2020 VW Jetta Review

Many car companies have given up on sedans altogether because buyers have been giving up on sedans. Ford and GM, for instance, have stopped making most of the ones they used to make.

Because buyers weren’t buying them.

Someone maybe ought to ask why.

Maybe it’s because so many of them are so boring. So, of course, are most crossovers, but they at least have the upside of being utilitarian. If you’re going to buy a boring, homogenous appliance might as well at least buy one that can take a few bags of mulch.

Then there’s this Volkswagen Jetta, which isn’t boring. It comes standard with a manual transmission, which is very entertaining, as well as something pretty much all the sedans that no one wanted to buy didn’t even offer.

For this and other sound reasons, the Jetta does sell in spite of it being a sedan.

The others might get a clue.

What It Is

The Jetta is the anomalous sedan.

It’s larger than compact sedans like the Honda Civic but not quite as big on the outside as mid-sized sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. On the inside, it is nearly as roomy and much less expensive.

Prices start at $18,895 for the base S trim with a six-speed manual transmission; an eight-speed automatic is available optionally.

You can also get the manual in more than just the base S trim. The luxurious R-Line trim, which has Audi-esque trim and amenities, stickers for $22,695 to start and comes standard with the manual.

A top-of-the-line SEL Premium stickers for $27,945.

This is the sole Jetta trim that comes with an automatic transmission.

What’s New

VW’s Car-Net telematics app is now standard in all trims; it was previously optional. All trims except the base S trim comes standard with wireless phone charging. VW is also offering Corona Fever financing: Zero percent for six years as well as six months payment forbearance if your job gets Corona’d.

What’s Good

  • A choice of transmissions in a choice of trims.
  • Mid-sized room in a smaller-than-mid-sized package.
  • Feels like an Audi. Priced like a VW.

What’s Not So Good

  • No choice of engines.
  • Apple-only USB ports.
  • Compact-sized cupholders.

Under The Hood

All Jettas, regardless of trim, come standard with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that advertises 147 horsepower and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque.

This is why it feels stronger than just 147 horsepower.

Turbos have their downsides in everyday drivers, including the potential expense of having to replace the turbo after the warranty ends. But using boost to replace displacement (to score better on government fuel efficiency tests) has not only maintained performance, but it has also improved it, particularly in everyday-drivers like the Jetta.

Torque is what you feel (or don’t feel) when you initially push down on the accelerator pedal, and the Jetta’s turbocharged four has as much torque as larger engines without turbos, like the Camry’s standard 2.5-liter four.

And also the Honda Civic’s standard 2.0-liter four, which makes a bit more horsepower (158) but much less torque (138 ft.-lbs. ) and not until 4,200 RPM, because it’s not turbocharged.

You have to push down harder on the Civic’s accelerator pedal, and maybe even all the way to get it going at the same rate, the Jetta can deliver with much less pressure on the pedal.

And unlike the automatic-only Camry, the Jetta has that third pedal, which adds that important intangible—Fun without cost.

You can still get a manual in the Civic, but you’ll pay significantly more for it ($19,750 to start), and you’ll get much less torque, as described earlier. More torque is available, and you can get it with a manual, but it requires spending even more for the Civic’s optional (turbocharged) engine.

The Accord also offers a manual, but it’ll cost you even more: $26,350.That’s almost $7,500 higher.

It’s a lot to pay for a third pedal.

And you pay at the pump, too. The manual-equipped Accord’s mileage is just 26 city, 35 highway, and you only get 192 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Meanwhile, the Jetta’s mileage, 30 city, 40 highway, is the same, with either transmission. It’s usually the case that the manual-equipped version of a given car will be down about 3-5 MPG vs. the same car with an automatic.

At least on paper or rather, the window sticker.

Automatics can be programmed to shift for maximum MPG on the government’s test loop. But in the real world, the manual-shifted version might actually do better depending on the driver.

Regardless, the Jetta’s mileage, even with the manual, is better than the mileage advertised by bigger-engined/automatic-only rivals like the Camry (28 city/39 highway) and automatic-equipped rivals like Civic (30 city, 38 highway).

It’s just a shame VW had to pull its formerly available TDI diesel engine, which was available with a manual, delivered 50 MPG, and 236 ft.-lbs. of torque.

And when it was still available, it could be bought for around $22k.

On the Road

The Jetta can tout another thing that’s not only unusual but unique in this class. It’s a German luxury car. Perhaps not officially in terms of the badge.

But in terms of the lineage. And the experience.

VWs and Audis are brothers from the same mother. The Jetta may not have everything you’d find in an A4, but it has shared bones. And because of that, a very similar driving feel.

Especially with regards to how quiet it is. Close the doors, and you close out the world. Triple seals insulate the doors, and the seals you can’t see insulate everything else. Ain’t no Corona gettin’ through to you.

The 1.4-liter engine is one of those engines that punches above its weight because of that torque, which is all there at just 1,400 RPM. This is diesel-like torque, which makes it rarely necessary to rev, though you can do that, too, because you can pair this engine with a manual. If you do, you’ll find you can light the tires through second gear, and even with the automatic, it’s not hard to leave a little rubber.

Which, again, is fun!

It’s also worth a little harping on that the VW’s optional automatic isn’t a CVT automatic, as many of the automatics (standard and only or optionally available) are, including the Civic’s and the Accord’s.

CVTS, which don’t shift, per se but rather vary the ratio, continuously is another reason why cars have become so dull. Shifting adds something to the experience of driving whether you’re doing it or the transmission is doing it. CVTs subtract shifting from the experience, which makes driving less of one.

Speaking of less…

Because the Jetta is not as large on the outside as the mid-sized cars, it compares with very favorably, like the Camry and Accord, it takes up less space in your garage and can take advantage of less space, curbside.

There’s also something else.

The ghost of John DeLorean, the legendary Pontiac engineer who became a DeLorean engineer, may have had something to do with the Jetta’s cockpit, which echoes the stylish, personal, and driver-centric look of a Pontiac Grand Prix SSJ.

The dash curves toward the driver; the controls mounted on the center console too. Even the air vents are focused primarily on the driver, which makes you want to go for a drive, just because.

Few sedans inspire that feeling anymore.

This one does.

At the Curb

The Jetta is also subtle. No angry catfish or kabuki samurai face.

While the Jetta is smaller on the outside (185.1 inches long overall) than mid-sized sedans like the Camry and Accord, which are about 192 inches long overall, it comes close to being just as roomy.

There are 37.2 inches of legroom in back within the margin of error as much as in the much larger Camry, which has 38 inches, and the Jetta’s 14.1 cubic inches of trunk capacity compares very favorably with the Camry’s only marginally more 15.1 cubic feet.

The Accord offers more of both, including 40.4 inches of backseat legroom and a 16.7 cubic foot trunk, but there’s a $7,500 upsell to get it.

The Civic sedan has about the same backseat legroom (37.4 inches) and marginally more trunk space (15.1 cubic feet), but it also costs more and comes with less torque, unless you pay more.

Some of the Audi-esque equipment that’s available in this VW includes heated rear seats and windshield wipers, part of the Cold Weather package, a 400 watt, 12-channel audio rig, and a 10.2 inch LCD “digital cockpit” very much like what you’d find inside an Audi. But because this is a VW, you have the option not to pay extra for it.

The VW’s integrated LCD secondary display, which is embedded in the dash, is arguably nicer-looking than the Audi-equivalent’s tacked-on-looking tablet display.

R-Line trims get cross-stitched leather seats and steering wheel, plus dressier piano black trim inserts.

Unfortunately, all trims come standard with ASS or automated/stop-start “technology.” At least there’s still an ASS-off button, but you have to remember to push it every time you go for a drive.

A neat feature integrated with the GPS is an app called Parkopedia that locates open parking spots in real-time. So you save time otherwise spent circling the block.

The Rest

The Jetta is unusual in one other way that’s not so laudable.

It has two USB ports in the center console, but they aren’t general USB ports that you can use to plug in/power any device. They are Apple-input-specific. VW does make a “dongle” interface, but if you haven’t got it, you can’t directly plug-in/power up Android devices.

Also, the Jetta’s cupholders are not big-cup-compatible. This is, however, compensated for to some degree by very deep/wide door panel cubbies that will take a larger-than-medium-sized coffee cup or soda.

Or just use the center console storage cubby, which is vast and deep. Flip the armrest lid, and you can fit a six-pack, just about.

The Bottom Line

If more sedans were like the Jetta, sedans would probably still be selling well.



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation.  The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.


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