Pros: Vast interior space; peppy and efficient engine; low starting price; available manual; well-rounded GLI model
Cons: Regular Jetta bland to drive; boring interior design; only one GLI trim level
The 2023 Volkswagen Jetta isn’t quite what we’d call best-in-class, but it has many qualities that still make it something to consider. It has a very low starting price, remarkable fuel efficiency, a peppy engine, lots of space and impressive refinement.
What holds it back from being one of our favorites is a drab interior and a driving experience that prioritizes comfort over fun. But that refinement can be appealing for many buyers, and should you want some of that fun returned, it offers a rare option nowadays: a six-speed manual transmission.
And there is one version of the Jetta that has some real spunk: the GLI. It packs a far more powerful engine, plus just about every comfort and convenience feature available. It comes together well-enough that it’s nearly as good as the GTI, but without the infuriating infotainment system. It’s a great option for someone who wants the excitement of a Honda Civic Si or Subaru WRX, but with a more grown-up look and greater refinement than they feature.
Back to the volume-selling Jetta, though. It ultimately doesn’t top our list of favorites because the Honda Civic and Mazda3 manage to be competent commuters while also stealing our hearts. But as we said, its core competencies, all at reasonable prices, still make it a car you should keep in mind.
Interior & Technology | Passenger & Cargo Space | Performance & Fuel Economy
What it’s like to drive | Pricing & Features | Crash Ratings & Safety Features
What’s new for 2023?
The Jetta and GLI were treated to mid-cycle refreshes for 2022. So for 2023, virtually nothing has changed. The only notable addition is remote start for the SE trim level.
What are the Jetta’s interior and in-car technology like?
The Jetta’s interior is classic Volkswagen. It’s simple and easy to use, professional looking and built to a cost. You won’t find the flare or luxury of the Mazda3, nor the enticing style of the Civic, but there’s very little to offend inside the Jetta. It doesn’t have the new GTI’s interior, which is a plus in our book. Things get a bit nicer in the GLI thanks to its upgraded upholstery, hugging sport seats and sport steering wheel.
The standard touchscreen measures 6.5 inches, which is small, but competitive with other base model sedans. The 8-inch screen upgrade increases functionality considerably, but both are easy enough to use. The standard wireless Apple CarPlay is well-integrated (wireless Android Auto is also included), and the touch haptic controls are actually easy to use. We love the inclusion of a physical volume knob, and all other controls are simple and nicely laid out.
What are the Jetta GLI’s interior and in-car technology like?
The GLI (directly above) also gets its own infotainment system. It’s a 10-inch touchscreen, but functionally operates the same as the 8-inch screen on the regular Jetta. VW also equips the Jetta GLI with its touch haptic-controlled steering wheel, the same that you’d find in the new GTI or Golf R. It’s relatively painless to use, but definitely has a steeper learning curve than the regular Jetta’s wheel.
The GLI also gets lots of red interior accents, which you can best see below right. Black leather is the only choice, with the red accents carrying over to the perforations. Otherwise, it’s basically the same interior as on the Jetta SEL, though with stainless steel pedals and illuminated side sills.
How big is the Jetta?
The Jetta is a big “compact” car on the outside, and one of the biggest on the inside. Rear seat legroom is vast, and rear-facing child seats fit with ease, making the Jetta a good option for families on a tighter budget (or just those who realistically don’t need even more space from increasingly gigantic midsize cars). Its 14.1-cubic-foot trunk is also wide and deep, though not quite as big as what you’d get in the Kia Forte or the Honda Civic. Honda’s compact sedan and hatchback also match the Jetta’s backseat space on paper, but the VW’s higher-mounted seat means you’ll likely be more comfortable.
All of this applies to the GLI as well, making it an even greater performance bargain. It doesn’t feel as compact or maneuverable as a GTI or a Honda Civic Si, but it’s not a hugely noticeable difference.
What are the Jetta’s fuel economy and performance specs?
The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta comes standard with a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four. Its 158 horsepower is typical for the segment, but its 184 pound-feet of torque it sends to the front wheels is greater. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the S and Sport trim. An eight-speed automatic is standard on all others. Fuel economy for the manual is rated at 29 mpg city, 43 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. A base automatic is rated for 31/41/35 mpg, but step up to the SE or SEL trims, and those figures drop to 29/40/33 mpg.
What are the Jetta GLI’s fuel economy and performance specs?
The Jetta GLI ramps things up considerably with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired to either a six-speed manual or VW’s seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. An electronically locking front differential is added as well. Fuel economy is excellent at 26 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined for the manual. The automatic drops the highway figure down to 36 mpg.
What’s the Jetta like to drive?
The regular Jetta is a refined, efficient, if uninspiring commuter when equipped with an automatic transmission. The torquey little turbo engine is quiet and smooth, with a hint of growl when you keep your foot down. It does take a brief moment for the engine to react to throttle inputs (like many Volkswagens), but after that, it’s easy to squirt around, without having to wind it out. And since the power runs out relatively early, there’s not much reason to rev it hard. And of course, there’s that superb fuel economy.
Most buyers will opt for the auto, which is a perfectly fine bundle of gears (eight to be precise). It’s not especially quick, but it’s smooth, and when many competitors have gone to buzzier CVTs (Civic, Corolla, Impreza, Elantra, et al), it’s actually quite welcome and contributes to the Jetta’s refinement.
Now, if you select a manual, not only do you save a bit of cash ($790), you’ll actually be getting a lot more fun. The six-speed has somewhat long throws, but finds gates confidently. The clutch is very beginner-friendly with good feel and a light weight. Having the extra control and involvement with the punchy engine makes the Jetta actually pretty fun. And with a low price and even a GLI-derived brake-based limited-slip differential system on the Sport, it’s not a bad option for an enthusiast on a tight budget. It’s a shame the manual isn’t offered on higher trims, though.
The Jetta’s ride and handling is tuned more for comfort than fun. Compared to when this generation Jetta was introduced, the tuning isn’t so squishy that it feels like it bottoms out and gets unsettled. It feels more composed over bumps, even in corners, despite its torsion-beam rear end. The cabin is impressively quiet, save for occasional thumps from the tires over larger pavement pockmarks. This makes the handling better than it used to be, too. Steering is a bit slow, but has a hint of feedback and some decent heft. The Mazda3 and Honda Civic offer much lighter and more playful handling, but aren’t quite as comfortable on long journeys and commutes. The Jetta really has a nice balanced character.
What’s the Jetta GLI like to drive?
Everything gets much better with the Jetta GLI. The rear suspension is a more advanced independent multi-link setup better suited for poised cornering, and while the tuning is a bit softer than a GTI with extra roll and pitch, it actually encourages improved stability on rough roads. Better still, the GLI comes with adaptive dampers. Sport mode is quite firm, while the normal mode delivers a more well-damped balance between control and comfort.
The GLI’s steering is substantially better – it’s higher in effort yet consistent with sufficient feedback. It’s still a bit artificial feeling, though, and could transmit more road feel. Other upgrades include an electronic locking differential that expertly doles out power so that the GLI explodes out of corners in a friendly and helpful manner. We were also impressed by its brakes under heavy use, and no throttle complaints, either.
What other VW Jetta reviews can I read?
How this humble silver 2022 VW Jetta S (with a manual!) took me back in time
The Jetta’s simple goodness reminds one of our editors of a favorite former car.
2022 VW Jetta GLI Road Test Review | Does trunk beat hatch?
We take the updated GLI for a spin to see where it stands in today’s compact sport sedan game.
2022 VW Jetta and GLI get makeovers, new features, still have manuals
All the nitty-gritty details about what’s new for the 2022 versions of the Jetta and GLI.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta First Drive Review | More style, not much more excitement
Our first crack at the current generation of VW Jetta.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line Drivers’ Notes Review | Finding that old flame
Our editors all give their takes on the updated-for-2019 VW Jetta.
How much is the 2022 Jetta’s price and what features are available?
The 2023 Volkswagen Jetta is available in S, Sport, SE and SEL trim levels. The 2023 GLI can be had only in the top-shelf Autobahn trim level.
Standard equipment on the Jetta S includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights/taillights, heated side mirrors, a manual driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto and two USB-C ports. The Sport is nearly the same as the SE, but it borrows the XDS Cross Differential System from the GLI, 17-inch wheels, blacked out trim, sport seats and stainless steel pedal covers.
The SE trim adds many desirable extras: 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and push-button start, remote start, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats with lumbar support, V-Tex leatherette upholstery, a rear center armrest and a large suite of driver assistance systems. As such, we think that’s the best place to start in the Jetta lineup in terms of value.
But if you want the most luxurious Jetta, there’s the SEL, which is thoroughly loaded. The seats are upgraded to real leather with both heating ventilation for the front and heating for the outboard rear positions. A panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, navigation, upgraded Beats-branded sound system and wireless phone charging also join the feature list.
The GLI is only available in top-spec Autobahn trim, and in addition to most of those aforementioned features, it gets the bigger, higher-output engine with mechanical limited-slip differential and either manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions. But navigation is part of an optional package.
Below, you can see the base prices for every Jetta and GLI trim level, You find a full breakdown of every Jetta trim level’s features plus specs and local pricing here on Autoblog. You’ll find the same information for the Jetta GLI here.
GLI Autobahn: $32,680
What are the Jetta’s safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Besides the typical airbag selection, rearview camera and stability aids, the Jetta comes standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning. Typically, those are optional. A $995 package adds a number of systems including forward collision warning, front automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and Travel Assist (lane-centering). Those features are standard on some competitors. The SEL trim adds auto high-beams. Meanwhile, the GLI comes standard with every possible driver assistance system.
In government crash testing, the 2023 Jetta received five out of five stars for overall crash protection. It got four stars for frontal protection and five stars for side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best-possible ratings in every crash category, but Marginal and Poor headlight ratings kept it from achieving an IIHS safety award.