A traditionalist at heart. The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta isn't here to rock the boat. VW’s compact sedan entered its seventh generation last year, and it was the brand's top seller until the Volkswagen Tiguan stole the title in 2018.
Crossovers may be winning sales, but the Jetta is here to argue that sedans still deserve a look. It carries forward the same virtues that made it a hit: refinement and value.
Flamboyance isn't among those virtues. The exterior design is all buttoned up, a four-door silhouette that’s inoffensive but unmemorable. Upper trims get dressier with flashy wheels and LED lights, but it’s still easy to lose the Jetta in a parking lot.
The interior is equally bland, but fit and finish is generally good. Hard plastics are still in evidence here and there, but the seat upholstery is pleasantly durable, and the Jetta delivers plenty of refinement for the money.
Better in the back? The trim may be good, but we’re not as impressed with the seats themselves. A wide center console cuts into leg room, and the front seats in most trims lack lumbar support. Better thrones are available, but buyers will need to get the range-topping SEL Premium to unlock them.
Things improve in the second row with 37 inches of rear leg room, which is good for a compact sedan. In fact, the rear seats have nearly as much head room as the front. The Jetta’s 14.1 cubic feet of cargo storage is about average for the class.
Infotainment just about keeps up with the rest of the market, although the base 6.5-inch screen is small compared to some rivals. A larger 8-inch version is limited to the SEL and SEL Premium trims.
Taking things slow (or not). Excitement isn't high on the Jetta’s list of priorities. The base powertrain is only adequate at 147 horsepower, and a simple suspension setup does little to encourage enthusiastic driving. The manual transmission is a good one, but most trims get an eight-speed automatic.
The R-Line trim is a purely stylistic upgrade and offers no performance benefits. Corner carvers will have to spring for the pricier VW Jetta GLI (covered separately). It comes with a 228-horsepower turbocharged engine and has a lower and stiffer suspension.
The Jetta is an efficiency star. The EPA estimated that the base engine will do 34 miles per gallon combined with either transmission, and up to 40 mpg on the highway. Even the sporty GLI gets a reasonable 28 mpg combined.
Going all in. It’s rare that we recommend looking toward the top of a trim lineup. The base trims of the Jetta aren’t bad – the Jetta S is a reasonable buy starting under $20,000. It doesn’t include standard safety tech we’ve come to expect, but adding the package is a reasonable $450.
The next step up (SE) is even better, adding synthetic leather, a sunroof, and automatic climate control to go with the safety tech.
But surprisingly, the Jetta makes the most sense in the top SEL or SEL Premium trims. Not only do they get the upgraded infotainment system, but they also come with a heated steering wheel, a Beats audio system, wireless charging, and adaptive cruise control.
The SEL Premium furthers adds leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, and navigation. At a starting price under $30,000, it steps on the toes of luxury cars costing $10 grand more.
Final thoughts. The 2020 VW Jetta is business as usual. A comfortable ride, sensible interior, and stellar efficiency are spoiled only slightly by poor front seats. The top Jetta trim makes for a reasonable pick for budget luxury.
If the Jetta has a fatal flaw, it’s a lack of flavor. In a world full of spunky crossovers, we’re not sure “bland” is the word VW was looking for. Sedan shoppers should rejoice, however – the Jetta is the same as ever, and that’s not a bad thing.
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