Two long-running rivals, the current Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla are closer in mission than ever before. The Jetta's 2011 redesign placed it among the least expensive econo-sedans on the market. It now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Corolla in the all-important value category.
Both models are positioned squarely at buyers looking for reliable, inexpensive transportation with no surprises. The Corolla has catered to this market for decades, and now the Jetta makes a strong play for it too.
The VW optimizes the notion of a lot of car for the money. Interior and trunk space come close to midsize levels, and features like heated outside mirrors and express up/down windows are included in the modest base price. The Jetta offers clean and sensible styling inside and out, which makes it unique in a field that thrives on trends and cuteness.
The standard 2-liter engine makes 115 horsepower, but buyers can upgrade to a 2.5-liter, turbo, turbo diesel, or hybrid. The turbo offers the most thrust with 200 horsepower, and the hybrid is the mileage champ at 48 mpg on the highway.
As in previous years, the Toyota is a smooth performer that's roomy for its class and screwed together well. It's easy drivability makes it a natural choice for all types of drivers, from college kids to folks buying their last car.
All models carry a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder matched to a five-speed stick or four-speed automatic. Options are plentiful in the upper trim levels, and even the base model comes with standard power windows, locks and outside mirrors.
Which Works Best?
The Corolla continues to resonate strongly with consumers, despite facing newer competition. It's a no-hassle car that performs as promised for years on end. Buyers looking for sheer practicality know they won't be disappointed. The Jetta scores nearly as well in that department, and also offers unique German flavor and intriguing engine choices.
Our Verdict: Volkswagen Jetta
The Corolla wins on mass appeal, but the Jetta edges past it in overall substance and value.