The Jetta's a tweener, too big to truly be considered a compact, but just shy of the real mid-size family sedan in outright volume. Either way, it's a tremendous amount of space on wheels for the price, with great head and leg room for at least four adults--with the exception of the slightly smaller, mechanically distinct SportWagen.
When it was new for 2011, the Jetta grew nearly three inches over the prior version. Today's version is 182.2 inches long,with a 104-inch wheelbase, which puts it well ahead on the size scale over entries like the Ford Focus, but sized behind the Hyundai Sonata--though because its space 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 reads a little stiffly on the back for the first few miles. There's ample space in all directions, even with the sunroof fitted.
Where does the space come from? The Jetta's descended from other VW platforms, but stretched and pulled, and it's clear how it's been expanded. There’s 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 boost space. It doesn't affect 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 gains most of the increase in size, and it's capably roomy, even for tall passengers. The door 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.
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 glass. The trunk is big, 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.
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 backed up by molded-in water-bottle holders in the door panels. Less expensive Jettas are finished in harder, grainier plastics than the VWs of old, but SEL and GLI models have a soft-touch dash cap that's a little more pleasing to the eye and to the touch.
As for the SportWagen, it's nearly as flexible. The rear seat won't win awards for its spaciousness, but this Jetta shows how Volkswagen won over critics with interior fit and finish. It's just nicer inside, with better materials, firmer seats, and a smoother appearance. The rear seat can be a tight squeeze, though, but the seats fold down for good cargo space that rivals some small crossovers, while providing a lower liftover height and better visibility--not to mention the availability of a diesel powertrain.