Volkswagen Jetta comes in a range of models with a choice of engines. Among them is a new Jetta Hybrid model that joins the 2013 Jetta lineup. The Volkswagen Jetta competes with compact cars such as the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic.
The Jetta sedan was redesigned for 2011 using less sophisticated technologies and lower-cost interior materials, with a lower price, a package with a great deal of value because the Jetta solidity and quality was still there. For 2012, the sporty turbocharged Jetta GLI reclaimed some of the lost content.
The Jetta TDI Sportwagen, with its turbo-diesel direct-injection engine (and especially its DSG twin-clutch automanual transmission), has gotten rave reviews for its performance and fuel mileage, 40-plus miles per gallon. Jetta Sportwagen rides on the previous-generation Jetta platform and has a more sophisticated suspension.
The base sedan model is the Jetta S, which uses a single-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 115 horsepower. That engine is an old but solid design.
Jetta SE brings a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that makes more power, 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, while getting almost the same fuel mileage. The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, with good power. It's capable of propelling the Jetta SE from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic, and powers Jetta to a top speed of 127 mph. It's EPA-rated at a Combined 26 mpg, about what we got over nearly 500 miles of driving in a Jetta SEL automatic and SEL manual. We prefer the very good automatic.
Most models offer a choice of 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. We found the sport mode for the 6-speed automatic sharp and effective. We used it in city driving, where it responded crisply on San Francisco's hills, and in slow-and-go freeway traffic, where it kept the transmission in third gear rather than upshifting and downshifting all the time. Manual mode can be used for spirited driving, shifting at the lever. It's programmed well, responsive and obedient.
Jetta Hybrid boasts an EPA-estimated 42/48 mpg City/Highway, 45 mpg Combined. We drove a Jetta Hybrid for one week, covering 340 miles, half city and half freeway, and we only got 35 mpg. Jetta Hybrid demands Premium gasoline, while the 2.5-liter five-cylinder on Jetta SE and SEL demands only less-expensive Regular.
The Jetta TDI Sedan and Sportwagen use the latest turbo-diesel direct-injection technology in their engine, making 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, while getting an EPA-rated 30/42 mpg City/Highway.
To keep the price down, Volkswagen uses an old-school rear torsion beam suspension in Jetta S and SE models; the ride is firm, but most owners won't miss a multi-link suspension. The build quality is impressive. The Jetta is quiet at speed and feels solid. Rear disc brakes have been added to these models for 2013, after gripes that the drum brakes on 2011 and 2012 models were archaic.
Jetta shoppers might notice that the interior materials on the base S model aren't of the highest quality; it's not that the materials are cheap, just less rich than they were a few years ago. There are hard plastics that can creak and rattle over the years. But the trim is tasteful, and the standard cloth seats fit well, while the optional V-Tex leatherette upholstery passes easily for real leather. The trim in the SE has been upgraded for 2013.
Jetta Sedan's interior is clean, stylish and comfortable, while being smart, accommodating and functional. There's good headroom front and rear. Rear-seat legroom is first in class at 38.1 inches, nearly as much as a BMW 7 Series. VW makes smart use of cupholders and little storage cubbies. The instruments are handsome, with clean white-on-black numbering.
Jetta GLI brings back all the interior quality. The dashboard is made of a soft-touch material, and there is accent stitching on the shifter, seats and steering wheel. The GLI features a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo engine, accelerating from zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds using the magical DSG twin-clutch automated manual transmission. It offers a relaxed, refined sportiness that makes it the most satisfying Jetta to drive.
The Sportwagen has a nicer interior and multi-link independent rear suspension. With a shorter wheelbase, it has less rear legroom, but with the cargo room of an SUV and the popular TDI option, the Jetta Sportwagen can be a great alternative to a crossover or SUV while offering outstanding fuel economy.
The Jetta sedan has curves that are subtle and sweet. The door handles are body color and there is very little chrome trim, in the traditional belief that clean is beautiful. We love VW for that. Although chrome trim has been added to the grille on some models for 2013. Others have black horizontal bars, as well as a tray-shaped front spoiler under the front bumper that suggests the splitter on a race car.
The sedan is not over styled or over sculpted, unlike so many, especially BMW. The lines are crisp and precise, with strong wheel arches, a smooth roofline and attractive C pillars. The nose and shoulders, viewed from the side of the car looking forward, give the front end an attractive roundness. At the rear, there's a neat aerodynamic lip at the trailing edge of the remote-opening trunk, and powerful taillights. It's about the same wheelbase as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic, but a few inches longer, and just feels bigger all around, more like a midsize car. That's because it's so solid.
Jetta GLI gets a crosshatch treatment for the front grille and lower air intake, sportier front and rear fascias and side sills, a unique design for the fog lights, and larger wheels. The total effect is a stronger, sportier stance.
The Sportwagen features the same front end treatment, adding a character crease along the beltline, and comes standard with roof rails. It's about three inches shorter in both length and wheelbase, so some of the proportions are different. Of course the roof line is longer, and seems to slant down toward the rear. The Sportwagen is quite handsome, and looks stylishly bigger than it is.
Even with some hard plastics, the Jetta cabin is still better than that of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, although the interiors of the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra feel a bit richer. Whatever, the Jetta is clean, stylish, comfortable, accommodating and functional. The instruments, with clean white-on-black numbering, are handsome, and that goes a long way. You don't always pay attention to the trim, but you have to look at the gauges all the time.
There are nice small creature comforts. Comfortable driver armrests, convenient cupholders, good door pockets and grab handles: check, check, check, check. Between the center seats there's an emergency brake handle, two cupholders, and a smallish console with an armrest.
There's good headroom front and rear. Rear-seat legroom is first in class at 38.1 inches; compare that to the 38.4 inches in a BMW 7 Series and it's clear that the Jetta makes great use of space. The optional rear seat pass-through, a pair of cupholders in a fold-down armrest, it makes the large 15.5-cubic-foot trunk even more useful.
The Hybrid trunk is way smaller, 27 percent, at 11.3 cubic feet versus the regular Jetta's 15.5 cubic feet. The water-cooled electric battery takes up space.
We found the navigation system to be a nightmare on a 5-inch screen. It took us five minutes to find the simple word Address, and still don't know what we pressed to make it appear; we suspect it just missed the first few times. We entered the address, got the confirmation, and as soon as we got going, the system indicated we were going the opposite direction: the closer we got to Castle Rock, the farther away it went. Twice we used navigation to get us out of San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge, and it gave us different routes, neither the quickest nor most direct.
The optional Fender audio system is crystal clear and manages high volume, but the radio in our Hybrid must have been one with a self-regulating volume, because it kept going up and down. Backwards. Roll down the window and the volume would drop; roll it up and the volume increased. Keeping it tuned to any one satellite station, without having that station preset, is difficult. If you leave a station without presetting it, it won't take you back without going through a bunch of touch-screen steps.
The driver information display is good. It's big and easy to read, located neatly between the tachometer and speedometer. It tells you fuel mileage, range, odo, and thermometer. You can get more detailed information on the touch screen. The climate controls are also clean and easy to use.
The Sportwagen features a higher quality interior than does the sedan, but with less space. Impressive, solid, soft-touch materials abound, worthy of cars costing thousands more. The Sportwagen's rear seat is tighter than the sedan's by 2.6 inches in legroom and an inch in headroom. It's still fairly useful, but the sedan is more passenger friendly. The Sportwagen, on the other hand, is far more cargo friendly. It has 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and an SUV-like 66.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.
Jetta comes with a choice of powertrains and those choices affect the character of the car underway.
The Jetta S uses a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine we found slow and inefficient. Fuel economy is only 1 mpg better than the SE with its frisky 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Jetta SE costs $2995 more, but then you also get a stack of other good stuff, from leather-like V-Tex interior, to the can't-live-without pass-through from the rear seat to trunk. Also cruise control and heated mirrors.
The Jetta Hybrid features a 1.4-liter turbocharged intercooled engine, combined with a water-cooled electric motor, that together make the same horsepower and a bit more torque than the 2.5-liter, a non-hybrid engine that gets an EPA-estimated 28 mpg Combined; and that's what we got. Jetta Hybrid is rated 42/48 mpg City/Highway; 18 of the world's best hyper-mile drivers drove Jetta Hybrids from San Francisco to Santa Monica, and the winner got 49.9 mpg; Motor Trend magazine drove one from Santa Fe to Los Angeles and got 46.1 mpg. We got 35.0 mpg over 340 miles, half casual city and half freeway at 72 mph. Using cruise control and watching the data instrumentation on our Jetta, it appears that the difference between 65 mph and 75 mph is about 10 mpg. We know how those competitive hyper-mile drivers drive: so slow it's annoying to traffic. It's worth noting the Hybrid requires Premium gasoline, while the 2.5-liter runs fine on Regular.
The Hybrid uses regenerative braking, converting heat to electrical energy. You can feel it in the brake pedal. At very slow speeds the brakes are too sensitive, but at 30 mph the sensitivity goes away; that inconsistency leads to problems, because your foot and brain can't keep adjusting back and forth. You're either bouncing your forehead off the steering wheel in parking lots, or nearly crashing into the car in front of you when slowing for red lights. At freeway speeds the pedal feels normal.
The Hybrid has the same horsepower as the 2.5-liter SE, but it weighs about 300 more pounds, so it's not so quick, even with its low-down torque and standard DSG transmission. Looking at the approximate $7000 difference in price, with the Hybrid you get less quickness, problematic braking, and a smaller trunk; on the plus side you get the DSG, 10 or 12 more miles per gallon, and a fuzzy feeling for enlisting in the war on global warming. We estimate a gas savings of $400 per year, so the Hybrid will pay for itself in 17.5 years, if you ignore maintenance and depreciation, in which case it's more like never.
The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, with good acceleration and an impressive top speed of 127 mph, which means 80 mph is a breeze.
We drove a Jetta SEL with each transmission, the 6-speed automatic and 5-speed manual. The automatic is excellent, sharp in Sport mode. In the city it responded crisply to San Francisco hills; and in stop-and-go freeway traffic, it stayed in third gear, using Sport mode. No paddle shifters in the SEL, however.
The 5-speed manual gearbox has long throws and feels numb, plus the clutch pressure is light. The 2.5-liter engine, let alone the 2.0, doesn't have the torque to carry the gearbox, so a lot of downshifting is required.
The Jetta TDI comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injection engine that makes 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque, making it strong from a stop. Still, its 0-60 time is an unimpressive 8.7 seconds. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 42 mpg Highway, and that number has held up to experience.
To lower the cost, the redesigned 2011 Jetta had a rear torsion beam suspension and drum brakes in the S and SE. The rear drums have been upgraded to discs in 2013, basically for free. The torsion beam remains, and few notice any loss from the better handling and ride that a multi-link rear suspension might bring. Volkswagen says the advantages of a torsion beam are excellent directional stability when cornering, a smooth ride, and a compact, space-saving design.
We found the ride of our Hybrid smooth, while being firm on the small bumps and freeway expansion strips, but never uncomfortable, more like reassuring, and yes good directional stability when cornering. But because the torsion bar transfers the bumps from one side of the car to the other, on a bad road the Jetta might be a busy ride.
The Jetta GLI is the performance model, with a multi-link rear suspension and the famous 2.0-liter turbo four, now making 200 hp. It goes from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds with the satisfying DSG twin-clutch transmission. The 6-speed manual transmission is a pleasure, but the DSG built by the House of Audi is the best of its kind, with sharp and perfect shifts in auto or manual mode. Well-placed steering-wheel paddles come with the DSG.
The Volkswagen Jetta has models for different needs, desires and budgets. The Jetta S with its attractive price is not the best bargain, as the Jetta SE offers more value. The new Hybrid offers less overall than the diesel TDI, for more money. The TDI Sportwagen remains a winner in everybody's book, with no downsides unless you need big size and horsepower. And if you want a good Volkswagen hot rod, the refined GLI is tons of fun and won't disappoint.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drives of the Jetta S and SE in San Francisco, and the Hybrid in the Northwest. Kirk Bell reported after driving the TDI, GLI and Sportwagen in Herndon, Virginia.