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 price tag, but it no longer has quite the level of interior quality or driving dynamics that characterized its predecessors.
In addition to the Jetta sedan discussed herein, the Jetta lineup also includes the performance-minded Jetta GLI.
For the latest model year, the Jetta wears a new nose that includes an updated grille with active shutters, larger lower air inlet and re-sculpted fog lights. The rear of the Jetta sports a new decklid, a new-look Volkswagen logo and updated bumper.
Outside, the styling is decidedly understated, with traditional front-wheel-drive sedan proportions and many cues lifted directly from other Volkswagen models. While not eye-catching, the overall look is clean, cohesive and even sophisticated when equipped with the optional upsized alloy wheels.
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.
Most Jettas can be ordered with Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system, which integrates the car's entertainment, navigation and climate control systems while offering crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. Car-Net also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts and it can provide a vehicle health report. The bulk of Car-Net's features can be accessed via a smartphone.
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 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a healthy 170 horsepower thanks in part to the use of direct fuel injection.
Also on offer is an efficient and torquey 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that produces 150 horsepower and a robust 236 lb-ft of torque. The engine returns an impressive 30/46 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 1.8-liter four-banger 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.
The Jetta SE also includes 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 high-resolution display in the instrument cluster, 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, a rear-view camera and keyless access with pushbutton start. The SEL with Navigation brings a touchscreen-activated navigation system and a Fender-branded premium audio system.
The SEL can be ordered with VW's Car-Net software, which offers crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. Car-Net also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts and it can provide a vehicle health report. The bulk of Car-Net's features can be accessed via a smartphone.
The Jetta TDI includes all SE with Convenience features (including the standard kit) as well as unique 16-inch alloy wheels, "iridium" dash and door trim, a rear-view camera 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 with a fully-independent rear suspension and electro-mechanical power steering.
Jetta Turbo Hybrid
The Jetta Turbo Hybrid is powered by a 1.4-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that teams with an electric motor and a 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted over the rear axle. Combined output is 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque - unusually high totals for an affordable hybrid model. Whereas nearly every other hybrid on the market utilizes a droning continuously variable transmission, the Jetta Hybrid Turbo sends power to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The powertrain is good for 48 mpg on the highway, 42 mpg in city and 45 mpg combined. An electric-only driving mode, dubbed "E-Mode," can be switched on with a button and provides gas-free operation for short distances at speeds of up to 44 mph.
Helping to fulfill the car's sporty promise is a multi-link rear suspension borrowed from the GLI that provides secure handling and greater agility than the average hybrid, although the Jetta Turbo Hybrid isn't a genuine sports sedan.
Those looking for a roomy trunk take note - the Jetta Hybrid's battery pack cuts cargo space down to just 11 cubic feet.
The Jetta Turbo Hybrid is offered in base model, SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels. The entry-level model comes standard with automatic climate control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with an auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The SE adds a touch screen radio with SiriusXM satellite radio and an iPod interface, power-reclining front seats, LED taillights and keyless entry with push-button start. The SEL ups the content level with a navigation system, a sunroof, heated front seats, heated headlamp washer nozzles and 16-inch alloy wheels. Finally, the range-topping SEL Premium brings a Fender premium audio system, a rearview camera, Bi-Xenon headlights, LED running lights, fog lights and 17-inch alloy wheels.
All Jetta models regardless of drivetrain or trim level come standard with dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags as well as traction and stability control systems.
Buyers can order several electronic driving aids at an extra cost. These include Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Warning system and Park Distance Control.
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.
The closest rival to the Jetta Turbo Hybrid is the Honda Civic Hybrid, which is significantly less powerful and less efficient. Those willing to look beyond the sedan segment and consider a hatchback will likely be enticed by the Toyota Prius, which isn't as sporty as the Volkswagen but offers 50 mpg and a slightly lower price.