Volkswagen Jetta — A lot of car for the money

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(December 11, 2022) As the cost of living continues to spiral out of control, the dreams of a new car with any level of driving amenities appears out of reach for the struggling family of four. And as interest rates shoot up and dealers insist on collecting more than the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price, a new car is simply too much for the battered budget. But take heart, there are some surprisingly good alternatives.

Not the least of which is the compact, but spacious, Volkswagen Jetta. If the Jetta has not been on your shopping list perhaps you should pencil it in and take a ride to your nearest VW store.

Here's the deal. The midlevel SE that includes a basketful of driving aids and modern technology carries a bottom line of under 26 grand. Included for that price are dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, power-adjustable driver's seat, rain-sensing wipers, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, emergency braking, tire pressure monitoring system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, two-years or 20,000 miles of free maintenance and three-years or 30,000 miles of 24-hour roadside assistance.

The current generation Jetta was introduced in 2019 and has undergone a makeover for the 2022 model year that includes updated styling and a new engine. A new turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder replaces the 1.4-liter engine that has graced the Jetta for several years. The outgoing engine was small by any standard with 147 horsepower, but it was better behind the wheel than on paper with a 0-to-60 rating of 7.7 seconds.

Since 2019, we have wished for more grunt in the standard Jetta and now we have it. The new engine, which also propels the new Taos crossover, makes 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and takes the Jetta from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds according to testing by Car and Driver. We use these 0-to-60 times because they are usually a good indication how a car performs in normal driving, and in the case of 2022 Jetta it performs quite well. It feels snappy in stop and go city traffic and it can haul buggy when necessary to merge into fast-moving interstate traffic or pass a pesky slowpoke on a two-lane road.

Perhaps the best trait of this new engine, however, is its excellent gas mileage measured at 29 mpg in city driving, 40 on the highway and 33 combined on the least expensive regular gas. The EPA says this is a $1,250 saving in fuel costs over the average new vehicle.

Jetta trim levels have been cut from five to four — S, Sport, SE
and SEL — starting at $21,460 for the S, $22,360 for Sport, $25,190 for SE, and $29,100 for the SEL. For those who like the look and feel of the Jetta, but desire a more aggressive driving car, Volkswagen has created the GLI with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 making 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It starts at $32,390. Note that 2023 prices are up only slightly.

The standard 1.5-liter engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual can be had with the S and Sport trim levels.

We found the Jetta had a very compliant ride, and a relatively quiet interior at highway speeds for a car at this price point. The driver's seat is comfortable. Rear seats should afford adequate legroom for most adults, but taller passengers may have to negotiate with front-seaters to gain enough space.

Trunk space is excellent for a sedan of this size with 14.1 cubic feet of storage. Two sets of golf clubs will easily fit in the trunk, and for more space the rear seatbacks fold down.

Every Jetta has a responsive touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Along with traditional volume and tuning knobs, the Car-Net unit allows gesture controls for swiping and pinch-to-zoom. Likewise, every Jetta has a mobile hotspot as long as people are willing to pay for a subscription-based data plan. Wireless charging is standard only on the SEL. Controls are very intuitive and easy to use, even the first time around the block.

Although you will have to go to the SEL for navigation, most people it seems these days count on their smart phones for navigation, and we have found in most case the iPhone has more up-to-date and superior navigation tools than the in-car units. And we were pleased that Apple CarPlay instantly showed up when we paired our phone, and the navigation app looked great on the VW screen.

In addition to the previously mentioned maintenance and road-side assistance warranties, the Jetta carries a 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty.

While sedans have gone out of favor, there are still several noteworthy competitors to the Jetta to consider in a purchase decision including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra. For that reason, the Jetta can be easily overlooked, but we think it should be on everyone's short list.

Base price: $21,460; as driven, $26,040
Engine: turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 158 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 184 pound-feet @ 1.750 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 186.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,989 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 city, 40 highway, 33 combined
0-60: 7.1 seconds (Cara and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra

The Good
• Smooth ride
• Lot of features for the price
• Very fuel efficient

The Bad
• No hybrid powertrain

The Ugly
• A lot of plastic in the cabin