When Volkswagen introduced its redesigned Jetta last year, cheaper-priced brethren from Japan and Korea were squarely in the German automaker's sights. The Jetta gave up a bit of the "German-ness" that has defined the car for the past 30 years. Yet this hasn't stopped the new Jetta from selling like Pfannkuchen
. A less expensive base price and the car's longstanding reputation have attracted more owners, despite downgrades in interior refinement and powertrain equipment.
This new Jetta is larger, quieter, and more comfortable than Jettas of the past. It also drops the wagon bodystyle but keeps the engine choices: the base engine is a 2.0-liter engine with 115 horsepower, and the next gasoline engine is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 170 horsepower. A 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, shared with the Golf, is available on sporty GLI models. Lastly, VW's popular TDI diesel is a good choice for frugal-minded shoppers who will appreciate the gobs of torque, but as per VW diesel tradition, it'll be hard to find on dealer lots.
With its rear drum brakes and cheapened rear suspension, the base Jetta takes some dives in order to reach its $16,495 base price. But the Jetta has now carved its own niche away from its "Golf with a trunk" reputation, for better or worse. Will it sell globally? Yes, and it has. Do frugal-minded consumers notice the cheaper interior? Not so far, it would seem. The Jetta still has its dizzying model range (five to choose from in total), fulfilling its "German engineering for everyone" reputation. And all is right in the world again.
Transmissions: five-speed manual, six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Engines: 2.0-liter inline-4, 2.5L inline-5, 2.0-liter TDI inline-4, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
Models: S, SE, SEL, TDI, GLI
Everything about the Jetta was new last year, and this year's model is essentially carryover. The Jetta had to become more affordable to target an even more diverse audience. It lost its wagon bodystyle, DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, and independent rear suspension. But it gained a new base engine, and all of its features can be optioned back in--SE and SEL models get rear disc brakes and a larger 2.5-liter engine with 170 horsepower, while GLI models get the turbocharged 2.0T engine shared with the GTI, as well as a sport-tuned suspension. The TDI diesel model starts well-equipped, but can be optioned up to almost $10,000 over the Jetta S' price.
Some would call the Jetta's exterior "conservative," and they're being polite. Chances are, however, that the parking lot will swallow one up with gusto, especially given the Jetta's typically German color wheel of greys, silvers, and whites. GLI models add some chrome to the front end as well as 18-inch alloy wheels and darkened taillights.
Here's where most of the criticism of the Jetta stems: all models, regardless of final price, share the base S' budget interior. Its design is very Volkswagen, but hard molded plastics, cheap switchgear, and leatherette seats will disappoint rabid VW fans as well as cross-shoppers alike. To distract its owners from the cost-cutting, a 6-speaker Fender premium audio system is available, as well as touch-screen navigation, Bluetooth, and keyless entry.
Performance & Handling
The base Jetta S comes with an anemic 115-horsepower engine, drum brakes, and a cheaper suspension, but don't let its cheapness carry blame for the rest of the range. The pure European feel is still there, but slightly diluted as the Jetta is now more comfortable and softly sprung than ever before. GLI models feature an independent suspension all around and come closest to matching the hatchback GTI's sportiness. No DSG gearbox means that the six-speed manual is the sporting driver's choice.
The Jetta is one of eight Volkswagen models chosen as an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Front and side airbags are standard for the driver and passenger and side curtain airbags are standard front and rear. Electronic stability control and ABS are also standard equipment, as well as VW's Intelligent Crash Response System that turns off the engine and turns on the headlights when it detects an accident.
EPA Fuel Economy
S: 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway
SE, SEL: 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway
TDI: 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway
GLI: 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway
- Frugal, yet punchy, TDI engine
Low starting base price
Roomy for its size
Smoother ride than ever before
You Won't Like
- Cheap, cheap interior across the range
Decontented, pricey when optioned
Loses some of its charm from the old model
Still German, but just barely
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