Spacious backseat and big trunk deliver the roominess of a big sedan with the footprint of a compact car. Four-cylinder engines are fun and fuel-efficient. Tech interface, touchscreen and navigation are fully featured and intuitive to operate.
Handling and performance are just average. Interior trim and materials feel subpar compared to competitors. It's pricier than some rivals. GLI model wants to be a high-performance car but is just sporty.
Ever since the Jetta was redesigned in 2011, we've had trouble accepting its new mission in life. Jettas of the past represented the best of European cars, more refined and better to drive than competing compact sedans. The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is all about offering big interior for a small price, as if it were designed not for demanding drivers but for stingy warehouse-club shoppers.
To be fair, Volkswagen has made a lot of changes to the Jetta over its model run, refining the interior and replacing some of the low-cost mechanical bits with more sophisticated hardware. And when it comes to passenger and trunk space, the current Jetta trounces its predecessors, not to mention a few midsize sedans. Backseat comfort is excellent and trunk space is generous.
That said, the Jetta's cabin consists of staid styling and cheap trim bits. Lower-trim models are characterized by hard, shiny plastic, a cheap material that most automakers did away with years ago. At least the Jetta's technology is up to date, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and ? finally! ? a proper USB port in place of VW's proprietary media port (which required an expensive dealer-supplied connector to hook up a smartphone).
Base-model Jettas used to come with an ancient 2.0-liter eight-valve engine that (literally) dated from the last century, but VW has since replaced it with a slick 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower. However, it's the 170-hp 1.8-liter turbo that's the real gem. You can also get a 210-hp 2.0-liter turbo engine (sourced from Volkswagen's vaunted GTI) in the sporty Jetta GLI model. EPA fuel economy estimates range from a high of 33 mpg combined (28 city/40 highway) for the 1.4T manual down to 27 mpg combined for the GLI.
As a group, Jettas are comfortable and engaging to drive, though they no longer stand head and shoulders above the competition the way the previous-generation Jetta did. And while the GLI is very quick in a straight line, its road manners lag behind those of its high-performance competitors, including Volkswagen's own GTI.
Volkswagen has simplified the Jetta lineup for 2017 by reducing the number of available options; equipment is now largely determined by trim level. The S model offers most of the creature comforts we expect in a compact sedan, while the SE adds several nice-to-have features. SEL is the luxury version of the Jetta, and the GLI stands alone as the performance-oriented model. Which is the best one to buy? Edmunds can help find the perfect 2017 Volkswagen Jetta for you.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.