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In order to bring you the most useful review information covering the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta, TheCarConnection.com's editors have gathered excerpts from other reputable resources in a full review, then compared and contrasted them with their own firsthand driving impressions, authoring a Bottom Line take that sums it all up. This review also covers the new TDI Jetta, with its economical clean-diesel engine, and the Sportwagen body style.
Volkswagen's compact sedans and wagons are called the Jetta and Jetta SportWagen, respectively, and carry over to 2010 with just a few new features and interior revisions, prior to being completely redesigned for 2011.
The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta doesn’t stand out from the pack, as it once did, for styling alone—it’s pleasant, inside and out, but by no means bold. At nearly 180 inches long, the Jetta is almost a mid-size sedan now. The roomy interior has a handsome, upscale look, with better materials in general than you'd find in an entry sedan, though the layout appears quite conservative, upright, and businesslike. To put it bluntly, the new Jetta more closely resembles a large Toyota Corolla than its own crisply European ancestors.
Last year Volkswagen reintroduced its TDI clean-diesel engine to the Jetta lineup—this time, it makes 140 horsepower and is 50-state emissions-legal. With fuel economy ratings of 30 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway, the Jetta TDI and SportWagen TDI models might make more economic sense than the gasoline versions if you plan to do a lot of driving over many years of ownership—further sweetened, potentially, by a $1,300 federal tax credit that still might apply. The TDI engine is TheCarConnection.com's clear pick of the three engines offered. At the top of the range (though priced lower than the TDI) is the Wolfsburg (formerly GLI), which brings a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine; it's strong and torquey and more fuel-efficient in real-world driving than its 21/31 EPA ratings suggest. Each version can be matched with a manual or automatic, and both the TDI and the 2.0T engine are served well by the excellent dual-clutch automatic transmission. The only other option is the base 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine. The five makes 170 horsepower and a robust 177 pound-feet of torque—and it functions very well with the optional six-speed automatic (unfortunately no dual-clutch here), but it's one of the thirstiest engines in a base compact sedan, achieving just 22/30 mpg or 23/30 mpg in the EPA figures.
The story is much better with respect to handling. The Jetta offers a sportier alternative to the compact sedans from Honda, Toyota, GM, and Ford, and its steering is among the best electric power-steering units in the business. The Wolfsburg model gets a sport suspension that yields a slightly crisper turn-in without much affecting ride comfort.
The interior of the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta is precisely Volkswagen, with sophisticated looks and feel, switches that work smoothly, and grab handles that are well damped. It's roomy, too, with nearly as much backseat space as the slightly larger Passat. The tall ceiling helps afford a feeling of spaciousness, and there's more shoulder room than your average compact. In back, the trunk is quite cavernous at 16 cubic feet with fold-down rear seats for even more storage. Ride quality is firm but absorbent enough to be comfortable, and overall the cabin is considerably quieter than most budget-minded shoppers would expect. For 2010, all the Jettas get a revised instrument cluster and new steering-wheel design. Jetta Sportwagen models have an almost identical feature set to the sedan but come with a wide-opening back hatch and fold-flat backseat cargo area, allowing a lot more utility and flexibility.
The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta is especially strong with respect to occupant protection and safety features. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are optional, as are front side-impact airbags, full-length curtain/head airbags, and supplemental rear side bags (they're usually not at all offered in this class). The Jetta gets four stars from NHTSA for front-impact protection and five stars for side impacts, but it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with top "good" scores in frontal offset, side, and rear impact tests, along with the new roof-strength test.
The Jetta's option and feature lineup has been pared down in recent years; automatic climate control and leather seats are no longer offered, but it's still very well equipped. A new touch-screen radio replaces the old unit in SE and SEL models. A sunroof is optional, Bluetooth connectivity is now available on all 2010 Volkswagen Jetta models, and the price of the navigation-system option (which includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive, SD memory slot, and iPod connectivity) has been reduced.