2023 VW Jetta SEL — An impressive 'big' small car that’s notably refined

By Jim Prueter

(February 6, 2023) Volkswagen refreshed the entire Jetta line-up for the 2022 model year, and the Jetta SEL tested here retains everything that was new for last year with 2023 bringing only minor cosmetic changes. Starting with the exterior the Jetta received a new front grille design as well as new front and rear bumpers.

Inside, don’t be fooled by Jetta’s designation as a compact sedan, its cabin is surprisingly roomy for a small sedan because it is longer than most of its competitors, with comfortable front and rear seats, and a large trunk. Jetta is easy to enter with wide door openings and once inside you’ll appreciate the added leg, head and shoulder room, excellent outward visibility, a quiet cabin and smoothness on the road.

The interior is refined with a definite sense of German quality, flair and conservative design elements. Our SEL was trimmed with heated Vienna leather seating surfaces, a heated leather wrapped tilt and scoping steering wheel, and 60/40 split heated rear seat.

Jetta is available in four trim levels for 2023 – S, Sport, SE and SEL. There’s also a sportier and more powerful GLI trim level that we’ll review at a later date. We tested the top level SEL that’s powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. For those desiring a manual shift transmission it’s standard on the base S model. No hybrid powertrain is offered.

Regardless of trim level every Jetta has a responsive touchscreen infotainment system with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. We liked that it had traditional radio volume and tuning knobs but there’s also the Car-Net system that allows for gesture controls for swiping and pinch-to-zoom capability. Wireless smartphone charging is standard on SE and SEL trims as well as mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Standard driver-assistance technology includes forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Volkswagen has an above average four years or 50,000-mile warranty (standard for most new cars is three years 36,000 miles) along with complimentary maintenance for two years or 20,000 miles.

On the road we found the 158-horsepower to be much quicker than anticipated reaching a 0 to 60 mph time of 7 seconds and a fun manner to zip around curvy roads and into sharp corners above the posted speed limit.

Overall, Jetta is an impressive, roomy compact economy car that’s notably refined with a solid build quality with easy and engaging to drive attributes. It has an easy-to-use infotainment system and comes loaded with standard features and good fuel economy. Jetta is a solid choice with good value – an excellent bang for the buck compact sedan.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $28,385
Price as Tested: $29,280
Engine/Transmission: 158-hp 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
EPA Fuel Economy: 29/40/33 mpg – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Overall highest possible 5 Star from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and overall “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Where Built: Puebla, Mexico

Competes With:
Honda Civic
Hyundai Elantra
Kia Forte
Nissan Sentra
Toyota Corolla

Comfy-roomy cabin, large trunk
Impressively quiet ride quality
Loaded with standard features

Most competitor cars are more stylish
Hybrid option not offered