- Good fuel economy
- Great handling
- Lots of leg room for rear passengers
- Good safety ratings
- Very conservative styling
- Can be pricey
- No more hybrid...
- ...diesel is gone too
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a decent compact car—one in a crowded field, without a "killer app."
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a compact car in a cutthroat segment that carves costs—not canyon corners. It's VW's best-selling car and is sedan-only these days—anything with a hatch is called a Golf now.
The Jetta competes with heavy hitters such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, and Chevy Cruze, but also the Mazda 3 and Hyundai Elantra. Yeah, it's a dense segment.
It earns a 6.5 out of 10 on our overall scale thanks to good safety and fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
After seven years on the market, the Jetta's plain take on a three-box compact still looks a little old-fashioned to us, and a recent light refresh didn't help. It's nondescript, and exactly what we picture when we think of some car with some doors and some people.
Inside, the same approach keeps us from getting jazzed about the interior, but the conservative approach has its perks: the Jetta has good outward visibility.
The Jetta Hybrid is gone this year and the troubled turbodiesel is getting a deserved timeout, but what's left is promising.
A base 1.4-liter turbo-4 is available in S and SE trims and makes 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic in most trims; a 5-speed manual is available in the base model. It shuffles up to 60 mph from a stop in just over seven seconds, but it's plenty for around-town commutes and returns decent fuel economy.
In SEL trims, the mid-range 1.8-liter turbo-4 that makes 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque is available. It's not any quicker, rather its just a little more confident and sweeter sounding. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic only.
A 2.0-liter turbo-4 is available in the hot-rod GLI and returns 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of twist. It comes with its own dual-clutch automatic or a 6-speed manual, both of which are fun to drive.
Quality, safety and features
The Jetta is one of the larger compact sedans on the market with room for four adults and plenty of cargo. Its upright style makes it easy to get in and out, rear passengers get plenty of leg room once they're in. The trunk's 15.7 cubic feet of available space is capacious, but with a caveat: big elbow hinges swing into the cargo area and somewhat ruin the space.
Both major safety rating organizations have given the Jetta good scores, including a Top Safety Pick+ nod from the IIHS. All Jettas come with a rearview camera this year, and SE-equipped models add blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert.
Top-of-the-line SEL models add a bigger engine and advanced safety tech such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
VW packs every Jetta with a 5.0-inch touchscreen radio, although higher trims get a bigger display. As base, many Jettas are equipped with good features such as Bluetooth connectivity and a multifunction steering wheel. Higher trims are budget Audis, we say, although there's no way to pick and choose a la carte items to get there: VW walls off many features in trim levels to keep dealers happy.
The SE is our pick for value and adds a sunroof, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, electric power steering, keyless ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, faux-leather seats, and a satellite radio with a 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW Car-Net App-Connect.
Most Jettas will return about 30 mpg combined, which is in line with the rest of the segment.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
Picture four wheels and four doors around four people. That's what a Jetta looks like.
The 2017 VW Jetta is now in its seventh model year, but you'd be hard-pressed to spot any differences from the first. 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.
We gave the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta a 5 out of 10 on our scale for style, for its wholly inoffensive body. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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.
It's also lacking some of the visual distinction found in others like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, or even the Chevy Cruze. The VW Jetta even makes the Toyota Corolla look a little brash—maybe a little bold.
Up front a three-bar grille dips down into the bumper and its reshaped foglights and headlights. 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. 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 6.5-inch touchscreen on certain models.
The GLI was changed last year with a more aggressive front fascia and honeycomb grille. It's rear diffuser and twin chrome-tipped tailpipes read ambitious, but we're fans of something—anything—different on the Jetta. It gets a lower ride height, optional black 18-inch wheels, and red-painted brake calipers, along with red stitching on the sport seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
A war of attrition has left standing three gasoline engines that we like—and axed a diesel engine that we loved.
We'll acknowledge the elephant in the room: The diesel is gone, and we're guessing it won't return. Also gone for 2017: The Jetta Hybrid, which leaves us only three powertrains for this year's Jetta. A 1.4-liter turbo-4 is base, an uprated 1.8-liter turbo-4 is available, and a 2.0-liter turbo-4 is the performance version.
We gave the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta a 5 out of 10 on our powertrain scale. While the more potent 2.0-liter turbo-4 is certainly more fun, we don't expect many shoppers to spring for the luxury. The base 1.4-liter inline-4 is better than the engine it replaces, but that was a low bar. The Jetta's standout feature is still its handling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 1.4-liter inline-4 is rated at 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It's paired to a 5-speed manual as standard or a 6-speed automatic on base models; SE trims or higher receive the automatic only.
The base engine is lively, but not fast. The automatic isn't a wet blanket either; most of the power comes low in the range so short-shifting doesn't spoil a lot of the fun. The 1.4-liter runs up to 60 mph in a shade over seven seconds, and doesn't sound all that relaxed getting there. If you don't hammer it, it's a worthwhile mill and probably adequate for many compact shoppers looking for an entry car that can return decent commuter mileage.
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's available in the SEL trims only this year. 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-4s we've driven. They're quiet, although the 1.8T turbocharger revs especially sweetly.
Sport-tuned GLI models feature a hot-rod 2.0-liter turbo-4 that produces 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. 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.
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.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
Comfort & Quality
The Jetta is spacious and comfortable for its class, but it comes with a hitch—or rather, a hinge.
The wave of current compact sedans has grown in recent years in terms of weight and footprint, and the Volkswagen Jetta has ridden that wave all the way to shore.
The new Volkswagen Jetta is one of the largest compact sedans on the market, and thanks to its boxy shape and interior layout, it's even more spacious than some mid-size sedans.
We gave the Jetta a 6 out of 10 on our scale for good cargo storage. Its base front seats may not be as comfortable as Hondas or Fords, but in synthetic leather, they're adequately bolstered and comfortable. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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.
There's room inside for four adults—or five in a pinch—although we'd stop short of getting the band back together to tour the country in a Jetta. There is plenty of head room and leg room for four adults, including 38.1 inches of leg room for rear-seat passengers.
The rear 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.
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.
The Jetta's trunk gets plenty of attention because of its size. At 15.7 cubic feet, it's among the largest in its class without going to a hatchback (the Golf has 22.8 cubic feet, to compare) but that space comes with a caveat. Deep and long elbow hinges eat into usable cargo space, which we like less than taxes.
The Jetta's now in its seventh 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.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
Crash tests show the VW Jetta is a top-performer—now with more widely available safety tech.
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta has received very good scores from both major U.S. safety rating organizations.
We gave the Jetta a 9 out of 10 on our safety scale thanks to good crash-test results and widely available safety features. It narrowly missed out on our top score because of a few blemishes on its federal testing. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Jetta's structure was beefed up a few years ago to ace the battery of tests from the IIHS and it worked well. The Jetta earned top "Good" marks on all its tests, including the notoriously difficult small-overlap front crash test, that simulates hitting a skinny object, such as a lamppost or tree. Coupled with available advanced safety features such as forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking and an "Acceptable" headlight score, the Jetta was rated as a Top Safety Pick+ by the agency.
In federal testing, the Jetta earned a five-star overall score (out of five stars), although the agency gave the Jetta four stars in front impact and rollover crash protection.
All Jettas come with a standard complement of six airbags, stability control systems, and a rearview camera. SE-equipped Jettas add blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, and SEL-trimmed models add forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
The Jetta's upright look also has its advantages: outward vision is good for its class, especially rear and three-quarter views.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
Base VW Jettas are well-equipped; upper trims give Audi a run for their money.
In past years, Volkswagen has had more trims and options for the Jetta than a Savile Row suit maker. For 2017, the automaker has pared down the number of powertrains from five to two, and simplified the trim lineup.
We gave the Volkswagen Jetta a 6 out of 10 on our scale thanks to a good touchscreen infotainment system and good—but not excellent—base features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
For 2017, Volkswagen has added a rearview camera, 16-inch wheels, and two-tone cloth seats to base S models to help bring it in line with others in its class. Those features are added to a 5.0-inch touchscreen radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and LED daytime running lamps.
For around $20,000, the Jetta SE adds much more—and we think it's the bargain trim of the lineup. The SE adds a sunroof, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, electric power steering, keyless ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, faux-leather seats, and a satellite radio with a 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW Car-Net App-Connect.
Stepping up to the SEL trim adds a slightly bigger engine, power adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control.
The SEL Premium trim is still the pinnacle of the Jetta lineup, but don't expect to see many on dealers' lots: it's order-only this year. It adds a Fender premium audio system and xenon headlights.
The Jetta GLI only comes in SE trim this year and gets 18-inch wheels, navigation, power adjustable driver's seat, parking assistance, Fender premium audio, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta
Hybrid and diesel Jettas are gone; the base engine is your best bet for fuel economy.
For 2017, Volkswagen has pared down its available powertrains in the Jetta from five to three, all turbo-4s.
The slow-selling Jetta Hybrid is gone this year, and the turbodiesel Jetta TDI has been shelved—perhaps indefinitely—as the automaker works to clean up the fallout from its emission scandal. Last year's 1.8T Sports are gone too.
Still, we give it an 8 here, since overall fuel economy is still quite good. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Base Jettas equipped with a 1.4-liter turbo-4 have been rated by the EPA this year at 28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined with the automatic. The 5-speed manual is only slightly more fuel efficient: 28/40/33 mpg for 2017.
Those numbers fare well against competitors such as the Honda Civic (35 mpg combined), Ford Focus (30 mpg combined), and Mazda 3 (33 mpg combined), without help from batteries.
Stepping up to the SEL trim nets a slightly bigger engine, a 1.8-liter turbo-4 that was rated last year at 25/36/29 mpg with an automatic transmission.
The Jetta GLI uses a turbo 2.0-liter turbo-4—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.