2021 Volkswagen Jetta

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
August 21, 2020

Buying tip

Adaptive dampers aren’t only for the sporty set, they help the 2021 Jetta ride calmly over rutted roads. Consider those if you can.

features & specs

R-Line Automatic
R-Line Manual
S Automatic
29 city / 39 hwy
30 city / 41 hwy
29 city / 39 hwy

The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta is a no-frills compact with good value. Saving money never goes out of style.

Compact cars like the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta maximize value in a minimal footprint. It’s a thankless task, but one that needs to get done, nonetheless. Like dusting bookshelves, perhaps.

This year, the 2021 Jetta is largely the same as the year before it. No surprises; it’s a theme with the Jetta. It earns a 5.7 TCC Rating. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

With the Jetta, VW has an entry among stalwart compact cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Domestic competitors have long since left, but what’s left is good. Value is in the wheelhouse of nearly all of them.

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The Jetta has good value toward the base end of the spectrum, which starts with the Jetta S and works its way up to SE, Sport, SEL, and SEL Premium. The Jetta GLI is the fun one of the bunch and is available in S and Autobahn trims.

Base cars start for less than $20,000, and the top Jetta GLI Autobahn clocks more than $30,000.

Every car gets a conservative exterior that’s less wild than competitors, but also a little too mild. Inside, the Jetta is too plain; a touchscreen is the most exciting part in most models.

Not true for Jetta GLI models, which get a spirited 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 228 hp. It drives the front wheels via a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Base Jettas get a sleepy 1.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 147 hp and is easily caught napping. That drives the front wheels via a 6-speed manual, or more often, an 8-speed automatic.

Every day isn’t race day, which we freely admit. The base powertrain is fine for commuter detail and returns combined mileage in the high-30s, which is the point.

The Jetta has a roomy interior that’s fit for four adults or five in a pinch, with good upholstery and an easy ride.

Every Jetta above base is equipped with standard automatic emergency braking, and most will get good features along with a 6.5- or 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility software. Top trims get active lane control and adaptive cruise control along with leather upholstery, heated and cooled seats, and a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster.


2021 Volkswagen Jetta


The 2021 Jetta is conservative among competitors.

The 2021 Jetta is sharply styled, crisp, but conservative, too. It’s not thrilling, but our styling score of 4 reflects an interior that lacks a pulse.

Designers buffed up the Jetta’s look a couple years ago now, and the broad themes haven’t much changed. It’s still a classic sedan shape with sharper lines on the hood and across the body sides to feign interest. It’s pretty plain, with just enough interest in R-Line versions to hold our attention.

Base Jettas get 16-inch wheels that struggle to fill up the big wheel arches, but dressier 17- or 18-inch wheels harsh the ride. Pick your battles.

The Jetta GLI drops the body less than an inch with good effect, it looks a little sharper and red exterior accents jazz up an otherwise plain shape.

Inside, the Jetta tilts its touchscreen toward the driver, but it lacks imagination. Some of the materials feel thin, and hard buttons look cheaper next to rivals from Hyundai and Toyota. Base versions are built to a budget; top trims are still missing something. The endless bank of button blanks near the shifter and everywhere else doesn’t help that much either.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta


Turbo power is part of every Jetta, but the GLI is the fun one of the bunch.

The 2021 Jetta’s performance tale is two stories and the first one is perfect for bedtime. The second? It’s enough to wake us up any day.

We’ll rate the most popular Jetta, which is pretty pedestrian. It’s a 5.

That’s because it draws inspiration from a 1.4-liter turbo-4 that’s fuel-efficient, but not especially thrilling. It makes 147 horsepower and is paired to a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. The manual transmission is available on base Jetta S and Sport versions, and its best gift is helping to keep the engine on the boil. That’s where it needs to be for any modicum of fun, and it requires a lot of attention. The turbo takes a while to spool up, but once it does, there’s a small whiff of fun that runs out of steam as the revs build.

The 8-speed automatic is more likely for most buyers and it’s fine. It rifles through its gears without a fuss and it’s good for commuter detail.

The Jetta GLI subs in a 2.0-liter turbo-4 under the hood that makes 228 hp, which is enough to propel it to 60 mph in a tick less than six seconds. It’s available with the same 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that quickly shuffles through gears. The GTI hatchback may be more fun to drive, but the GLI isn’t far behind.

The two Jettas differ in their suspensions, too. The base Jetta uses a torsion-beam rear suspension that’s simpler and less expensive. The Jetta GLI uses a more costly multilink rear setup that’s better for twisty roads and available adaptive dampers toggle between normal and sportier stiffness with good results. A limited-slip differential helps the GLI carve a tighter line, too.

(Pro tip: The Jetta GLI’s normal damper modes are a tinge softer than the base Jetta’s setup, which makes it the comfortable pick for drivers who regularly drive on rutted roads.)

That makes the Jetta GLI a better performance pick than the base Jetta, but we admit that the GLI falls short of sporty rivals like the Subaru WRX and even the GTI.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort & Quality

Good space in the Jetta belies its compact shape.

The 2021 Jetta’s dimensions don’t give away its sizable space inside. With 185.1 inches from stem to stern, the compact car is close to a mid-size inside. (It falls short by 1.2 cubic feet, actually.)

Starting from an average score, the Jetta gets a 6 for a spacious rear seat. The front seats are nice, but not the best among rivals.

That’s because a wide center console in the Jetta (and Passat, too) can be a challenge for wider bodies. We’ve knocked a knee or three against the center console, and wide passenger legs could be challenging in manual-equipped Jettas. (Second gear, pal. Not second base.)

Rear seat riders get more than 37 inches of leg room and good head room. Three across is a stretch, but possible for medium builds.

In back, the trunk holds 14.1 cubic feet of cargo, which is on the small side. All but the base versions of the Jetta get a 60/40 split-folding rear seat to improve that cargo area.

The Jetta’s standard cloth is hard-wearing and durable, and the synthetic leather feels good, too. Real hides are available on top trims, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta


Crash-test results are good, but we wish automatic braking was standard.

Better headlights and standard automatic emergency braking on all Jetta sedans would lift our safety score higher than 6. For now, the Jetta gets points above average for a five-star overall score from the feds.

This year, the base Jetta S can be fitted with automatic emergency braking, albeit for $500 more. That package adds blind-spot monitors as well and is standard on all other trim levels.

The IIHS gave it top marks on all its crash tests and rated its crash prevention system as “Superior” at avoiding collisions with other cars. Its headlights rate “Marginal” or “Poor” depending on trim level, which spoils its standing on our ratings scale.

Top SEL models add adaptive cruise control and active lane control to their safety suite.


2021 Volkswagen Jetta


Base Jettas lack standard automatic braking but the rest are well-equipped.

Among small cars, the VW Jetta stands out for a good warranty and relative value toward the base end. For less than $20,000 to start, the Jetta S includes cloth upholstery, 16-inch wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty with the first two years of maintenance included.

We give the Jetta a point above average for that warranty. Automatic emergency braking is available on base cars this year, but it’s a $500 upcharge that doesn’t jibe with our ratings scale.

Like last year, VW sells the Jetta in S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels. The Jetta GLI is available in S and Autobahn trim levels.

The Jetta SE’s $23,890 price speaks more to us for its standard automatic emergency braking, a power sunroof, synthetic leather upholstery, and heated front seats.

We wouldn’t go all-in on a Jetta SEL Premium for $29,040, but not because it’s poorly equipped. It includes leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, premium audio, adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, 17-inch wheels, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. We wouldn’t opt for it because the Jetta GLI Autobahn costs $2,700 more with similar equipment, a manual transmission, adaptive dampers, and it’s more fun to drive.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

The Jetta is a fuel-efficient compact car.

Without a hybrid powertrain, the 2021 Jetta doesn’t reach the dean’s list for gas mileage, but its thrifty 1.4-liter turbo-4 is certainly on the honor roll.

The EPA rates the Jetta 30 mpg city, 40 highway, 34 combined with an automatic or manual transmission. That’s a 7 on our scale.

The Jetta GLI’s bigger 2.0-liter turbo-4 rates 25/32/28 mpg with an automatic. Opting for the manual drops the highway figure by 1 mpg.

That’s on par with small-car big boys like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but hybrid versions of both are rated much higher.

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