Used 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL Review
Edmunds expert review
The Volkswagen Jetta is a spaciously-sized compact sedan with just enough German personality to favorably differentiate it from the economy-car pack.
What's new for 2015
Because the Jetta's last redesign a few years back was met with underwhelming response, Volkswagen has been industriously reestablishing the Jetta as an aspirational choice for buyers in the compact-car market. In an attempt to earn back its former glory, the 2015 Jetta's exterior gets a mild restyling for a sleeker look, an upgraded cabin and, on the TDI version, a more powerful and fuel efficient diesel engine.
The 2015 Jetta also boasts a new suite of available electronic driver aids that includes blind-spot detection, forward-collision alert and parking sensors. While only available on certain trims and certainly not exclusive in the compact car segment, they do endow the Jetta with some of the same features that not long ago were available only for larger and more expensive cars. Other Jetta advantages are still intact, such as a spacious cabin that's tastefully designed, the availability of both hybrid and diesel-powered engines and excellent crash test safety scores. We also like the popular turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that provides impressively quick acceleration and also very good fuel economy.
There are some tradeoffs with the 2015 Jetta you should consider. The base 2.0-liter engine is rather lackluster with just 115 horsepower and should be avoided. We're also not very fond of the stiffer ride that comes with the available sport-tuned suspension. Overall, however, there are more positives than negatives here, and the previous 2014 Jetta earned an Edmunds.com "B" rating.
Still, the compact car segment is awash with solid choices. We think the 2015 Ford Focus and the 2015 Mazda 3 are more entertaining to drive than the VW, and their cabins are generally richer. Both the 2015 Hyundai Elantra and its Kia Forte cousin are well built, boast plenty features and provide strong value. Then there's the Honda Civic, which still might be the segment's overall standard. Given this abundance of good picks, we suggest doing your research and planning back-to-back test drives before making your decision.
Trim levels & features
Gasoline-engine versions of the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta are available in Base, S, SE, Sport and SEL trim levels, while the diesel-engine TDI models come in S, SE and SEL trim. There are also the Jetta Hybrid (in SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels) as well as the performance-oriented Jetta GLI (in SE and SEL trim levels).
The base model 2015 Jetta, which only can be special-ordered from the dealer, is fitted with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and the only available transmission is a five-speed manual. Other standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels, power windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker CD sound system with an auxiliary audio jack.
The Jetta S adds power heated side mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, air-conditioning, a single-CD radio with a 4-inch screen and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a trip computer, an optional automatic transmission, power door locks, a front-seat center armrest and 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The 2015 Jetta S can be ordered with an optional Technology package that includes a rearview camera, keyless ignition and entry, and a premium 6.5-inch touchscreen radio with satellite radio and six speakers.
The Jetta SE brings the turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and adds to the S trim's standard equipment: 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, satellite radio and an iPod adapter cable.
A Connectivity package available for the SE (requires the six-speed automatic transmission) includes body-color side mirrors, heated windshield-washer nozzles, chrome exterior trim, special 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, rearview camera, sunroof, the 6.5-inch touchscreen audio system with Volkswagen's CarNet app suite, driver-seat lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a rear-seat armrest and trunk pass-through.
When selecting the SE with Connectivity package, you also have access to the Navigation package that brings automatic wipers, foglights, a 5-inch touchscreen radio with voice-controlled navigation and keyless ignition and entry.
The Jetta Sport trim combines elements of the Connectivity and Navigation packages by including special 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, a sport-tuned suspension, heated windshield-washer nozzles, upgraded six-speaker radio with navigation, rearview camera, heated front seats with two-tone leatherette upholstery and special stitching for seats, steering wheel and other interior pieces.
The Jetta's SEL trim includes the equipment of the SE and the Connectivity and Navigation packages and adds a soft-surface dashboard, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way power driver seat and a nine-speaker Fender premium sound system.
The Jetta TDI models in S, SE with Connectivity and SEL trims essentially mirror the equipment levels of the gasoline-engine counterparts above (except for the TDI S's standard 16-inch steel wheels, and the TDI SE gets the soft-texture dash), but come with a 2-liter turbocharged diesel engine.
The Jetta Hybrid's SE and SEL trims also essentially mirror those of the standard Jetta in those trims. Added highlights of the Hybrid SEL Premium include 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights, automatic wipers, a rear spoiler, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning. The Fender premium sound system is also included.
The Jetta GLI SE comes with a more powerful turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, keyless ignition and entry, and essentially all the features of the standard Jetta SE with the Connectivity package. Moving up to the GLI SEL adds xenon headlights, LED running lights, upgraded leatherette upholstery, the navigation system, the Fender premium sound system and additional safety monitoring systems.
A Safety package that includes blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning systems and rear parking sensors is available for the gasoline-engine Jetta SE with Connectivity and Navigation as well as the Jetta SEL.
A Lighting package that adds xenon headlights, LED running lights, interior ambient lighting and an upgraded gauge-cluster display is available for all gasoline-engine Jettas except the Base and S. For the diesel-engine Jetta SEL, the contents of the Lighting and Safety packages are combined in a single option package.
Performance & mpg
The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta base and S trims are equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 26 mpg combined (23 mpg city/34 mpg highway) with the automatic transmission and 28 combined (25/34) with the five-speed manual gearbox.
The Jetta SE and SEL feature a substantially stronger 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 170 hp and, more importantly, 184 lb-ft of torque. The SE gets the same transmission choices as the lower trims, while the SE with Convenience or Navigation packages and the SEL are automatic-only. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 mpg combined (25 city/37 highway) with the automatic and 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city/37 mpg highway) with the manual transmission.
In Edmunds testing, a Jetta SE with the automatic accelerated from zero to 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds, an impressively quick time for this class of car.
The Jetta TDI features a new-design turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that generates 150 hp -- up 10 horses from last year -- and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed automated-manual transmission (VW's "DSG") is optional.
Coupled with the DSG automatic transmission, the TDI delivers an EPA-estimated combined fuel economy of 36 mpg (31/45) while the manual-transmission version also rates 36 mpg combined (31 city/46 highway). In Edmunds performance testing, a Jetta TDI fitted with the previous-generation diesel and the DSG automatic transmission accelerated from 0-to-60 mph in 8.4 seconds. Although the 2015 Jetta's diesel is slightly more powerful, we expect performance to be virtually the same.
The 2015 VW Jetta Hybrid is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that works in tandem with a 20kW electric motor. Together they send 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a seven-speed automated manual transmission.
According to the EPA, the Jetta Hybrid will return 45 mpg combined (42 mpg city/48 mpg highway). During an extensive Edmunds fuel economy test consisting of city, highway and interstate driving, the Jetta Hybrid averaged 43.0 mpg overall. At our test track, the Jetta Hybrid ran from zero to 60 mph in a swift 7.8 seconds, one of the quickest times in this hybrid segment.
The 2015 Jetta GLI is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that sends 210 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while the six-speed DSG automated manual is optional.
The GLI's EPA-estimated fuel economy is 26 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway) with the manual and 27 mpg combined (24 city/32 highway) with the DSG. In Edmunds performance testing, the previous 200-hp GLI with the manual gearbox sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. We would expect the 10 hp increase in the newer GLI to quicken that time by maybe a tenth or so at best.
The 2015 VW Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. A rearview camera is included in SEL and TDI models. VW's Car-Net telematics system, standard from SE with Connectivity on up, includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A Car-Net smartphone app lets owners control many of these functions on the go.
Newly available electronic safety features for the 2015 Jetta include a blind-spot monitoring system, rear-traffic alert and forward-collision warning. These are standard or optional on select trims as indicated earlier.
In government crash tests, the Jetta earned an overall score of five stars (out of five possible), with four stars for front crash protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of "Good" The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2015 Jetta the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests as well as a "Good" score for the side-impact, roof-strength and whiplash protection (seats and head restraints) crash tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Jetta TDI stopped from 60 to zero mph in 128 feet, which is a little longer than average for this class of car. A Jetta SE was better than average with a 118-foot stop.
Unless you have plenty of time on your hands, we'd recommend staying away from the 2015 Jetta S models and their rather woeful 115-hp four-cylinder engine. For not much more money, the move up to the Jetta SE trim not only brings a useful increase in equipment but, more importantly, the wonderfully smooth and satisfying 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It gets better fuel economy and you'll thank yourself on every freeway merge or long uphill grade.
If you can afford the TDI diesel, you'll be rewarded with surprisingly stout power in addition to the substantial fuel economy boost. The same can be said of the Jetta Hybrid. But in both cases you will have to drive for a while to see the payback.
Although some versions of the Jetta offer a sport-tuned suspension, there doesn't seem to much of an advantage over a standard Jetta. Even the GLI's steering isn't particularly sharp when turning into corners, and the car's braking ability and overall cornering grip are both fairly modest for a performance variant. If, however, you're simply looking for a livelier Jetta sedan, then the GLI is a solid upgrade. The 2.0-liter turbo engine delivers a nice wallop of torque that you'll feel around town and on fast-moving highways. The engine has a nice soundtrack, too.
No matter what Jetta you pick, you'll likely find an affable road trip companion, as ride comfort is very good and the cabin is nicely sealed off from wind and tire noise.
With the recent trend towards edgy shapes in technology-focused interiors, the 2015 Jetta's overall interior design looks conservative in comparison, although many might find a certain sort of peace in the lack of glaring screens or a multitude of questionably-useful buttons. The Jetta's simple, functional gauges and dash could be judged either as homage to the days when German designs focused on the task of driving and little else – or as just plain behind-the-times. For those who believe simplicity is best, the view from the Jetta's driver's seat will be a delight.
Depending on trim level, there are some revised new materials and textures in the 2015 Jetta's cabin, and the stalks and buttons continue to work with a substantial heft that's sometimes lacking in other compact cars. This year, a revision to the instrument cluster better separates the two main dials and a redesign of the climate controls, which sit low in the center dash, makes them easier to see and adjust. But it's tough to judge even the optional touchscreen infotainment interface as anything but looking outdated and small in the Jetta's otherwise pleasingly uncluttered dash.
More impressive is the airiness and spacious feel of the 2015 Jetta's cabin. The backseat dwarfs just about every other one in the compact hatchback or sedan class. The Jetta's 15.7-cubic-foot trunk capacity is one of the best in the segment, too. Overall, the Jetta's interior has a welcome feel of space, there's plenty of room for both passengers and cargo and the cabin now seems properly executed for the car's price point.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.