Few small cars have the following of the Volkswagen Jetta, one of the company's best-selling models in the United States. The name, says VW, refers to the Atlantic jetstream, "combined with the luxury and power of a modern jetliner." We're not sure about comparing the cabin and performance of this compact sedan and wagon to a Lear jet, but for much of its history, the Jetta appealed to buyers with its upscale design, refined cabin and strong engine options. It essentially bridged the gap between everyday compact economy cars and entry-level premium brand compact sedans. It was a niche almost unto itself.
More recent times, however, have seen VW go mainstream with the Jetta, cutting its price to make it a more viable option for small car shoppers. One of the most notable downsides of the associated cost-cutting was cheaper cabin trim. So more modern versions are cheaper but less distinctive. That said, a new or used Jetta remains a solid pick for shoppers looking for a compact car with European flair, good performance and, in the case of the TDI-powered versions, impressive fuel efficiency.
Current Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Jetta is VW's most affordable sedan. There are five trim levels available: base, S, SE, SEL and TDI. The Jetta Hybrid and the performance-oriented Jetta GLI are both reviewed separately.
The base car is a stripper that must be special ordered and doesn't even come with air-conditioning. The S comes more reasonably equipped, with power/heated side mirrors, power door locks, air-conditioning and keyless entry. Both of these trims are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces a wheezy 115 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional.
Stepping up to the SE and SEL trims gets you a more desirable 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. The SE gets the same transmission choices as the lower trims, while the SEL is automatic-only. Besides the engine, these upper trims have access to more standard and optional features like heated front seats, Bluetooth and an iPod interface. The TDI, which is equipped similarly to the SE, features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that is 50-state compliant and produces 140 hp and very impressive fuel economy. A six-speed manual or Volkswagen's DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission are available.
In reviews, we've found the latest Jetta to be a fairly refined, roomy and comfortable compact sedan. The improvements made this year, such as the replacement of the humdrum five-cylinder engine with a perkier turbocharged four-cylinder and the fitment of an independent rear suspension for all trim levels, have boosted both overall performance and handling composure. As such, the current Jetta stands as one of the more appealing choices in this segment.
Read the most recent 2015 Volkswagen Jetta review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Volkswagen Jetta page.