2012 Volkswagen GTI review, specifications, photos, features

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The new 2012 Volkswagen GTI hatchback

Thirty-five years after its ground-breaking debut in Europe and 28 years after it appeared in America, the Volkswagen GTI still sets the gold-standard in 'hot hatch' driving excitement.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo -2012 Volkswagen GTI photo -

The award-winning formula is thrilling enthusiasts today as it was in the early 1980s; an exciting, dynamic driving experience coupled with multi-purpose hatchback versatility at an affordable price.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo

It's no doubt the reason why Automobile Magazine voted the Volkswagen GTI one of its 'All Stars' winners for 2011—the fifth year in a row it has received this coveted accolade. It's also the reason Car and Driver included the GTI as one of its 2011 '10 Best' describing it as “the car that every enthusiast should own at least once in his or her lifetime”.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo

It's hard to imagine then that the original Golf GTI was planned as a limited series of just 5000 cars. Fast forward 35 years and five generations of GTI later, close to two million have been sold worldwide.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo

New for 2012

For 2012, the sixth-generation GTI continues to be offered in bold two- and four-door body styles, powered by an advanced 2.0-liter 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled TSI® four-cylinder powerplant.

To group together some of the most popular stand-alone options into one package, Volkswagen is introducing a new version of the GTI for 2012—the GTI with Convenience and Sunroof. This takes the entry GTI—either two-door or four—and adds a power tilt/slide sunroof, leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel, and the Premium VIII touchscreen stereo with in-dash CD changer. The two-door version with smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission has an MSRP of just $25,945. For the four-door version, it's $26,545.

Changes to GTI with Sunroof and Navigation, the next step up, include the addition of distinctive new LED daytime running lights, while the flagship GTI Autobahn also adds LED Daytime Running Lights, together with new 10-spoke, 18-inch Serron alloy wheels.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo


For three decades, the GTI has defined the mold for the classic shape of the sporting hatchback. Clean, minimalist lines mixed with sharp, intricate detailing produce a style that always remains sleek and contemporary. See an early GTI on the street today and it still looks fresh and modern.

And the design formula continues with the 2012 GTI—a long wheelbase with short overhangs and a wide track to give that 'planted', road-hugging look. With this sixth-generation GTI, the aggressive front end features a striking black honeycomb grille with a simple GTI badge on the passenger side to reinforce the model's identity. Distinctive red stripes outline the grille which flows into the dramatic, angled teardrop headlight housings.

Bi-Xenon headlamps with an AFS adaptive front lighting system are available as a standard feature on the GTI with Sunroof and Navigation and on the GTI Autobahn. The GTI with Sunroof and Navigation model and the GTI Autobahn also feature, as standard, new bright-white LED daytime running lights. Defining the GTI's front-end design is a large, full-width honeycomb fascia with twin air intakes below the bumper, flanked by twin, vertical halogen fog lights.

The car's streamlined profile continues toward the rear, with a subtle pair of black side skirts running partially along the GTI's lower edge. To heighten the GTI's hunkered-down stance, blistered wheelarches cover hugely-distinctive, flat-faced 18-inch Detroit aluminum-alloy wheels shod with low-profile, all-season performance tires. For 2012, Volkswagen is differentiating the flagship GTI Autobahn model by fitting new 10-spoke 18-inch Serron alloys.

At the rear, horizontal taillights are integrated into the quarter panels and hatch. In addition, smoked red brake lenses are underlined by clear reverse and turn signal lenses. Blended into the bumper are red running lamp lenses along with a blacked-out diffuser with cut-outs for the chrome-tipped, split dual-exhaust.

At the top of the rear hatch is a body color 'duckbill' spoiler which houses the third brake light. A real 'surprise and delight' of the tailgate is the VW badge which tilts to release the rear hatch.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo


It takes just a few seconds sitting behind the GTI's three-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel to sense the exceptional quality and remarkable craftsmanship that goes into its cabin. High-quality, soft-touch plastics are integrated with tasteful aluminum and chrome highlights. Panel gaps are tightly controlled.

As you'd expect from a sporting hatchback, the GTI's front seats are heavily bolstered to help keep driver and front passenger supported during enthusiastic cornering. And they come standard with eight-way manual adjustment on the two-door GTI, adjustable lumbar support, and height-adjustable head restraints. Four-door GTIs have power recline on driver and passenger sides. Trademark GTI cues run throughout the cabin: on all models up to the GTI Autobahn, there’s the famous plaid cloth upholstery panels in the seats. Bold red stitching that's also featured on the headrests, center armrest, shift lever boot, and leather-wrapped steering wheel is a GTI cue, too.

A performance car demands performance instrumentation and the GTI delivers, with its oversized tachometer and matching speedometer that has an integrated engine temperature gauge and fuel gauge. Positioned between the black analog gauges is a multi-function onboard computer display that provides the driver with key information regarding fuel mileage, odometer, outside temperature and more.

Another sporting element is the GTI's race-inspired, brushed metal-finish pedals that include rubber inserts for extra grip. And on the left side of the footwall, there's an all-important over-sized footrest for added support and comfort.

Practicality and versatility are also key attributes of the latest GTI. Its high-lifting tailgate provides easy ingress and egress to a load area that offers 15.2 cubic feet of space. And with the folding rear seat back split 60/40—and featuring a pass-through—there's real flexibility for load carrying.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo

Engine and Transmissions

Under-hood, the 2012 GTI features the award-winning double-overhead-cam, 16-valve, 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder gasoline engine, with direct fuel-injection and maintenance-free hydraulic lifters.

Producing 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, the 2.0T offers up athletic performance. With all 207 lb-ft of torque delivered in a flat line from just 1700 rpm to 5000 rpm, the turbo engine is extremely flexible and responsive, making for rapid passing and fast, back-road progress. It's remarkably efficient too. The 2.0T engine and six-speed manual transmission deliver an EPA-estimated 31 mpg highway and 21 mpg in city driving.

For drivers who want the performance of a traditional manual transmission with the precision of an automatic, the GTI is available with an optional DSG® six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The transmission's advanced dual-clutch system features one clutch that controls the 'odd' gears plus reverse, while the other operates the 'even' gears. So, if the GTI is being driven in third gear, fourth is already selected but not yet activated. As soon as the ideal shift point is reached, the clutch on the third-gear side opens, the other clutch closes and fourth gear engages—all in the space of four-hundredths of a second.

The result is crisp, rapid-fire shifts without the loss of power that is typical with a traditional manual gearbox. This shaves a couple of tenths off the manual transmission car's 0 to 60 mph acceleration time and improves fuel economy: EPA estimates show a remarkable 33 mpg on the highway and 24 in the city.

Buyers who opt for the DSG transmission can switch between fully automatic and automated manual operation, which enables the driver to control every gearshift. The DSG® transmission lets the driver shift up and down using either the finger-operated paddles mounted on the GTI's steering wheel, or by tapping the gearshift selector up or down.

As an added performance bonus with DSG, a Launch Control program can be engaged which, when the car is stopped, allows the engine to build revs before the first clutch is engaged, creating a perfect quick-off-the-line launch with controlled wheelspin.


To deliver the kind of responsive, precise handling enthusiasts expect from a GTI, fully-independent, European-tuned suspension is employed at all four corners. At the front, damper struts with lower control arms and a stiff, tubular anti-roll bar help keep the front tires planted during hard cornering, reducing body roll and heightening steering feedback.

Keeping the car settled at the rear without sacrificing passenger comfort, a compact multilink independent layout features coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. The four-link layout features three lateral control arms—the spring mounting, the track rod and upper control arm, and a trailing link at each wheel. Suspension assemblies are attached by way of a rear-axle subframe and, as at the front, rubber and metal mountings that are soft in torsion but stiff radially are used to help ensure the anti-roll bar responds immediately and suppresses body roll effectively.

On each side of the car at the rear, the spring and damper units are located separately, with the coil spring bearing directly on the trailing link and the damper attached to the wheel hub assembly. This enables the suspension geometry on the compression stroke to generate a toe steering effect that maintains neutral behavior, or some slight understeer, in all driving and load-carrying situations. It also helps ensure excellent driving stability on rough, uneven road surfaces.

To help ensure that power is applied properly in challenging conditions, the GTI features the XDS® cross-differential (limited slip) system that electronically monitors input from various wheel sensors and, in the event of slippage, transfers extra torque to the front wheel with the most traction.

Steering and Brakes

The GTI's highly-praised electro-mechanical power steering system is able to vary the feel of the steering wheel to suit the speed and driving situation. It is firm and direct when driving fast, requiring less effort at parking speeds. Other advantages of the system include its mild self-centering action, and its ability to help compensate for driving hazards like crosswinds and steep road cambers.

Bringing the GTI to a halt are 12.3-inch-diameter vented front discs and 11.3-inch-diameter solid rear disc brakes, each with distinctive, red-painted calipers. Naturally, anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard, along with electronic brake pressure distribution (EBS) and hydraulic brake assist (HBA).

Safety and Security

The 2012 GTI comes with an array of standard safety features, both active and passive. For driving security, enhancements include Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), and Engine Braking Assist (EBA).

To protect those inside, there are driver and passenger front and side thorax airbags together with Side Curtain Protection® head airbags in front and rear. The GTI also includes Volkswagen's advanced Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and even switches on the hazard lights if the car is involved in certain types of collision.

Like all 2012 Volkswagen models, the GTI is covered under the no-charge Carefree Maintenance Program. All scheduled maintenance is covered for the length of the New Vehicle Limited Warranty—three years or 36,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Additionally, the GTI uses synthetic oil which, when combined with state-of-the-art German engineering, eliminates the need for a 5000-mile oil change, and allows owners to go farther between scheduled oil changes.

2012 Volkswagen GTI photo2012 Volkswagen GTI photo

Model Line-up

The hallmark of every GTI model is its exceptional level of standard equipment and attractive pricing.


Even the entry $23,695 GTI 2-door comes equipped with air conditioning; cruise control; a lockable glovebox and 60/40-split folding rear seat with pass through; and Bluetooth® technology. The eight-speaker sound system has a single CD changer, AM/FM/SiriusXM™ Satellite Radio, and auxiliary input jack along with an iPod® adapter.

GTI with Convenience and Sunroof

This adds a power tilt/slide sunroof, leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel, and the Premium VIII touchscreen stereo with in-dash CD changer.

GTI with Sunroof and Navigation

With a starting MSRP of $27,495, the GTI with Sunroof and Navigation model features new LED Daytime Running Lights, Bi-Xenon headlamps, and a touch-screen RNS315 navigation system with a five-inch high-resolution display.

GTI Autobahn

For the ultimate in GTI sporting luxury, the GTI Autobahn package for both two and four-door models adds Titan black-paneled leather seating surfaces front and rear; keyless entry with push-button start; a Dynaudio® 300-watt sound system; and new 18-inch Serron alloy wheels.

New 2012 Volkswagen GTI specifications, photos and images courtesy of Volkswagen.

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