You may not be moved by the VW Jetta's styling, but in a world overdone with curves and crests and fillips of ersatz chrome, it commands respect.
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 for its visual durability. If you grok to 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.
At a less meta level, the Jetta's details are finely rendered, if in total it can read a bit plain. The grille stands out when inspected closely, and the tasteful balance of glass to metal keeps the bulky rear end from looking too linebacker. We admit to missing the old Jetta bustle-back trunks of the '90s, but don't see many other compacts that will look less timestamped, a few years down the road.
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 Jetta GLI, nor with the SportWagen. The GLI (like the Jetta SEL) 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.