Used 2016 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T GLI SEL Review
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta is a little rough around the edges, but it's still a generously sized compact sedan with excellent engines and just enough German personality to set it apart.
If it seems a little squishy in here, it's because there's an elephant in the room. At the time of this writing, Volkswagen is still trying to figure out what to do with the diesel-powered engine in the 2016 Jetta TDI model after it was discovered the company has been cheating in emissions testing.
What VW might want to redirect your attention to, though, is the new turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that replaces last year's wheezy 2.0-liter four-cylinder base engine. It's a peppy little mill and gets 32 mpg EPA combined. Really, from the new 1.4 all the way up to the GLI's turbo 2.0-liter and the nifty gas-electric alchemy of the Hybrid, the Jetta's engine lineup is uniquely sophisticated and compelling in this generally value-oriented segment.
For 2016, all of the VW Jetta's available engines are turbocharged to provide excellent power and fuel economy.
Alas, the rest of the Jetta isn't quite as great. In the past, the Jetta provided better refinement than the Civics and Corollas of the world. Its interior was of a higher quality and the driver experience was closer to a German sport sedan than a typical "economy" car. The current Jetta represents a shift toward more of a Costco philosophy of getting the biggest product for the least amount of money. Indeed, the Jetta has more cabin and trunk space than its competitors, but it doesn't feel quite as special as it used to. There's a whiff of cost-cutting here that was absent from previous models, and that makes the car harder to recommend.
On the bright side, this year's Jetta boasts an up-to-date tech interface with smartphone integration. But given how competitive some other compact sedans have become, it's hard to overlook the Jetta's lackluster handling and bland interior design. Top-rated competitors like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda 3 have aped the old Jetta playbook while in some cases providing more features for the money. We'd recommend checking them out, too, as well as the nicer and more responsive VW Golf, before going the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta's way.
trim levels & features
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta is available in a variety of trim levels and engine choices: 1.4T S, 1.4T SE, 1.8T Sport and 1.8T SEL. There are also GLI and Hybrid trims available.
Standard equipment on the Jetta S includes 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, keyless entry, heated mirrors, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split rear seats, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a four-speaker sound system with a 5-inch touchscreen interface, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The S Technology package adds a rearview camera, a 6.3-inch touchscreen, a USB port, a media player interface, satellite radio and VW Car-Net smartphone integration, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
The Jetta SE includes all of the above plus 16-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated front seats and a front center armrest. The SE Connectivity package adds a sunroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver lumbar adjustment, "V-Tex" premium vinyl upholstery, a rear center armrest and a six-speaker sound system with an enhanced Car-Net system.
Aside from the sunroof, 1.8T Sport gets all of the above plus a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and foglights.
The new standard touchscreen interface in the 2016 VW Jetta is one of the segment's best for smartphone integration.
The 1.8T SEL reverts to standard suspension tuning, but adds different 17-inch wheels, the sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, automatic headlights and wipers, higher-quality interior materials, and front reading lights and vanity mirror lights. The SEL Premium package adds a six-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a cooled glove compartment and an eight-speaker Fender audio system.
The Lighting package available on Sport and SEL trims adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights and ambient interior lighting. The Driver Assistance package optional on the SEL trims adds adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning and automatic emergency braking, a blind-sport warning system and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Jetta GLI is available in SE and SEL trim levels. They essentially line up with the regular Jetta versions, but both have a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, special styling elements, sport seats, the Connectivity package elements, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, keyless ignition and entry, and the Fender sound system. The SEL differs with 18-inch wheels, a blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert system, LED running lights, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and a navigation system.
The Hybrid is available only as the SEL Premium. It has the same extras as the GLI SEL, plus extra hybrid-specific styling elements and trip computer readouts. It reverts to the six-speaker sound system.
performance & mpg
Every Jetta is front-wheel drive. The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T has a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder good for 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission with hill hold assist is standard; a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 32 mpg combined (28 city/39 highway) with the automatic; VW estimates the manual achieves 33 mpg combined (28/40).
The Jetta 1.8T models have a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard on the Sport, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the Sport and standard on the SEL. In Edmunds performance testing, a Jetta 1.8T with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, which makes it the quickest compact sedan we've tested at the time of this writing. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 29 mpg combined (25/36) with the automatic. The manual gets 1 mpg highway better.
The Jetta GLI has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six-speed automated manual (DSG) is optional. Expect a 0-60 time in the mid-to-upper 6-second range. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg combined (24/33) with the automatic. The manual gets 1 mpg worse in the city.
The Jetta Hybrid is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that works in tandem with an electric motor and a seven-speed automated manual. Total output is 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds testing, the Jetta Hybrid ran from zero to 60 mph in a swift 7.8 seconds, making it one of the quickest non-luxury hybrids. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 44 mpg combined (42/48). During an extensive Edmunds fuel economy test consisting of city, highway and interstate driving, the Jetta Hybrid averaged 43.0 mpg overall.
Every 2016 Volkswagen Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. All but the base S without the Technology package comes with a rearview camera. The 1.8T and TDI SEL trims are available with the Driver Assistance package that adds a frontal collision warning and automatic emergency braking, a blind-sport monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.
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.
In government crash tests, the Jetta received five out of five stars for overall safety, with four stars for total front impact protection and five stars for total side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta the highest possible crash rating of "Good" in its moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests, as well as a "Good" score in the side-impact, roof strength and seat/head restraint (whiplash protection) tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Jetta SE came to a stop from 60 mph in 118 feet, which is better than average.
With the ancient 2.0-liter base engine replaced by the more powerful and efficient 1.4-liter turbo, the Jetta has the most appealing powertrain lineup in the segment. While we have not sampled the new engine, its specs on paper are competitive, and we've yet to meet a Volkswagen turbo-4 we didn't like. On that note, the 1.8-liter turbo that comes standard on the Sport and SEL trims is a fantastic offering, boasting impressive acceleration, smooth refinement and relatively thrifty fuel economy.
Then there's the 2.0-liter found in the GLI. It's also a refined engine that punches above its weight in real-world driving, providing grin-inducing torque at almost any rpm. We're just not especially enamored with the car it comes in. If you're simply looking for a sportier version of the Jetta, the GLI certainly hits the spot, but its steering, handling and braking abilities are far below what you'd get in sport compacts like the Ford Focus ST and VW GTI. As for lesser Jettas, they ride smoothly and comfortably, but so do some other rival sedans that also manage to feel more alive and engaging when driving around turns.
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta is a comfortable car to drive, but others surpass it when it comes to cornering prowess.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Jetta Hybrid manages to pull off the neat trick of delivering hybrid fuel economy without driving like a hybrid. As we discovered in our Hybrid Sedan Comparison Test, the Jetta is quick and lively around town, with a more conventional-feeling power delivery than hybrid versions of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Its smaller size than those midsizers also imparts a greater sense of agility.
Almost every compact sedan today features an eye-catching interior design with edgy shapes and a focus on the latest technology. The key word there is "almost." The Jetta's cabin, by contrast, is resolutely conservative in appearance, with materials ranging from glaringly spartan in lower trims (the dash and doors are covered with hard, shiny plastic, for instance) to merely adequate in upper trims (the dash adopts a soft-touch, low sheen material, but the door panels remain unyielding). Volkswagen's Golf hatchback has a much more attractive, higher-quality cabin, as do the rival 2016 Honda Civic and Mazda 3.
For 2016, the Jetta gets a welcome injection of technology. Volkswagen's latest touchscreen interface is standard on every trim level, available in two sizes and offering VW Car-Net as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone app integration. Unchanged, thankfully, is the Jetta's remarkable spaciousness by segment standards. The backseat dwarfs that of just about every other compact sedan and hatchback (including the Golf), and the remarkable 15.7-cubic-foot trunk is on par with bigger midsize sedans.
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.