2015 Volkswagen Jetta Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
December 15, 2014

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta has a nicer interior, more fuel-efficient engines, and should be safer, while retaining its huge interior and trunk, plus the response and roadholding that make it fun to drive.

The best-selling model offered by VW in the United States, the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta has gotten a number of upgrades over the past two years to keep it viable in the face of tougher competition from new and revised compact four-door sedans. Now in its fifth model year, the Mexican-built Jetta gets two new and more fuel-efficient engines--one gasoline, one diesel--along with a slightly refreshed interior, a handful of very minor updates to the exterior styling, and various new active-safety features.

The Jetta offers a multitude of powertrains, not only gasoline and diesel, but also a low-volume hybrid version. Their range lets the VW sedan be many things to many different buyers, though it has a lot of ground to cover. It must squeeze in what might be the most usable amount of interior space in the compact class; deliver an impressive sweet spot of performance, refinement, and fuel economy; and pack in plenty of features, all while keeping the price point in the mid-$20,000 range. Somehow, the Jetta seems to accomplish all of that, and its sales reflect that success.

From the outside, however, the Jetta remains one of the more conservatively styled options in the segment. If you want style and flair in a compact sedan, you'd probably be better served going for a model like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, or Dodge Dart. The Jetta's latest refresh brings a few subtle changes to the front and rear fascia, which VW claims should improve the Jetta's aerodynamics. At the rear, there's a new trunk lid with an integrated aerodynamic trailing edge, and GLI and Hybrid models get newly optional LED taillights. The rear-end changes give the car a conspicuous premium look, as it resembles very closely the current Audi A4. The car's interior has also been updated with a new steering wheel and revised infotainment and climate controls. 

Review continues below

The 2015 Jetta is still so spacious, it barely squeezes into the compact class. A great driving position, the back-seat space of a mid-size sedan, and obvious German heritage throughout, from the first turn of the steering wheel: It's all part of the experience in the Jetta, which is one of the most livable and refined of its kind.

Most Jetta models will be powered either by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (1.8T) or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel (TDI). Both models now receive an active radiator shutter that closes to shorten engine warm-up times and also reduce aerodynamic drag when extra cooling isn't needed. The diesel engine in the TDI models is a new unit, and delivers 36 mpg combined with either the manual or automatic transmissions. Real-world fuel economy could reach 40 mpg or more, however, as diesels often achieve on their ratings--especially in high-speed use, where the EPA highway ratings are 45 or 46 mpg. The anemic naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four returns to the lineup in base models.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

The Jetta Hybrid also carries over, with its 1.4-liter turbocharged four, hybrid system, and additional battery pack—all adding up to a car that's more fun to drive than a Prius, albeit not quite as efficient. And the GLI, with its 2.0-liter turbocharged four and sportier demeanor, will continue as the Jetta that packs the most fun. The Hybrid and GLI models are expected to go on sale early in 2015.

The other important news for 2015 is that VW has decided to bring some of its advanced-tech features and active-safety equipment to the U.S.; previously, these expensive items were only available in Europe and other overseas markets. Blind-spot detection, frontal collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert are all newly available this year. It also has a beefed-up front crash structure (though you'll never know it--the changes are all under the surface), which lets the 2015 Jetta ace the new and tougher IIHS small-overlap front crash test. It gets not only the top "Good" ratings on every IIHS test, but also the coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation.

Shoppers interested in well-equipped models will have the option of adding bi-xenon headlamps with adaptive lighting and LED daytime running lights, which were previously exclusive to GLI and Hybrid Jetta trims. We're glad to see the inclusion of these technologies, seen in many luxury cars, because when this Jetta generation was launched in 2011 it fell victim to U.S.-centric cost-cutting that denied our market of many of the premium-feeling materials and features available on Jettas elsewhere.

One other Jetta program note: For 2015, the SportWagen gives up its Jetta name, with an all-new SportWagen now becoming part of the Golf lineup. It had always been based on the Golf platform, so Golf SportWagen is a more honest name, even if the change might throw some consumers.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Styling

The Jetta doesn't have stunning or adventurous styling, but the cabin is well-organized.

You may not be wowed by the VW Jetta's styling, but in a world overdone with curves and crests and fillips of ersatz chrome, it at least commands respect. For 2015, the Jetta gets some very subtle updates that help keep the look fresh without going design-crazy.

Volkswagen has steered neatly clear of the collision of styling memes that litter the compact car field. It's missed out on some opportunities, where cars like the Focus and Forte have grabbed attention with new themes. Still, the Jetta's appeal lies in part with its visual durability. If you grok its shape, you understand it still will look handsome in a decade, and aren't bothered by fashion trends so much as you're disturbed by them.

That said, it still needed updating in VW's eyes to keep buyers interested. The mid-cycle refresh brings a new three-bar grille that's taller, dipping down into the bumper instead of the bumper coming up in between the headlights to meet it. Those headlights can now be optioned with bi-xenon elements and LED running lights previously only available on the GLI and Hybrid model. The new bumper also houses reshaped fog lights. While the front-end changes do provide a subtle difference, they were also designed with airflow management in mind to help reduce drag and give fuel economy a boost.

In the rear, the Jetta gets a new aerodynamically friendly trunk lid with an integrated spoiler on its trailing edge. GLI and Hybrid buyers can potion LED taillights, as well. The changes in the rear give the Jetta premium look, as it now reminds specifically of the current Audi A4, right down to the light detailing. No bad thing, but we wonder what the folks at Audi have to say about it.

The Jetta's cabin is just as straightforward as the exterior, and it's not only in size that it can feel like a calm oasis, if you've spent time in those other compacts. It's not busy-looking at all, just composed of clean lines and well-organized controls with a minimum of fuss and cutlines. The big round gauges are classic VW, and the "leatherette" seats have sporty horizontal ridges, while the shifter’s capped with a stripe of metallic trim. For 2015, the Jetta gets a new steering-wheel design with multifunction buttons and a flat bottom.

The GLI is flecked with the details that trigger performance nerves into action: red brake calipers and a lower ride height sharpen its profile, as do optional black 18-inch wheels, and red stitching on the sport seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel anticipate its brisk performance.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Performance

A choice from among five powertrains will suit most drivers; handling's a bit better than in other compact sedans.

The VW Jetta now offers car shoppers a choice from five powertrains dotted with five transmissions, almost all of which are impressive and refined, just as you'd expect from a German manufacturer.

We'd pass on the base Jetta sedan, the one with VW's ancient "2-point-slow" 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It's here for pricing strategy, period. With only 115 horsepower to put out through either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, it's nearly as tepid as a last-generation hybrid like the Honda Insight--VW estimates 0-60 mph times of about 11 seconds. Even in the lighter-weight Jetta, it's really only an option for the most price-conscious of buyers.

New last year, replacing the 2.5-liter five-cylinder in mainstream Jettas, is an energetic 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It's rated at 170 hp, and its torque maximum of 184 lb-ft arrives much earlier in the rev range. It stays much longer, too, with tuning that makes this one of the most pleasant turbo fours we've driven. It's quiet, too, if you don't hammer it--but if you do, the turbo four is a sweet revver. It can push the Jetta to 60 mph in about 7.0 seconds, and it delivers that acceleration with an eagerness completely missing from earlier Jetta engines. Fuel economy's also much better, no matter whether it's coupled to the five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Top highway mileage is now up to 36 mpg, within sight of the best-in-class cars with smaller interiors.

The power in the family comes from the Jetta GLI. It blows out 210 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The torquey four brings on boost low in the rev range, and pushes out consistent, exciting power into the 6000-rpm range. It growls and whistles while it works, putting an aural exclamation point on the exit points on curves, bringing silly grins every time you tap into the boost. The standard manual has slightly notchy shifts and long pedal strokes, while the available dual-clutch box's paddle controls are quick to react. A lot of the GLI engine's character is now found in the 1.8T, but the GLI is still quicker to 60 mph, with its own handling spiffs.

When it comes to big fuel economy, it's tough to beat the Jetta TDI. For 2015, diesel models get a new-generation engine based on the EA288 architecture. Horsepower is up from 140 to 150, and the torque max is the same 236 lb-ft, available now from 1750 rpm to 3000. Even with the output increase, the TDI's fuel economy sould improve, with VW estimating a manual model returning 32 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway, up form last year's 30/42 ratings.

Some of that increase is thanks to the front-end tweaks and a new active radiator-grille shutter, which closes a flap in front of the radiator when extra cooling isn't needed, reducing aerodynamic drag in the process. (The new grille shutter is also included on 1.8T models.) The TDI comes standard with a notchy but precise six-speed manual, but for drivers who don't want to shift, it offers a version of VW's dual-clutch automated manual transmission that knocks out shifts faster than some conventional automatics. It's perfectly suited to the narrow power band of the low-revving diesel.

Beating the TDI for the Jetta fuel-efficiency crown is the Jetta Hybrid. It uses a 150-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder paired to a 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor with a clutch on either end, and the company's seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Output of the combined gasoline-electric powertrain is 170 hp. The Hybrid earns a 45-mpg combined EPA rating, and our road tests indicate that real-world gas mileage should be close to that. VW's done a good job in suppressing the annoying features of hybrid powertrains, in giving the Hybrid enough electric-only power to run up to 44 mph max. On even the slightest, most undetectable downhill roads, the Jetta Hybrid will switch off its engine and slip into "sailing" mode, in which it is propelled only by the electric motor, for short stretches that turn out to make a real difference to efficiency. The brakes, however, make it obvious that this is a hybrid, as they're lifeless and change in feel abruptly when switching from regenerative to mechanical stopping power.

As of last year, all Jettas get an independent suspension at all four corners, and the charm that puts distance between them and most of the Asian compact cars is almost fully restored. (Previous models made use of a torsion-beam setup in the rear on less-expensive versions.) The Jetta has better ride control, and a more precise feel than even the independent-suspension Civic. There's next to none of the bounding and hopping you might feel in a Kia Forte, for example. Almost all versions now have electric power steering, too, and it's a good rendition with a hint of feedback. Brake feel is strong, confident and deep, too.

For the Jetta GLI, VW also lowers the ride height, tightens the springs and shocks, and adds electric power steering and an electronically simulated front-differential lock dubbed XDS, which helps tighten the GLI's line in corners. The GLI wears standard 17-inch wheels and rear disc brakes, too, with 18-inch wheels as an option. The result: a sedan that's great at 7/10ths driving, with alert steering and a nicely damped ride. More precise than base versions, the GLI isn't as sporty as purists can imagine in their wildest Wolfsburg dreams, but does underscore the German advantage in suspension tuning when it's held up against almost all of the Asian-brand compacts we can think of.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort & Quality

Rear-seat room is best in its class, and the Jetta's sport front seats are excellent.

LIke the Passat that sits above it in VW's lineup, the Jetta is on he large side of its segment in terms of interior volume. Fortunately, it's still nice to drive and more fuel-efficient this year despite the size superiority. The interior is comfortable for all occupants, with plenty of head and leg room to go around.

Today's Jetta is 182.2 inches long--nearly three inches longer than its predecessor--with a 104-inch wheelbase, which puts it well ahead on the size scale over entries like the Ford Focus. It's closer in size to the Hyundai Sonata, a mid-sizer--though because its interior is arranged more favorably, the Jetta has more back-seat space and even more trunk space than some mid-sizers.

A stint in the front seat is all the evidence you'll need to support those numbers. The interior's not at all confining, and in most versions, the seats and driving position are excellent. We've never seen a base Jetta, the one with cloth seats; most cars we've driven have been trimmed in VW's synthetic leather, and have been outfitted with sport seats with firm bolstering and the Germanic long-distance comfort that can feel a little stiff to the back for the first few miles. There's ample space in all directions, even with the sunroof fitted.

The Jetta's descended from other VW platforms, but stretched and pulled, giving more elbow room to the outboard side, while the steering wheel sits more inboard. In other words, the controls haven't moved, but the doors have been pushed out to increase space. It doesn't affect the driving position all that much, but it does leave more space on the left side of the steering wheel than on the right.

The back seat benefits from most of that length increase, and it's capably roomy, even for tall passengers. The doors open wide for easy access, and the seats are canted at an agreeable angle--though there's some contact with the headliner for six-footers, regardless of slouching.

Inside the cabin, the Jetta provides a moderate amount of small-item storage. The glovebox is roomy, and the center console found on most Jettas now houses the iPod port. There's a small bin that sits in front of the shifter, and the cupholders between the front seats are complemented by molded-in water-bottle holders in the door panels.

Soft dash caps are more widely available on differing Jetta models than they used to be; when it first launched in 2011, this generation had cost-cutting measures scattered around the cabin, including a lot of hard plastics. Thankfully, Volkswagen wised up and let more people have the agreeable plastic textures. For 2015, there's a bit more chrome around the instruments--although the start button still sits on the console next to a row of black-plastic rectangular blanking plates, and there's a round plastic plug in the steering column where the ignition key used to go.

All Jetta sedans have a fold-down rear seat, which exposes a rather narrow pass-through to the cabin. The fold-down mechanism isn't found inside in the car--the pull-style levers are inside the trunk, a logical place that's also less costly to manufacture, but leads to a less pleasing look if you inspect the unfinished linkages that tuck up under the Jetta's rear parcel shelf. VW claims the trunk is the largest in any compact car, with a wide opening and a low liftover height, but the hinges are fairly large and could rub against luggage if you try to use every cubic inch.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Safety

The Jetta has earned good scores from both safety agencies.

The Jetta gets solid ratings from both of the agencies that crash-test cars in the U.S. And with the 2015 updates, it now has many of the advanced-safety items available on other compact cars--and a beefier structure that should do better on the latest crash tests.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2015 Jetta sedan top 'good' ratings in every category, including the new small-overlap test. That's an improvement on the 2014 Jetta, which was deemed just "marginal" on that test. To address the deficiency, Volkswagen made what it called "extensive" changes to the core structure of the car. While the 2015 Jetta is all but identical to earlier models on the outside, its understructure now enables it to ace the small-overlap test--and with the added active-safety features, it is now (again) an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.

Like the 2014 models, the 2015 VW Jetta sedans get a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), placing it in the company of the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, and Toyota Corolla, among others. The Jetta earns four stars in rollover and frontal crash, as well as a five-star side-impact score.

One advantage to the Jetta's upright sedan profile is good outward visibility. The rear roof pillars are tall, the rear-seat headrests are low, and the glass area is large--all of it adding out to better rear and three-quarter visibility than in, say, the more elongated and swoopy Hyundai Elantra compact sedan. But the rearview camera feature is restricted to the more expensive versions, and no Jetta offers blind-spot detection or parking proximity sensors, even as options.

Six airbags are standard on every Jetta, including dual front, side. and curtain airbags. So are stability control and anti-lock brakes; active headrests; and tire pressure monitors. The Jetta also features a crash-response system that turns off the fuel and turns on the hazard lights after an airbag deploys.

For 2015, the Jetta also adds newly available radar-based safety systems. Blind-spot monitoring is bundled with rear cross-traffic alert, both acting as a helping hand if visibility to the rear is obstructed. There's also a frontal-collision warning system, which alerts the driver if the car senses that it's approaching another vehicle too quickly. And VW has added available bi-xenon lights that can also steer through turns depending on where the driver points the wheels.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Features

Volkswagen doesn't offer as many standard or optional features in its Jetta as rivals have.

The Volkswagen Jetta is offered in 13 equipment levels that cover the S, SE, and SEL trim levels as well as gas engines, the sporty GLI, the Hybrid, and the TDI diesel.

All Jettas come with an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack; power windows, locks, and mirrors; the new multifunction steering wheel; and air conditioning. The base Jetta S, priced from just above $17,000 with the manual and has cloth seats, no radio, and no air conditioning--the only Jetta so unequipped. It offers options for a center console, cruise control, and a sunroof. The gas-powered S can only be had with the base 2.0-liter non-turbo engine. There's also a Jetta S with technology package, which adds pushbutton start, a rearview camera, and a touchscreen head unit with satellite radio.

For just under $20,000, the Jetta SE adds heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, electric power steering, an iPod input, and satellite radio. The SE with Connectivity is a few grand more and adds different 16-inch wheels, a chrome grille, carpeted floor mats front and rear, synthetic leather seats, pushbutton start, a rearview camera, and leather for the steering wheel and handbrake lever. Car-Net, an OnStar-like service, is also included. A sunroof is among the options.

A new 1.8T Sport model adds onto the SE features, with black 17-inch wheels, navigation, a black headliner, a rear spoiler, and the leather-wrapped wheel and handbrake.

There's also a new SE with Connectivity and Nav package, which, as you might expect adds navigation, along with 17-inch wheels, keyless access and pushbutton start, and fog lights.

The SEL trim keeps the SE's equipment and 1.8-liter engine, adding two-tone sport seats, a power driver seat, a soft-touch dash, Fender premium audio, and dual-zone automatic climate. SEL and SE with Connectivity and Nav both come standard with the six-speed auto.

The Jetta TDI diesel has S-level equipment in base form (adding items like heated seats, a chrome grille, and iPod input) and SE with Connectivity-level equipment a step up; as a TDI SEL, it adds 17-inch wheels, a power driver's seat, a rearview camera, automatic dual-zone climate, navigation, and Fender audio.

The sporty Jetta GLI is powered by the turbocharged 2.0-liter four, with a six-speed manual gearbox standard and an optional seven-speed DSG transmission with paddle controls. Standard GLI SE features include 17-inch wheels; red-painted calipers for the disc brakes; red-stitched sport bucket seats; aluminum pedals and interior trim; fog lamps; a steering wheel with red detailing; launch control; a rearview camera; and LED taillights. Two different 18-inch alloy wheels can be ordered as options, along with dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, the Fender audio system, and the sunroof. There's also a GLI SEL that adds the bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting and LED daytime running lights; navigation; and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic. 

Lastly, there's the Jetta Hybrid. It's base-priced at the top of the range, at $31,670--a pretty big leap from last year's price in the mid to high 20s. But with data showing that hybrid buyers are older and more affluent than diesel buyers, VW feels this is the right place for the hybrid--and it comes with essentially the full SEL trim level as standard. The trim is called SEL Premium, and includes practically everything that's optional or available elsewhere in the lineup.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

Hybrid versions of the Jetta are the most fuel-efficient.

The VW Jetta is now offered with a broad array of drivetrains--combinations of gas engines, hybrid components, or diesel powerplants, plus several transmissions--each with its own fuel economy ratings, from subpar to equally astounding. All of this year's EPA ratings meet or beat the numbers from 2014, thanks to a variety of improvements.

The Jetta least likely to win any gas-mileage derby is the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder. When it's equipped with the standard five-speed manual, it's rated at 28 miles per gallon combined for the 2014 model--a figure that's only competitive with mid-size family sedans. With the automatic, it's at 27 mpg combined. A better choice is VW's new turbocharged four-cylinder, called the 1.8T. It rates as high as 30 mpg combined with the manual transmission, or 29 mpg with the automatic, a figure that's still a bit off the pace set by the latest Focus/Elantra/Cruze crowd--despite the grille shutters it gets for 2015.

The Jetta TDI diesel sedans are in a class of their own, and thanks to a new, more efficient diesel engine for 2015 plus grille shutters and other aero tweaks, it trumps last year's numbers. Both manual and automatic versions get a combined rating of 36 mpg, up from last year's 34 mpg. Moreover, Jetta TDI owners almost uniformly report that in real-world use, they exceed the EPA ratings for their diesel cars, so fuel efficiency of 40 mpg or more may be obtainable--especially on long-distance high-speed road trips, where diesels excel.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

The Jetta Hybrid is the most fuel-conscious model, though it's rare at dealers and VW doesn't seem to be making a great effort to promote and sell it. The hybrid 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission put it at a sky-high 45 mpg combined, just 10 percent lower than the much less entertaining Toyota Prius. That number is more difficult to extract than the TDI's ratings, we've found.

There's also the turbocharged 2.0-liter four found in the Jetta GLI, which delivers the same 26 mpg combined with its standard manual gearbox as last year, or 27 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic, up from 25 mpg combined in 2014.

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October 3, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Jetta Base

stick transmission still geared to tight 1 gear still the same shift to soon..

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Brakes as not as good as i would like,1st gear still the same must shift to soon but still like the car
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April 28, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Jetta Base

its a great car.

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design is sleek, interior is very nice, the features could be better, and fuel economy is pretty good
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April 9, 2015
For 2015 Volkswagen Jetta

WORST CAR YOU CAN PURCHASE

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This being my first big purchase, I am FURIOUS with what I got myself into. I was already hesitant in purchasing a Volkswagen because of all the mixed reviews I heard about it, however, i decided to go with it... + More »
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