The latest version of Volkswagen's compact Jetta sedan marks a departure from tradition - whereas previous Jettas were near-premium models with a price to match, the current iteration is aimed squarely at the middle of the compact segment. It's fairly large by class standards and carries an attractive pricetag, but it no longer has quite the level of interior quality or driving dynamics that characterized its forbears (although VW has made a few changes for the latest model year to address the former area).
In addition to the Jetta sedan discussed herein, the Jetta lineup also includes the performance-minded Jetta GLI, the roomy Jetta SportWagen and the efficient Jetta Turbo Hybrid.
As part of the last redesign, the Jetta grew in length and width, resulting in a relatively spacious interior compartment with 38.1-inches of rear legroom - rivaling the space offered by some midsize sedans. Although contemporary and user-friendly, the interior is a bit Spartan in base models, with fewer of the soft-touch materials and higher quality materials than in the previous-generation model.
For the latest year, mid-level models gain metallic trim and leather adorning the steering-wheel, shift knob and handbreak lever, changes that help create a richer look and feel, while high-zoot SEL models get a geniune soft-touch dashboard.
Outside, the styling is decidedly understated, with traditional front-wheel-drive sedan proportions and many cues lifted directly from other VW models. While not eye-catching, the overall look is clean, cohesive and even sophisticated when equipped with the optional upsized alloy wheels.
The Jetta can be had with three different engines. Entry-level models are afflicted with a truly archaic 2.0-liter four-cylinder with just two valves per cylinder (nearly all modern engines have twice that valve count). Output is just 115 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, and mileage is rated at a middling 24/34 highway/city mpg with the standard five-speed manual transmission and 24/32 mpg with the optional six-speed automatic.
The mid-level engine is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces a healthy 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. With a standard five-speed manual, the five-banger returns 23/33 mpg, while an optional six-speed automatic changes those figures to 24/31 mpg.
Also on offer is an efficient and torquey "TDI" turbodiesel engine. This 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill produces 140 horsepower and a robust 236 lb-ft of torque. The engine returns an impressive 30/42 mpg with either the standard six-speed stick or six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Trim Level Breakdown
Gas-powered Jettas are available in S, SE, and SEL trims (each with sub-trim levels), while the TDI is available in a single trim with several sub-trims, too.
The Jetta S comes standard with the 2.0-liter motor in addition to power windows and locks, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD sound system with an AUX-in jack and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. The Jetta S with Sunroof adds (you guessed it) a sunroof along with cruise control and an adjustable front center armrest with a storage compartment.
The Jetta SE brings the 2.5-liter five-cylinder and adds to the Jetta S' features with leatherette upholstery, a folding rear seat with an adjustable center armrest and pass-through, and a front center armrest with a storage compartment and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Newly standard for the latest model year are power-recline driver and front passenger seats, decorative metallic trim on the dash and door panels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and handbrake lever, a chrome radiator grille and chrome window trim. The Jetta SE with Convenience sub-trim brings 16-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a media device interface with an iPod cable and Sirius satellite radio. The imaginatively named SE with Convenience and Sunroof adds a sunroof along with a premium touchscreen-activated sound system.
The Jetta SEL adds to the Jetta SE with Convenience and Sunroof's features with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-way power driver seat (albeit with manual lumbar support), sport front seats, a two-tone black and beige interior color scheme, a multi-function trip computer and keyless access with pushbutton start. The SEL with Navigation brings a touchscreen-activated navigation system and a Fender-branded premium audio system.
The Jetta TDI includes all SE with Convenience features (including the new standard kit) as well as unique 16-inch alloy wheels, "iridium" dash and door trim and a multi-function trip computer. The TDI with Premium adds a sunroof and a Fender-branded premium sound system with a touchscreen interface. Finally, the TDI with Convenience and Navigation adds keyless access with push-button start, mesh honeycomb and chrome accents for the front grille, foglights and a navigation system.
All Jetta models come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags as well as traction and stability control systems.
As Jetta was designed to take on the top-sellers in the compact sedan segment, its major rivals include the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Sportier alternatives include the Mazda Mazda3 and the Mitsubishi Lancer.