We're still coming to grips with the current evolution of the Volkswagen Jetta. The Jetta of the past signified European refinement and a more sophisticated driving experience than the typical economy car, yet now we encounter an automobile that is all about a big interior package and a small price, as if it were meant to be sold at Costco.
OK, maybe we exaggerate, as Volkswagen has slowly added more features to the Jetta and recalibrated its personality since this car’s introduction. The current Volkswagen Jetta has more cabin and trunk space than its predecessors, not to mention more than some of today's smaller midsize sedans. Yet the Jetta no longer represents a uniquely European interpretation of an affordable five-passenger sedan, and this makes it harder for this Volkswagen to compete with the vastly improved breed of modern compact sedans.
Still, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta offers some upside. A rearview camera is now standard on all models. Sophisticated driver aids such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control now show up even on lower-priced trim levels. An updated infotainment system finally includes a USB connection in place of the former setup with its annoying proprietary cable. Finally, the 2017 Jetta's lineup of four-cylinder engines is pretty sweet, and two of the three available engines even offer a manual transmission.
But given the high standards set by compact sedans from other brands, it's hard to overlook the Jetta's bland interior design and similarly bland road manners. Top-rated competitors such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mazda 3 have copied the playbook of the classic Jetta, combining distinctive styling with a premium-style range of convenience features, not to mention lively handling in some models. We recommend checking them out, and you might even consider the latest four-door, five-passenger VW Golf before settling on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta.
Every 2017 Volkswagen Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, a complement of six airbags (front, front-seat side and side curtain), active front head restraints, and a rearview camera. The SE trim level offers blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while SEL models tack on forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
VW's Car-Net telematics system, standard on SE models and 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 front-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.
trim levels & features
For 2017, the Volkswagen Jetta is simplified into four trim levels: S, SE, SEL and GLI.
Standard on the S are 16-inch steel wheels, LED daytime running lights, foglights, air-conditioning, full power accessories, keyless entry, heated side mirrors, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split rear seats, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a four-speaker sound system with a 5-inch touchscreen interface, a CD player, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio jack.
An optional Cold Weather package adds heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles. Sixteen-inch cast aluminum wheels are also optional.
The Jetta SE includes the features as above (minus the foglights), plus 16-inch cast aluminum wheels, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, heated washer nozzles, synthetic leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, a rear seat pass-through, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a 6.3-inch touchscreen interface, satellite and HD radio, and Volkswagen's Car-Net App-Connect connected services.
The Jetta SEL builds on the features above (and adds the foglights) with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, chrome exterior accents, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-way power driver seat, a cooled glovebox, a navigation system, a six-speaker audio system, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
The GLI is now offered in only one trim level. It comes with most of the features listed above (minus adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning/braking), and adds a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, 18-inch cast aluminum wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, unique exterior styling details (different grille, chrome exhaust tips, rear spoiler, LED taillights), upgraded brakes, front and rear parking sensors, front sport seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a premium nine-speaker Fender audio system with subwoofer. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking are two notable deletions, however.
The front-wheel-drive 2017 Volkswagen Jetta offers three engine choices. The S and SE models come with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 32 mpg combined (28 city/38 highway) with the automatic. VW estimates the manual can return 33 mpg combined (28 city/40 highway).
The SEL comes with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with a six-speed automatic only, and EPA-estimated fuel economy is 29 mpg combined (25 city/35 highway).
The GLI has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six-speed dual-clutch automatic (DSG) is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg combined (24 city/33 highway) with the automatic. The manual gets 1 mpg worse in the city.
With three engines and three transmissions, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta has arguably the most appealing powertrain lineup in its class. The 1.8-liter turbo that defines the SEL model is especially impressive, combining lively acceleration, smooth refinement and thrifty fuel economy. Then there's the turbocharged, 210-hp 2.0-liter engine in the GLI, which punches above its weight in real-world driving and induces grins with powerful, torque-laden sprints at almost any rpm.
Yet for all the goodness of the turbocharged 2.0-liter, we’re just not particularly enamored of the GLI that it comes in. If you just want a sportier Jetta, the GLI fits the bill with its more firmly controlled suspension and upgraded, more powerful brakes. But the GLI is far from the Euro-style high-performance car represented by the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen GTI. More important, the driving performance of the 2017 Jetta GLI doesn’t even measure up to the standard set by the fully optioned versions of the Ford Focus and Mazda 3.
As for lesser Jettas, they prove compliant and comfortable on the highway, and most feel lively and engaging, too. At the same time, the other cars in this class have improved markedly in the last decade, so the Jetta no longer stands apart. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a roomy highway cruiser, but there are a lot of other compact sedans worth trying first.
Most of today's compact sedans feature interiors with edgy shapes and accents, a fair level of quality materials, and plenty of tech features, all of which appeal to the young buyers who are drawn to these cars. By comparison, the cabin of the Jetta looks very traditional and feels a little cheap. For example, the lower trim levels are cursed with hard, shiny plastic, which has become a thing of the past from other brands except for the most price-conscious models. Rivals such as the Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and even the Volkswagen Golf hatchback offer more attractive, higher-quality, soft-touch interiors.
The 2017 Jetta does measure up well in technology. There are two available touchscreen sizes, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and VW's own suite of connected conveniences and services. The interface is sharp, simple to use, and now offers a standard USB port for a wired smartphone connection. Audiophiles will appreciate the ability of the sound system to play FLAC-type music files.
And when it comes to interior space, the Jetta shines. The backseat’s expansive dimensions dwarf those of just about every other compact sedan and hatchback, including the VW Golf, while the trunk volume of 15.5 cubic feet rivals that of even midsize sedans. If you can overlook some chintzy material work and appreciate the loads of elbow room, the interior makes the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta a fine choice.
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.