It’s tough to compete against the likes of the Honda Civic, Kia Soul, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and even the VW Golf and GTI. No doubt about it, the compact car segment is filled with worthy options. While the Jetta certainly has a lot to like, other rivals offer better performance, nicer interiors and more technology.
For one thing, the Jetta is showing its age. It last got a makeover for the 2011 model year while many other competitors have introduced new models and/or given their older cars major upgrades since then.
There are six trims: S, Wolfsburg Edition, SE, SE Sport, SEL and GLI, so there’s a Jetta for just about every budget, and several different powertrains that either deliver basic transportation or more sporty performance. Starting prices range from $18,645 to $29,545. However, there aren’t many packages and options, so to get more features you have to go to a higher trim.
The Jetta is handsome. In fact, several people commented that it looks like a BMW 3-Series. Each trim gets some styling changes for 2018.
Three turbocharged engines are available; a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque; The SE Sport and SEL trims get a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that makes 170 hp and 184 lb.-ft. The GLI is powered by a 2.0-liter four-banger that makes 210 hp and 207 lb.-ft. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the two smaller engines while a six-speed automatic is optional. All models are front-wheel-drive.
My tester has the 1.8-liter turbo-four and it performs well with zippy acceleration and smooth power when needed. Steering is responsive. The ride is fairly firm but not jarring.
The Jetta has good fuel efficiency for the class. EPA ratings for my tester are 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with a combined rating of 28 mpg. I got 25 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving.
VW has some catching up to do in upgrading the interior. The cabin has a clean, uncluttered look but there are a lot of hard plastics. At least it’s spacious with generous leg- and headroom in both rows of seating. Two adults will be comfortable in the backseat, and three can sit there on shorter trips.
All Jetta models come standard with air conditioning, a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, one-touch auto up/down power windows, power locks with remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, and power heated exterior mirrors.
Premium features offered on Jetta’s various trims include a six-way power driver’s seat; a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; a sunroof; a soft-touch dashboard; V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces; heated front seats and washer nozzles; rear seat with armrest and trunk pass through; keyless access with push-button start; cooled glove box and a Fender Premium Audio System. The GLI trim also gets front sport seats, red stitching and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The MIB II infotainment system is standard on all trims. The Jetta S and Wolfsburg Edition models have a five-inch touchscreen display. There’s an SD card and one USB port, Bluetooth and a rearview camera. All other Jetta models get a glass-covered 6.33-inch touchscreen display, and SEL and GLI models have navigation.
The infotainment system is intuitive and the touchscreen responds quickly. The system also understood almost all voice commands on the first try.
Several driver assistance technologies are available including Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist), Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, and front and rear Park Distance Control (ParkPilot).
The Jetta has 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space which is large for the class. Rear seats are 60/40 split-folding to provide flexibility in hauling passengers and cargo. The rear seatback also includes an available pass-through to accommodate longer items.
Fuel economy better than average for the class
Spacious cabin with comfortable seating
Wide range of pricing so there’s a Jetta for most budgets
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available
Interior not as nice as many rivals
Jetta hasn’t had a major upgrade since 2011
My tester starts at $23,245. Destination charge is $850 bringing the grand total to $24,095.
Buyers wanting a compact car have a ton of great vehicles from which to choose so shopping around is a good idea. The 2018 VW Jetta will certainly appeal to some buyers but may not have all the features and upscale cabins offered by many rivals.