Despite gradual bracket creep that has seen "compact" sedans steadily expand, the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta remains on the large side of the segment for interior volume. It's well ahead of the Ford Focus, for example, and because its interior is better arranged, the Jetta even has more back-seat space and trunk space than some mid-size sedans.
The interior is comfortable for all occupants, with plenty of head and leg room for four adults—or five in a pinch, though perhaps not for the long road trips VW tends to show in its TV ads. Volkswagen 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.
The seats and driving position are excellent, though we still haven't been able to drive a base version with cloth upholstery. The test cars we've driven were trimmed in VW's synthetic leather, and some have been outfitted with sport seats whose firm bolstering and Germanic long-distance comfort that can feel a little too stiff for the first few miles. Even with the sunroof fitted, space is ample in all directions and the interior doesn't feel confining in any aspect.
From the driver's seat, you'll notice that the steering wheel is a little more inboard than in some other cars. VW has stretched and pulled the underpinnings used for other cars to expand the Jetta's size, which results in more elbow room outboard of the controls—which haven't moved from the layout used in smaller VWs. It doesn't really affect the driving position, but it leaves more space to the left of the steering wheel than the right.
It's the back seat that really benefits from the stretching, though. 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 riders over 6-feet tall, regardless of slouching. That rear seat folds down in every Jetta, exposing a narrow pass-through to the cabin. The levers to fold down the seat aren't inside in the car; instead, they're in the trunk. That may be a logical place (that's also less costly to manufacture) but the unfinished linkages that tuck up under the Jetta's rear parcel shelf look distinctly cut-rate.
Still, the Jetta's now in its sixth year of this generation, and the 2011 roots of the interior are starting to show through. VW has finally added a single USB port next to the bin in front of the shift lever, but that bin is too small to hold a cellphone. So the phone has to occupy one of the two cupholders, with a cable stretched along the console to the port. The glove box is roomy, and the cupholders between the front seats are supplemented by water-bottle holders molded into the door panels.
The finish of the interior looks good, but less expensive models still wear plenty of inexpensive hard-plastic surfaces. On our latest test car, a 1.4T SE model, every single surface turned out to be hard plastic except the armrests on the doors and console. VW has added a bit more chrome around the instruments, which goes a long way to reduce the grim factor. But the start button still sits on the console next to a row of four rectangular black-plastic blanking plates, with a round plastic plug in the steering column where the ignition key used to go.
More worrisome, our latest test car demonstrated three separate and individual rattles and buzzes from the dashboard over various types of rough surface over our four-day test. One of them could be stopped just by pressing on the dash top over the audio system; the others persisted until the road surface changed. And that's something we simply don't see anymore, whether from Asian or U.S. automakers.