2020 Volkswagen Jetta

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
August 21, 2019

Buying tip

Grab the Driver Assistance Package for essential collision-avoidance tech.

The docile 2020 Volkswagen Jetta is a solid compact sedan choice; for zesty performance, opt into the Jetta GLI.

The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta sedan makes up for its lack of pizazz in most configurations with exceptional refinement and value. 

Overall, we rate the 2020 Jetta at 6.0 out of 10 (read more about how we rate cars).

That figure is determined by the most popular versions of the Jetta—S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium versions powered by a 148-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo-4. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, but nearly all Jettas built at the automaker’s Mexican assembly plant head to dealers with an 8-speed automatic transmission that shuttles power to the front wheels.

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The 228-hp Jetta GLI swaps in a lowered suspension with a more sophisticated design and can be had in S and Autobahn trims. The strong-accelerating, good-handling Jetta GLI impresses on a winding road, especially with the adaptive dampers included with the costly Jetta GLI Autobahn. Fuel economy as high as 34 mpg combined makes the Jetta among the most miserly compact sedans on the market, too.

Inside, the Jetta sticks with the conservative tone set by its exterior. Standard 6.5-inch and optional 8.0-inch touchscreens come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, plus a newly standard wi-fi antenna this year for a subscription-based telematics system. High-trim versions include a configurable digital instrument cluster and are newly available with a heated steering wheel.

The base front seats are flat and light on support, but the Jetta SEL Premium swaps in leather-clad seats with adjustable lumbar support that addresses that flaw. Good rear-seat leg room should make passengers happy, too.

It’s a shame that VW doesn’t make automatic emergency braking standard as Toyota does on the Corolla, but at $450 on the base Jetta S and standard elsewhere, at least it’s an accessible option. The 2020 Jetta performed well in independent and federal crash testing, though its standard LED headlights didn’t impress. 

5

2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Styling

The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta is classically conservative.

One thing the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta won’t do is raise eyebrows. This conservatively styled four-door has classic looks that do little to stand out in a parking lot. Even the sporty Jetta GLI takes an approach that will age well, even if it’s not likely to be parked in front of the valet stand.

We rate the 2020 Jetta at 5 out of 10 points for its interior and exterior looks (read more about how we rate cars).

Last year’s redesign ensured the Jetta broke little new ground as it continues to adhere to a conventional three-box shape. Its lines are crisp and neat, with only sophisticated wheel designs and LED lighting to dress things up. Standard 16-inch alloy wheels look small in the big wheel wells, though they offer a taller tire profile to smother bumpy pavement, while the optional 17-inch and 18-inch wheels fitted to higher-trim and GLI models are a little dressier. The GLI adds a honeycomb grille with red details, and its body sits lower thanks to a 0.6-inch suspension drop. Jetta R-Designs have flashier wheels and different exterior trim, too.

The Jetta’s dash tilts slightly toward the driver, and a choice of 6.5-inch and 8.0-inch touchscreens are well-integrated into the dash. Other controls are arrayed about where most drivers would expect them, and trim panels are painted innocuous shades of gray. A 10.3-inch display takes up residence in the instrument cluster on high-spec Jettas, lending a more sophisticated air inside. 

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5

2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Performance

The 2020 VW Jetta does little to thrill, except in sporty Jetta GLI trim.

Base versions of the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta offer just enough power and refinement for comfortable daily driving, but they are far from thrill machines. We rate the 5 out of 10 on account of ride, handling, and acceleration that are perfectly acceptable for the reasonable prices VW charges (read more about how we rate cars).

The 1.4-liter turbo-4 found under the hood of most 2020 Jettas is rated at a modest 147 horsepower and an impressive 184 pound-feet of torque. It pairs equally well with the standard 6-speed manual and optional 8-speed automatic transmission. The manual can only be had on the base Jetta, but it’s a slick-shifting unit. The automatic snicks between gears on its own quickly and efficiently.

Underneath, the Jetta boasts a stiff structure and a relatively simple suspension compared to some small-car rivals such as the Civic and Forte. The torsion-beam rear suspension doesn’t allow for especially spirited cornering in the base Jetta, though the humble tires hardly encourage rapid changes of direction. Don’t look to the Jetta R-Design for performance, either; it’s a styling package and nothing more. 

Opt for the Jetta GLI and VW slips in a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that puts out 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the sedan to 60 mph in a tick under 6.0 seconds. A beefier 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission help make the most of what’s underhood, too. A standard limited-slip front differential ensures good grip and predictable launches. Underneath, the GLI uses a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension to make it the clear driver’s choice on a winding road. Braking is strong and predictable in the GLI especially, and the optional adaptive dampers smother the pavement in Comfort and Normal modes while stiffening things up even more than the standard suspension tune in Sport.

Though not as ferocious as a Subaru WRX, the Jetta GLI strikes a better balance as a comfortable daily driver more than adept at handling a curvy road or even a weekend autocross. 

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6

2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort & Quality

Excellent rear-seat space and good interior trim help make the 2020 VW Jetta an excellent choice for short stints and longer treks.

A spacious rear seat makes the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta a great family hauler, though we wish its front seats were more comfortable on base versions. That puts the 2020 Jetta at 6 out of 10 for comfort and quality (read more about how we rate cars). 

A wide center console robs leg room for the driver and the front seats on S, SE, and SEL trims lack lumbar support compared to the power-adjustable driver’s throne in SEL Premiums and the better-bolstered seats in GLIs. 

Rear-seat riders benefit from about 37 inches of leg room and nearly as much head room as the front seats. It’s arguably better in back than in the front base seats.

The standard cloth upholstery has a nice, tough feel, while the optional synthetic leather is hard-wearing and ideal for families. High-spec versions of the Jetta can be had with real leather, too.

The 14.1 cubic-foot trunk is typical for a compact sedan.

Interior materials range from upmarket, low-sheen trim on the dash to unimpressive hard plastics adorning the doors and enter console.

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2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Safety

The 2020 VW Jetta has done well in crash tests, though the best safety tech is optional.

We rate the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta at 6 out of 10 for safety, a number that would easily climb higher if automatic emergency braking was standard and if the IIHS had better things to say about its headlights (read more about how we rate cars).

Only the base Jetta S lacks advanced safety gear including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts, but all that tech is reasonably priced at around $500 as part of the Driver Assistance Package. Those features are standard otherwise on the 2020 Jetta.

The NHTSA rated the Jetta at five stars overall and the insurance industry-funded IIHS gave it top marks in all instrumented crash tests. However, subpar headlights held the small car back from a Top Safety Pick award.

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2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Features

The well-equipped 2020 VW Jetta can feel like a bargain luxury car in top trims.

A stellar warranty and a good level of standard equipment earns the 2020 VW Jetta 7 out of 10 points on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars).

The 2020 Jetta can be had in a number of configurations, all of which come standard with a wi-fi hotspot this year. 

The base Jetta S is the only model available with a manual transmission, and it comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, power features, and alloy wheels. It’s a smart buy, though the $22,000 SE tempts with its automatic emergency braking, a power moonroof, synthetic leather upholstery, and automatic climate control.

It’s rare that we recommend going all in, but the Jetta SEL Premium costs around $28,000 and lavishes with leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a 10.3-inch configurable instrument cluster, Beats-branded audio, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, and more. It’s better equipped than some luxury-brand cars that cost tens of thousands more. 

Jetta GLIs can be had in S and Autobahn trims, but we think the base version with its heated cloth seats and 6.5-inch touchscreen delivers the goods for a reasonable $27,000. The Autobahn’s adaptive dampers may make it a better choice for those who could use a softer suspension setting due to rough pavement. 

All Jettas are backed by a 6-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that’s among the best in the business. 

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2020 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

The 2020 VW Jetta is a miserly choice in most configurations.

Few compact sedans are thriftier than the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta when it comes to fuel economy. We rate the small sedan at 7 out of 10 based on the more popular non-GLI models with their 1.4-liter turbo-4 (read more about how we rate cars).

Regardless of which transmission is hooked up to the base engine, the Jetta is rated at 30 mpg city, 40 highway, 34 combined. That’s excellent for a non-hybrid car, and we’ve found it to be easy to achieve in normal driving.

The Jetta GLI is no guzzler, either, given its impressive power output. Both transmissions are rated at 25/32/28 mpg.

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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 5
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 6
Features 7
Fuel Economy 7
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