2016 Volkswagen Jetta

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker
April 30, 2016

Buying tip

The 44-mpg rating of the 2016 VW Jetta Hybrid cost $12,000 more than a base gasoline model—which now has an efficient 34-mpg 1.4-liter turbo engine—so do your math carefully in this era of low gas prices.

features & specs

4-Door Automatic 1.4T S
4-Door Automatic 1.4T S w/Technology
4-Door Automatic 1.4T SE
28 city / 39 hwy
28 city / 39 hwy
28 city / 39 hwy

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta keeps its excellent handling and high safety ratings, but it's starting to show its age in a a few ways.

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta is the best-selling VW in the States. It's a four-door sedan only these days, its five-door wagon having joined the Golf lineup.

The Jetta still has fine handling and safety in its corner, but it's beginning to look quite dated. This year it gets a new, peppy, and fuel-efficient base engine, some infotainment upgrades, and some added active-safety features.

The big stories are in the Jetta's powertrains. A new base 1.4-liter turbo four engine accounts for six different trims—versions of the S, SE, and SEL levels—while the 1.8T Sport and the Jetta Hybrid are their own trim levels. Finally, the Jetta GLI 2.0T has two of its own trim levels, SE and SEL.

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For 2016, the Jetta's diesel engine has been withdrawn from the market. VW flouted diesel emissions regulations, and still is working on a solution to fix the problem in new cars and in those purchased over the past decade.

Now in its sixth model year, the Mexican-built Jetta remains one of the most conservative designs in the segment. If you want style and flair in a compact sedan, you'd probably be better served going for a model like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, or Hyundai Elantra. The Jetta's refresh last year made a few subtle changes to the front and rear fascia, but the square-cut sedan shape and the slab sides are starting to look dated. The inside remains refreshingly straightforward.

It may lack the TDI diesels in the lineup for 2016, but the Jetta still offers three different turbocharged four-cylinder engines—each with a choice of manual or automatic transmission—plus a hybrid model at the very top of the range. Starting below $20,000, the majority of this year's Jettas will be fitted with the new 150-hp 1.4T turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, which accounts for six trim levels. The 1.4T is responsive, produces torque starting at low engine speeds, and is light-years ahead of the archaic fours used in previous years of the same car.

The 1.8T Sport has the same driving characteristics (and only 20 hp more), while the GLI 2.0T is the hot rod of the bunch, offering a 6-speed manual or VW's dual-clutch automatic rather than the 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic used in lesser versions. Then there's the Hybrid, with the same 1.4-liter turbocharged four plus a hybrid system and a high-voltage battery pack—all adding up to a car that's more fun to drive than a Prius, albeit not quite as efficient. Still, its 44-mpg combined rating is impressive. The 1.4T versions come in at either 33 mpg combined (for the five-speed manual) or 32 mpg combined (for the automatic).

This range of models—even without the TDI diesel versions—lets VW's compact sedan be many things to many different buyers, though it has a lot of ground to cover. It must squeeze in what might be the most usable amount of interior space in the compact class; deliver an impressive sweet spot of performance, refinement, and fuel economy; and offer plenty of features, all while keeping the price point in the mid-$20,000 range. Though the price of features can add up quickly, the Jetta seems to accomplish all of that—and its sales reflect that success.

Space for people in the cabin and goods in the trunk remains one of the Jetta's strong points; it's so large inside that it barely squeezes into the compact class. The seats are comfortable in the usual firm German way. A great driving position, rear-seat space that wouldn't be out of place in a mid-size sedan, and obvious German heritage in the on-road behavior are its strong points.

Despite some of its quirks, it remains one of the most livable and refined compact sedans—and one that's always fun to drive. Well-tuned electric power steering is now standard across the range, and four-wheel independent suspension plus German roadholding simply puts the Jetta on a higher plane than more prosaic compact sedans. And that applies to all models, from the base 1.4T through the luxurious hot-rod GLI 2.0T.

Over the last two years, VW has added an impressive suite of active-safety features to the Jetta range. This year, a rearview camera is standard on all but the base Jetta S. Beyond that, in various combinations and trim levels, blind-spot monitors, forward-collision warnings, and automatic braking are all now available. Along with a frontal crash structure beefed up a couple of years ago, the new electronics garner the Jetta an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, with its top rating of "Good" on every test. it also gets five stars overall from the NHTSA.

Even the base Jetta S now has air conditioning, though it sticks with 15-inch steel wheels, silver plastic wheel covers, and cloth seats. On the other end of the scale, the Jetta Hybrid now comes only as a top-spec model starting at more than $30,000—making the potential savings in gasoline expenses dubious at best.

One final note on the 2016 Jetta range: Last year, a new version of the SportWagen compact wagon gave up its Jetta name, and the all-new model becoming part of the Golf lineup. It had always been based on the Golf platform, and both the Golf and the SportWagen were entirely redesigned for 2015 even as the Jetta soldiers on. So it makes sense to call the wagon a Golf, as it has been in the rest of the world since it launched—even if some Jetta owners are confused.

Fuel economy for the Jetta ranges from the Hybrid's excellent 42 mpg city, 48 highway, 44 combined rating to the 1.4-liter's 28/40/33 mpg rating. The 2.0-liter four isn't as frugal: it's rated by the EPA at 23/33/27 mpg.


2016 Volkswagen Jetta


The plain lins of the 2016 VW Jetta are starting to look dated, though the interior is clean and straightforward.

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.

Review continues below

2016 Volkswagen Jetta


Every engine in the 2016 VW Jetta is turbocharged; they're response, the handling is excellent, and it's the driver's car among compacts.

The TDI diesel models aren't available, but the 2016 VW Jetta still manages to offer seven different powertrain combinations: three separate gasoline engines, each with a manual or automatic, plus a hybrid model that's by far the lineup's fuel-efficiency champion. VW has finally gotten rid of the ancient engines they used to launch this body style back in 2011, and every engine in the Jetta now sports a turbocharger. All are impressive and refined, as you'd expect from a German manufacturer.

Most Jetta 1.4T trim levels now come with a 150-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 putting out 184 pound-feet of torque. It's paired to either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic transmission. (This replaces the previous base engine, an ancient 2.0-liter four putting out all of 115 hp.) Its output is only 20 hp less than the mid-range 1.8T engine, and we recommend taking a test drive in the 1.4T before you get talked into the higher power of the bigger engine.

The middle engine, an energetic 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4, is rated at 170 hp—and its torque maximum of 184 lb-ft arrives early in the rev range. It too is offered with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, but only in a single model, the 1.8T Sport. Both the 1.4T and 1.8T engines are tuned to provide strong power low down in their rev ranges, and both are among the most pleasant turbo fours we've driven. They're quiet, too, if you don't hammer them—but if you do, the 1.8T turbocharger revs especially sweetly. It can push the Jetta to 60 mph in about 7.0 seconds (the 1.4T is a tad slower) and it delivers that acceleration eagerly.

The top-of-the-line Jetta GLI 2.0T is the most powerful, putting out 210 hp from its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. This one too brings on its boost low in the rev range, and delivers consistent, exciting power into the 6,000-rpm range. Its growls and whistles provide an aural exclamation point to accelerating out of curves, bringing silly grins every time the driver taps into the maximum boost. The standard 6-speed manual has slightly notchy shifts and long pedal strokes, but the available dual-clutch automatic's paddle controls are quick to react. A lot of the GLI engine's character is now found in the 1.8T, but the GLI is still quicker to 60 mph, with its own handling spiffs.

It's also worth noting that the 1.4T, 1.8T, and 2.0T turbo engines all run on regular gasoline now, rather than the recommended premium fuel for some previous engines.

But if you want ultimate fuel efficiency, that's the job of the Jetta Hybrid, rated at a sky-high 44 mpg combined. It uses the same 150-hp 1.4-liter turbo four as the base 1.4T, but it adds a 20-kw (27-hp) electric motor with a clutch on either end, and it alone uses the company's 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Output of the combined gasoline-electric powertrain is 170 hp. VW has largely suppressed the annoying feel of some hybrid powertrains; the Hybrid can run up to 44 mph on electric-only power. It also switches off the engine and slips into what VW calls "sailing" mode, in which the electric motor alone propels the car, for short stretches that turn out to make a real difference to efficiency. Only the brakes give the game away: They're lifeless and change in feel abruptly when switching from regenerative to mechanical stopping power.

It's the handling and roadholding that set the Jetta apart from pretty much every other compact on the market, save for the latest Mazda 3 and Ford Focus. The Jetta's independent suspension on all four corners gives better combination of ride control and precise feel than any competitor.

The ride control is excellent, with virtually none of the bounding and hopping you might feel in a Kia Forte, for example. All versions now have electric power steering, too, and it's a good rendition with a hint of feedback. Brake feel is strong, confident and deep, too. While the latest Honda Civic is considerably better than its predecessor, and the Ford Focus has always handled in a crisply European way, none of them corner as confidently as the Jetta while delivering the same supportive but absorbent ride. It's almost an invitation to treat everyday driving like your own autocross.

For the Jetta GLI, VW also tightens the springs and shocks, lowers the right height, and adds an electronically simulated front-differential lock that helps tighten its line through corners. The GLI comes with standard 17-inch wheels and rear disc brakes, and 18-inch wheels are optional. The result: a sedan that's great at 7/10ths driving, with alert steering and a nicely damped ride. More precise than base versions, the GLI isn't as sporty as purists might dream, but it underscores the German advantage in suspension tuning versus almost all of the Asian-brand compacts.

Review continues below

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 VW Jetta has lots of room for people and cargo, and travel is comfortable, but we worry about assembly quality.

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.

Review continues below

2016 Volkswagen Jetta


The 2016 VW Jetta gets almost perfect scores; it's a Top Safety Pick+ and offers new active-safety systems.

The 2016 VW Jetta gets good crash-test ratings from both agencies that judge vehicle safety. For 2016, advanced-safety items are now spread more widely across the lineup.

While the 2016 Jetta looks all but identical to earlier models on the outside, its understructure was beefed up two years ago in response to the tough new small-overlap frontal crash test from the IIHS. The agency now gives the Jetta its top rating of "Good" in every category, including small-overlap. Even better, with the added active-safety features, the Jetta has been dubbed an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.

Jetta sedans get a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA, placing them among the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, and Toyota Corolla, among others. The Jetta earns four stars in rollover and frontal crash, as well as a five-star side-impact score.

Six airbags are standard on every Jetta, including dual front, side, and curtain airbags. So are stability control and anti-lock brakes; active headrests; and tire pressure monitors. And a notable advantage to the car's upright sedan profile is good outward visibility. The rear-seat headrests are low, the glass area is large, and the roof pillars are relatively tall—adding up to better rear and three-quarter visibility than in more elongated and heavily stylized compacts from other makers.

Last year, the Jetta offered several new radar-based safety systems. For 2016, all Jetta trim levels are equipped with an automatic post-collision braking system. The Driver Assistance Package offered on SEL and SEL Premium models has added adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings and automatic braking, and blind-spot monitors.

VW also offers available bi-xenon lights that can also steer through turns depending on where the driver points the wheels. A rearview camera is now included on every trim level except the base Jetta S.


2016 Volkswagen Jetta


The 2016 VW Jetta lineup offers a total of 10 trim levels over seven powertrains, though most desirable features take the price up.

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta not only has seven powertrain options, but also it offers a plethora of trim levels. The basic trim levels are S, SE, and SEL, all of them offered with the 1.4T engine. The 1.8T Sport and the Jetta Hybrid are their own separate trim levels. Finally, the sporty GLI 2.0T has two trim levels of its own.

All Jettas come with an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a new multi-function steering wheel; air conditioning; and, at long last, a USB port.

The base Jetta S, priced from just above $18,000 with the manual, has cloth seats, 15-inch steel wheels with silver plastic wheel covers, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen. It offers options for a center console, cruise control, and a sunroof. There's also a Jetta S with Technology package, which adds keyless ignition, a rearview camera, an extendable console armrest, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen head unit with satellite radio and VW Car-Net App-Connect.

For around $20,000, the Jetta SE adds heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, electric power steering, an iPod input, and satellite radio. New this year is the rearview camera and a 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW Car-Net App-Connect. The SE with Connectivity adds another $2,000-plus to the price and comes with different 16-inch wheels, a chrome grille, carpeted floor mats front and rear, synthetic leather seats, keyless ignition, and leather for the steering wheel and handbrake lever. Car-Net, an OnStar-like service, is also included. A sunroof is among the options.

Finally, the 1.4T SEL trim keeps the SE's equipment, but adds automatic bi-xenon headlights with rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry, navigation, a power driver seat, and a soft-touch dash. The top SEL Premium model is available by special order only, with a Fender premium audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and blind-spot monitors.

A Driver Assistance Package for both SEL trims now includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings with automatic braking, and blind-spot monitors.

The 1.8T Sport model adds onto the SE features, with black 17-inch wheels, navigation, two-tone sport seats, a black headliner, a rear spoiler, and the leather-wrapped wheel and handbrake.

The sporty Jetta GLI 2.0T is powered by the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, with a 6-speed manual gearbox standard and an optional 7-speed DSG transmission with paddle controls. It has its own distinctive styling updates this year, including a unique front fascia with a different grille texture and LED taillights, along with 17-inch black alloy wheels and red-painted calipers for the disc brakes.

Standard GLI SE features include red-stitched heated sport bucket seats with six-way power adjustment for the driver, aluminum pedals and interior trim; fog lamps, a steering wheel with red detailing, launch control, a rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, the Fender audio system, the sunroof, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Two different 18-inch alloy wheels can be ordered as options.

There's also a GLI SEL, by special order, that adds the bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting and LED daytime running lights, navigation, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert. 

Lastly, there's the Jetta Hybrid. It's base-priced at the top of the range, at $31,670. It comes with essentially the full SEL trim level as standard. The trim is called SEL Premium, and includes practically everything that's optional or available elsewhere in the lineup.

Review continues below

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

Even without the TDI diesel models, the 2016 VW Jetta's fuel economy ranges from good (1.4T) to excellent (Hybrid).

Although its turbodiesels are now off the market, the 2016 VW Jetta still offers a fuel-efficient hybrid model and a variety of gasoline engines too, some relatively efficient. Every gasoline engine in every Jetta is now turbocharged, and mileage ratings for gasoline models have risen from the car's earlier years.

The Jetta Hybrid is the most fuel-sipping model, though VW doesn't seem to be making a great effort to promote it and it's rare at dealers. The hybrid 1.4-liter inline-4 and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission put it at a sky-high 42 mpg city, 48 highway, 44 combined, according to the EPA. That's only 20 percent lower than the new Toyota Prius. That number may be difficult to extract, however, depending on driving conditions, so we'd peg real-world numbers at 40 to 44 mpg.

For the rest of the lineup, VW's ancient 2.0-liter base engine has finally given way to a new, modern 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 that comes with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic. It's the same engine used in the Jetta Hybrid—minus the hybrid hardware—and it boosts the base cars to 28/40/33 mpg for the manual and 28/39/32 mpg for the automatic.

The turbocharged 1.8-liter is the mid-range engine option between the 1.4-liter four and 2.0-liter four, and its mileage is predictably mid-range. The EPA rates that engine at 25/37/29 mpg with a 5-speed manual, and 25/36/29 mpg with a 6-speed automatic.

The Jetta GLI uses a turbo 2.0-liter four—the 210-hp hot rod of the group—that returns 24/33/27 mpg when equipped with an automatic transmission. That's a rating closer to those of mid-size sedans than this compact, no matter how sporty.

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March 28, 2017
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Good reliable car!

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For the ones who are looking for comfort and a reliable car bigger than a corolla or a civic this is the one!
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