Overview & Reviews
Few small cars have the following of the Volkswagen Jetta, one of the company's best-selling models in the United States. The name, says VW, refers to the Atlantic jetstream, "combined with the luxury and power of a modern jetliner." We're not sure about comparing the cabin and performance of this compact sedan and wagon to a Lear jet, but for much of its history, the Jetta appealed to buyers with its upscale design, refined cabin and strong engine options. It essentially bridged the gap between everyday compact economy cars and entry-level premium brand compact sedans. It was a niche almost unto itself.
More recent times, however, have seen VW go mainstream with the Jetta, cutting its price to make it a more viable option for small car shoppers. One of the most notable downsides of the associated cost-cutting was cheaper cabin trim. So more modern versions are cheaper but less distinctive. That said, a new or used Jetta remains a solid pick for shoppers looking for a compact car with European flair, good performance and, in the case of the TDI-powered versions, impressive fuel efficiency.
Current Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Jetta is VW's most affordable sedan. There are five trim levels available: base, S, SE, SEL and TDI. The Jetta Hybrid and the performance-oriented Jetta GLI are both reviewed separately.
The base car is a stripper that must be special ordered and doesn't even come with air-conditioning. The S comes more reasonably equipped, with power/heated side mirrors, power door locks, air-conditioning and keyless entry. Both of these trims are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces a wheezy 115 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional.
Stepping up to the SE and SEL trims gets you a more desirable 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. The SE gets the same transmission choices as the lower trims, while the SEL is automatic-only. Besides the engine, these upper trims have access to more standard and optional features like heated front seats, Bluetooth and an iPod interface. The TDI, which is equipped similarly to the SE, features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that is 50-state compliant and produces 140 hp and very impressive fuel economy. A six-speed manual or Volkswagen's DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission are available.
In reviews, we've found the latest Jetta to be a fairly refined, roomy and comfortable compact sedan. The improvements made this year, such as the replacement of the humdrum five-cylinder engine with a perkier turbocharged four-cylinder and the fitment of an independent rear suspension for all trim levels, have boosted both overall performance and handling composure. As such, the current Jetta stands as one of the more appealing choices in this segment.
Used Volkswagen Jetta Models
The current, sixth-generation Jetta debuted for 2011. Compared to the previous generation, this Jetta is bigger and has a roomier backseat. But it also lacks the upscale interior of prior models.
The original engine lineup consisted of the base 2.0-liter inline-4 (115 hp and 125 lb-ft), a 2.5-liter inline-5 (170 hp and 177 lb-ft) and the turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel inline-4 (140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque). The first two engines could be had with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, while the diesel offered a choice between a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The following year saw only minor changes, while four-wheel disc brakes were made standard across the board for 2013. Potential buyers should note that these Jettas, though otherwise similar, lack the current Jetta's notable improvements. The latter include a more sophisticated fully independent rear suspension (previously exclusive to the Jetta GLI) for all trims as well as the substitution of the peppy yet more fuel-efficient turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine for the previous five-cylinder engine. These years also lack the availability of a rearview camera and VW Car-Net telematics.
The previous VW Jetta marked the fifth generation of Volkswagen's venerable four-door. It was introduced for 2005 (overlapping with the previous generation for one year) and ran through 2010. The sedan was the only available body style until the debut of the Sportwagen in 2009. Unlike the current car, the sedan and wagon were nearly identical save for the latter's extra cargo space.
Trim levels originally included the Value Edition, 2.5, TDI, 2.0T and GLI. The base engine was a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that initially made 150 hp, while the 2.0T and GLI featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 200 hp. This engine was available with Volkswagen's appealing DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
The first diesel-powered fifth-generation TDI became the victim of new emissions regulations after 2006, but for those interested in getting excellent fuel economy, a used 2005-'06 Jetta TDI with its 1.9-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder (100 hp, 177 lb-ft of torque) should be a good pick. The TDI returned for 2009 with a new, cleaner-burning 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that produced 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual was standard and DSG was optional.
For 2008, VW reorganized the trim levels to S, SE, Wolfsburg (featuring the 2.0T engine) and SEL trims. The base engine's output rose by 20 horses (to 170 hp) and the GLI became its own distinct model within the VW family. The following year VW added more standard equipment (including stability control) and introduced an improved navigation system. Notably, '09 was the only year you could get the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine in the Sportwagen; it came with the SEL trim level. For this Jetta's final year, VW improved the interior and created the sport-tuned TDI Cup "Street" Edition.
In reviews, we found this Volkswagen Jetta set itself apart from domestic and Japanese economy sedans by offering a distinctly European interior and driving experience. It was a bit more expensive, but its higher-quality cabin, generous features list and quality engineering made it seem worth the extra investment. This Jetta was also a bit bigger than before, offering generous legroom, a large trunk and a more compliant ride than before. The GLI was also quite fun to drive. If there was anything that held this Jetta back, it was its styling, which just didn't resonate with buyers like its hugely successful predecessor.
The fourth generation, sold in sedan form from 1999-2005 and as a wagon from 2001-'05, was the most popular Jetta yet, and arguably the best-looking. It received minor styling and interior updates for 2004. Front seat-mounted side airbags were standard throughout the run; full-length side curtain airbags were added for 2001. It was also an entertaining car to drive and had top-notch build and materials quality. Scant rear-seat legroom was its major shortcoming. Although reliability has been spotty, a fourth-gen Volkswagen Jetta is still a good buy on the used market if its service history checks out clean.
As the base 2.0-liter engine offered weak acceleration and mediocre fuel economy, we recommend getting a fourth-generation Jetta with the excellent turbocharged 1.8T four-cylinder. It was available on the sedan starting in 2000 and on the wagon starting in 2002. Horsepower on the 1.8T also went from 150 to 180 in '02, but both versions of this engine were enjoyable. For even more power (but worse fuel economy), the VR6 engine was available, first with 174 hp and later upgraded to 200 hp for '02. This engine was only available on the sport-tuned GLI model for 2004 and later. With its firmer suspension and sport-themed body modifications, the GLI could also be had with the 180-hp 1.8T engine.
The diesel-powered Jetta TDI was offered throughout this generation (2002-'05 on the wagon) and provided mileage in the 40s. The 1.9-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder initially produced 90 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque and was upgraded to 100 hp and 177 lb-ft for 2004.
Although not as upscale as its successors, the third-generation VW Jetta was also quite popular. It was on sale from 1993 to mid-1999, though a strike at the assembly plant significantly limited '93 sales. Dual front airbags were phased in during the '94 model year. Air-conditioning was standard on most Jettas of this era, and ABS was generally optional. None of the third-gen Volkswagen Jettas were quick, not even the GLX model, which had a 172-hp VR6 engine, but all exhibited responsive handling.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 4,494.00
Love and hateful relationship - 2001 Volkswagen Jetta
By schrum - December 29 - 12:59 am
I got my Jetta in 2011, and it did good for a while but in a year it started having over heating problems. I loved driving it but then in 2013 the coil pack went out, so I just parked it in our yard and drove my 95 Nissan XE. Finally in 2015, I put a new coil pack in it and drove it to the mountains, on my way back the tire blew out and destroyed the front left side Love it and hated it at the same time
Hidden Gem - 2010 Volkswagen Jetta
By RLW - December 28 - 3:03 pm
I shopped for a mpg champ and looked at Hybrids. Ford was unable to get an Escape Hybrid that led me to Edmunds et al. I found the VW Sportwagen TDI. I liked the quality and the price so I bought it. It has the cargo space of an Escape with mileage exceeding its EPA and also for less money. Granted it is not an SUV but it is a nice car. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in cargo space and MPG. Also there is a $1300 tax credit they told me until June 30, 2010. Edmunds, Consumer Reports are right about this being a good alternative to a hybrid. I recently found Hybrid owners on the forums say their MPG drops with battery age by about 5-8 mpg on Escapes. So, my loss was gain.
gli 2002 - 2002 Volkswagen Jetta
By Awsome - December 27 - 10:00 am
awsome car, great fun. The gli sit well on the road and is great fun. I need to drive my car more.
Beware! - 2009 Volkswagen Jetta
By shallquist - December 27 - 6:28 am
This review is for the 2009, but based on my research affects all TDI models. All TDIs have a High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) and they are prone to failure when the diesel fuel gets contaminated. My Diesel somehow got water in the diesel and apparently based on the rust in the tank this had been an on going problem. At 107000 miles the fuel system had to be replaced to the tune of $5,800 dollars. Apparently diesel fuel standards in the US are lower than that of Europe and VW hasn't taken that into consideration. Please CONSIDER this when purchasing.
Best Kept Secret - 2006 Volkswagen Jetta
By E Gatten - December 24 - 2:40 am
I think the Jetta Value Edition is VW's best kept secret; and it shouldn't be. Whether you are young, or not-so-young, I recommend that you check out this car. I'm glad I bought mine. I look forward to driving it every day. The cloth seat fits me like a glove. The 5-cyl. engine has good juice and pretty good low end torque. The transmission is tight and the gearing seems to match the engine well. This car handles better than anything I have driven in its class. It's packed with safety features. It is surprisingly roomy (my three teenagers can all sit in the back seat) and the trunk is huge. It has a 48,000 mile / 4 year factory warranty.
Pretty cool car - 2002 Volkswagen Jetta
By NJ/Junior - December 22 - 10:00 am
I have this car for only a few months now, but i got to drive it for about 13000 miles already. This car has a nice interior that fits two adults very well but not so good in leg room in the back seat. The engine is really powerfull and with the manual transmission its even more fun to drive. I've had a few problems with it so far but nothing big.
Simply the best - 2003 Volkswagen Jetta
By Boogidy - December 22 - 10:00 am
Competant, safe, and reliable
GLI is Fabulous - 2006 Volkswagen Jetta
By LoveMyGLI - December 20 - 4:56 pm
The main differences between this and the regular Jetta besides the obvious wonderful 2.0 engine (which by the way has longer maintenance intervals than the old 1.8T) are: 1) the steering is heavier, especially nice because it is not overboosted at lower speeds. 2) the suspension is firmer
Earlay 99 GLX - 1999 Volkswagen Jetta
By Inver306 - December 18 - 10:00 am
I purchased this car new right off the truck. I have had no problems with this car. I felt the suspension was a bit soft so I upgraded it with a Stage 3 Newspeed suspension, which included springs, struts and big anti-roll bars, a huge improvement. Latest mods include 17" wheels and a Newspeed chip. The car has developed some rattles and squeaks, but I understand that they all do. Car has 53k miles on it now and still looks and runs new. I've love the VR6 since new and have taken several long trips with it; the car is a great compromise of space, comfort and performance. I think I'll keep it for a while longer.
Good car for young drivers - 2012 Volkswagen Jetta
By Niels Pace - December 17 - 11:39 pm
Bought this car used for my children to use. Have had minor reliability issues but easily fixed. The most disappointing is the interior - I was brought up in the era of the Golf Gti and owned several of them, have always loved VWs and their solidity and good finish, inside and out. Unfortunately with this generation of Jetta they screwed up during the manufacture and cut the headlining material too short, so it is overtensioned on the foam moulding and comes away. The car is only 5 years old and roof lining is falling off! Obviously VW are completely uninterested in standing by their product and fixing this.