HANGING IN THERE
Volkswagen’s best selling car, the Jetta, carries over for 2017 with few changes. VW has pared down their model offerings by discontinuing the hybrid version, and reducing the top-of-the-line GLI to just one trim level.
Sales of the Jetta have been slipping in recent years, even before the diesel scandal clobbered the entire VW brand. One of the reasons for this has to be styling. The current generation Jetta has been around since 2011, and nothing much on it has changed. Compared to stylish rivals like the Honda Civic, the Ford Focus and the Mazda3, the Jetta seems quite bland and dated.
Inside, it’s much the same. The overall low luster finish of the cabin seems unnecessarily somber, and some of the hard plastic materials look cheap. However on the plus side, the controls on the dash are straightforward and easy to operate. All models now come with a rearview camera that projects an image on center-mounted touchscreen. Knobs for radio and air conditioning are easy to reach. Furthermore, the Jetta now gets a USB port for a more convenient access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Jettas have always been roomy and comfortable, and the current version continues this tradition. Passengers up front have well-contoured seats that hold you snugly in place. Height adjusters insure that you a fine view of the road. Those sitting in the rear have good accommodations as well, with class-leading legroom. The trunk is super large for a car in this class at 15.4 cu-ft, and will easily handle a family’s travel needs.
Volkswagen offers the Jetta in four versions now, S, SE, SEL and GLI. A quick rundown of the models reveals that the S is fairly bare bones, but it does come with LED running lights, Bluetooth and the aforementioned rearview camera. The better-equipped SE should be more popular with a sunroof, keyless entry/start, blind spot warning and a sunroof. The SEL builds on the SE with high-tech features such as adaptive cruise control, navigation and frontal collision warning/braking. And at the top-of-the-line, the GLI adds performance. It gets a bigger engine, a sport suspension and upgraded brakes.
Volkswagen powers the Jetta fleet with three separate engines. Both the S and the SE come with a 1.4-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder mill that generates150 hp, and delivers an average of 32 mpg. If you opt for the SEL, you get a 1.8-liter turbo that cranks out 170 horses, but gas mileage drops to 29 mpg. A two-liter turbo, with 210 hp, propels the flagship GLI. It should average 26-27 mpg in combined city/hwy driving. Manual transmissions are standard on most models—the SEL comes only with a six-speed automatic.
On the road, the Jetta is an enjoyable car to drive. My test car, with the 1.8-liter engine accelerated briskly, and the manual shift mode provided more control when I wanted it. It also did a good job, both with handling and ride. The Jetta felt well balanced on twisty pavement, and the steering delivered a good amount feedback. The ride was also first rate. The Jetta soaked up bumps well, and maintained its poise on uneven pavement.
If you decide on a Jetta, you’ll find that Volkswagen prices it competitively, with two models below $20,000— the S at just $18,715, and the SE at $19,815. However, if you opt for the better-equipped SEL, you’ll pay $6,000 more. And if you want the top-of-the-line GLI, it will set you back $28,815.
Good Handling and Ride