The Jetta's styling doesn't move us, but it's bound to remain handsome for years to come, like generations of Jettas past--something that's not so easily said of other compact cars.
With the last Jetta, VW veered into a slicker, more aerodynamic mold that still shows its face in the SportWagen model. Now, the sedan's bulkier shape has more of the plainer, more finely drawn appeal of some of the vintage VWs of the Seventies. The design restraint can't quite hide the Jetta's size, but it does give some impact to the glass areas, to the grille, and to the big VW emblem that floats on the front end. If you're like us, you miss the old Jetta's bustle-backed rear that telegraphed what it was--a Golf with a trunk. This one's more anonymous, which works fine against the likes of the Cruze, but can seem out of sync with cars like the Focus, Elantra, and Dart.
The Jetta's cabin is just as straightforward, 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. It's also trimmed out in a distinctly hard grade of plastic in most models, and that marks a disappointing slide from the interiors that put VW on a pedestal in the past decade. Still, the sedan has some nice details worked in among the hard black plastics and open-grained trim. 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.
That's not the case with the new Jetta GLI, nor with the SportWagen. The GLI is spun from the new Jetta body, and shares the base dash structure, but it wears a soft cap on the dash that gives under fingertip pressure. The texture isn't quite as high-grade as before, but it's much better than in the base Jetta. The GLI also 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.
You only have to look as far as the SportWagen, which still has one of those lush interiors, to see the difference in the quality of materials. The wagon model still is based on the last-generation Jetta, and has its soft-touch dash intact, with lovely textures and switches and overall quality feel everywhere.