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2012 Volkswagen Jetta: Used Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Ron Sessions September 2014

Volkswagen gave Americans a new-generation Jetta for 2011 that was reimagined for U.S. tastes and driving habits. As with the 2011 model, the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta eliminated the independent rear suspension and more-expensive-looking padded interior materials of the previous-generation car, replacing them with a larger, roomier compact sedan with a beam rear axle and more hard plastic on the inside -- all at a price that was more affordable than ever before. New for 2012, the sporty 200-horsepower GLI model joined the Jetta lineup, and a Fender Premium Audio option became available.

What We Like

Sporty handling and 200 hp of the GLI model; rear-seat stretch-out space; fuel economy and generous torque of 2.0-liter diesel engine; solid structure; roomy trunk

What We Don't

Weak acceleration of base 2.0-liter gas engine; hard-plastic trim and low-cost look of interior; no USB port for device charging; plain exterior styling

Fuel Economy & Engine Specs

The 2012 VW Jetta has three available engines. The Jetta S comes with a 2.0-liter, single-overhead-camshaft 4-cylinder. Output is a very modest 115 hp, and it develops 125 lb-ft of torque. It burns regular unleaded gas and has an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway with the standard 5-speed manual transmission and 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the optional 6-speed automatic.

The Jetta SE and SEL are powered by a 2.5-liter double-overhead-camshaft (DOHC) 20-valve 5-cylinder, which produces a generous 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. It also runs on regular unleaded and is EPA-rated at 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the standard 5-speed manual and 24 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the optional 6-speed automatic.

Jetta TDI models get their grunt from a 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder turbodiesel with 140 hp on tap, but an impressive 236 lb-ft of torque -- which reaches its peak early at just 1,750 rpm -- stays strong well into the engine's midrange for good response. The diesel's EPA fuel economy rating: 30 mpg city/42 mpg hwy with both the standard 6-speed manual transmission and the optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The Jetta GLI features a zippy 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder gas turbo, pumping 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. It's teamed with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, with the manual EPA-rated at 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy and the automatic at 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy. Premium fuel is required.

Standard Features & Options

The 2012 VW Jetta sedan is available in S, SE, SEL, TDI and GLI trim.

The base Jetta S sedan is stripped down to the basics. Typical equipment includes the 115-hp engine, cloth upholstery, height-adjustable front seats, air conditioning, a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, a split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, a rear defroster, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, remote keyless entry, 15-inch steel wheels, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and power windows, mirrors and door locks. New for 2012 is an model with a sunroof and cruise control. Midway into 2012, VW phased in 4-wheel disc brakes.

The Jetta SE upgrades to the 170-hp 5-cylinder and adds standards such as cruise control, leatherette-covered seats, a security system, a lockable glove box, front and rear center armrests, front reading lamps, visor vanity mirrors and 16-in wheels. The SE also adds a power moonroof, an upgraded 6-speaker stereo, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever to the options list. Midway into 2012, VW phased in 4-wheel disc brakes.

Next up the Jetta price rung is the SEL. Standard fare includes fog lamps, a navigation system, steering-wheel audio controls, an upgraded audio system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, push-button starting, 17-in alloy wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes, a trip computer, heated front seats, a driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shifter.

The Jetta TDI comes with Volkswagen's excellent 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel engine and includes all of the SE-level content, plus 4-wheel disc brakes, a power moonroof, a premium touchscreen audio system, heated seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shifter.

The new GLI is the sportiest Jetta, featuring a 200-hp gas-powered turbo 4-cylinder, a sport suspension, 17-in alloy wheels, aluminum-trimmed pedals, sport seats, an aero body kit and most of the amenities on the SEL. An Autobahn version gains a sunroof, 18-in alloys, heated seats and a Fender premium sound system.

Pricing

Even though their reliability has lagged somewhat behind products from Asian manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota, there will always be buyers who gravitate toward the fun-to-drive quality of European cars. Because a lot of Jettas were sold in recent years, many are coming back into the market as used cars, which tends to moderate pricing.

For an understanding of the 2012 Jetta sedan's price range, check out the Kelley Blue Book used-car values at KBB.com. Search the AutoTrader Classifieds to see what models are for sale in your area.

Recalls

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced the following recall for the 2012 Jetta sedan:

On turbodiesel models, engine vibrations can cause fuel-line cracks, fuel leaks and a possible engine fire.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed, and if not, will fix the car for free.

Safety Ratings & Warranties

The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta sedan received a 4-star rating for frontal impacts and a 5-star rating for side impacts from NHTSA.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2012 Jetta sedan a Good rating for moderate-overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength, and for head-restraint and seat crash performance.

Volkswagen covered the 2012 Jetta with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 12-year/unlimited-mile corrosion-perforation warranty. Additionally, routine maintenance and roadside assistance were covered for a 3-year/36,000-mile period.

Volkswagen certified pre-owned (CPO) cars can't have more than 75,000 miles on the odometer and must be 6 years old or less. Every CPO Jetta undergoes a 112-point inspection and gets a Carfax report. The VW CPO warranty covers the whole car bumper-to-bumper for 2 years or 24,000 miles and includes roadside assistance.

Other Cars to Consider

2012 Chevrolet Cruze -- Like the Jetta, the Cruze's Opel roots give it a solid feel and fun-to-drive handling characteristics. The 1.4-liter turbo engine blends ample performance with good fuel economy. The Cruze isn't involved with GM's ignition-switch recall because it uses a newer, improved design.

2012 Toyota Corolla -- Toyota's evergreen Corolla is consistently near the top of the compact sales race due to its reputation for good fuel economy, trouble-free operation and good resale value. The Corolla driving experience is plain vanilla, but an EPA rating of 28 mpg city/35 mpg hwy from a 132-hp 1.8-liter four is nothing to complain about.

AutoTrader's Advice

Though the 2012 Jetta may lack some of the premium feel of pricier German sedans, the Jetta's bones provide a solid basis for a well-sorted, fun-to-drive compact car with personality. Avoid the weak-kneed base 2.0-liter four, but it's hard to go wrong with the uplevel inline 5-cylinder gas engine, the remarkably efficient (42 mpg hwy!) TDI turbodiesel, or the sporty, fun-to-drive GLI gas turbo. Look for a Volkswagen certified pre-owned car when available.

Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale

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Used 2012 Volkswagen Jetta S
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta: Used Car Review - Autotrader