

Both manual and DSG dual-clutch six-speed transmissions are available, with the DSG offering quick paddle shifts and a convenient automatic mode. The manual gets a gas mileage rating of 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, while the DSG improves that to 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway--while taking a few tenths off the manual's 0-60 mph time.

Visually, the 2012 Golf gets an update to LED daytime running lights and new 10-spoke 18-inch wheels on GTI Autobahn models, while the GTI with Sunroof and Navigation trim adds just the LED daytime running lights. The rest of the lineup stays the same as last year.

Interior quality is generally good, with textured plastic and soft-touch surfaces throughout. The plaid seats carry on GTI tradition, and are generally comfortable, if a bit soft and flat for sporty driving. Space isn't exactly abundant, especially in two-door models, but the 2012 GTI will hold more than you might expect given its compact, sleek exterior.

Ranging in base price from $23,695 to $30,434, the GTI competes with a wide range of hatchbacks, including potent ringers like the Mazdaspeed3 and smaller, sportier models like the MINI Cooper range. Nonetheless, the GTI's combination of features, style, and performance has proven successful. the 2012 model should carry that success forward, with six standard airbags, electronic stability control, a touchscreen sound system, and 18-inch alloy wheels all part of the standard package. Available Bluetooth, navigation, iPod connectivity, and Dynaudio premium sound offer several upgrade paths.

The 2012 VW GTI hasn't been fully tested by the NHTSA, but the four-door model does get a four-star rollover resistance rating. The IIHS, on the other hand, rates all models of the 2012 GTI at its top rating of "good," and awards a Top Safety Pick to the four-door models.

Buying Tips:

While the GTI has long been a good choice in the hot hatch segment, the next few years are bringing several interesting new alternatives, including the upcoming Ford Focus ST, so if you're not in a hurry, it might be best to wait.

Other Choices:

  • 2012 Mazda MAZDA3
  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2012 MINI Cooper

Reason Why:

While there are dozens of hatchbacks to choose from, only a handful offer real sporting potential. Among those, the GTI has one of the longest histories in the U.S., and for good reason. Some of the newer offerings are bringing the fight to VW on price, power, and quality, however. Mazda's Mazdaspeed3, for example, builds on the excellent basis of the standard Mazda3 with a punchy 263-horsepower, 280 pound-foot turbocharged, direct-injected 2.3-liter engine and a heavily re-tuned suspension. The resulting acceleration and driving dynamics are truly engaging, but piping all that power through the front wheels means there's some torque steer, even with recent models introducing technology to help mitigate the problem. The Mazda's interior might come up short against the GTI's, too, though optional tech and upholstery upgrades can help balance the equation--especially when the Mazdaspeed3's lower price is taken into account. The 2012 Ford Focus isn't all that thrilling in base form, but a new ST model is coming early in 2012, and it will bring nearly as much power as the Mazdaspeed3, plus dashing European styling and equally high-tech transmissions. We'll have to wait until its release to know if it's a real threat to the GTI, but on paper, it's something to watch out for. Finally, there's the 2012 MINI Cooper range. Available in hatch, coupe, and wagon body styles, the Cooper is one of the most versatile models on the market. In John Cooper Works trim, it's also more powerful, lighter, and better-handling than the Volkswagen. Its interior, while built largely of quality materials, has its ergonomic quirks and no shortage of squeaks and rattles, however. Considering the MINI's price can grow even more quickly than the GTI's, it ultimately comes down to a matter of preference.

The Bottom Line:

It isn't the fastest or flashiest sporty hatchback around, but the 2012 Volkswagen GTI may well be the most balanced, carrying forward its legacy into the 21st century.

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