The 2016 VW Jetta is now in its sixth model year, and compared to an array of more recent entries with newer, racier lines, it's starting to look old, plain, and staid. Last year, the Jetta got a few very subtle updates to help keep the look fresh, but you have to be a Jetta fan to notice them.
The Jetta's basic look is the simple, rectangular, three-box compact sedan with the durable styling cues that could only mean it's a VW. This has some advantages, including good rearward visibility, but its slab sides and a corporate VW nose that appears unchanged seem a bit past their prime. It's for people who aren't bothered by fashion trends so much as disturbed by them.
And while VW has neatly steered clear of the collision of styling memes that litter the compact car field, the Jetta now lacks the visual distinction of a Ford Focus, a Hyundai Elantra, or the latest Chevrolet Cruze. It's plainer and simpler even than a Toyota Corolla, and that's saying something against a compact car that defined the word "bland." Last year's extremely subtle refresh included a taller three-bar grille that dips down into the bumper, headlights that can be optioned with bi-xenon elements, and LED running lights—previously only available on the GLI and Hybrid models—plus reshaped fog lights.
At the rear, a spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk lid along with LED taillights (available on the GLI and Hybrid versions) give the Jetta a more premium look, perhaps hinting a bit at its Audi A4 big brother.
Inside the Jetta, the cabin is just as straightforward as the exterior. Its design elements feel like a calm oasis compared to the more overwrought dashboards of a few other compacts.The clean lines and well-organized controls mostly operate with a minimum of fuss or education. The big round gauges are classic VW, and the shifter’s capped with a stripe of metallic trim, while the "leatherette" seats have sporty horizontal ridges. Changes over the last couple of years include a multi-function steering wheel with expanded controls, and a larger 6.3-inch touchscreen on certain models.
The sporty and luxurious Jetta GLI model gets its own, more distinctive styling for 2016, including a bolder and more aggressive front fascia with honeycomb grille and a rear diffuser with twin chrome-tipped tailpipes. It retains the lower ride height, optional black 18-inch wheels, and red-painted brake calipers of previous years, along with red stitching on the sport seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel.