Some safety scores haven't been updated for the 2013 model year, but the Jetta hasn't changed--and its strong performance in years past is a good reason to recommend it, though it lacks a lot of the newest safety options that other compact cars now offer.
The Jetta sedan is a strong performer in the federal crash-test regimen. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards the four-door a score of four stars overall, with individual ratings of four stars for front-impact and rollover protection, and a five-star score for side-impact protection. The SportWagen, though, hasn't seen its scores updated in some time, and it is based on a different architecture, which performed well under prior tests.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named both Jettas to its Top Safety Pick list. However in the new small overlap frontal test the Jetta Sedan earned an unimpressive 'marginal' rating.
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 flashers after an airbag deploys.
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 high-end Jetta GLI model, and no Jetta offers blind-spot detection or parking proximity sensors, even as options.