2023 Volkswagen Jetta Review

2023 Volkswagen Jetta - With a rich history, the Jetta charges on as a popular sedan.


The Volkswagen Jetta is a compact four-door sedan that is available in five trim levels (S, Sport, SE, SEL, and GLI). It has a long history in the US dating back to 1979 and has traditionally been a best-seller for Volkswagen. Personally, I have contributed to three different Jetta purchases in my lifetime. For 2022, Volkswagen gave the Jetta a mid-cycle refresh with new technology and updated styling. It's currently in its seventh generation and all models other than the GLI are powered by a 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Prices start at $20,665 for the Jetta S and climb up to $31,585 for the Jetta GLI. Competitors include the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Kia K5, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla. After a week in the Jetta SE, here's what stood out...

Updated Styling (+/-)
The overall exterior style changes were minimal, but impactful to anyone who pays close attention to details. The front grille is slightly larger with an updated shape and two wide bars that sit at the top and bottom. The grille flows into the headlights that come with LED signature lights and emphasize its wide stance. The lower front fascia has also been modified with a wide lower valance.  Projector LED headlights are available on higher trims. The side profile remains generally the same with chrome window surrounds and distinctive character line from the front fender through the standard LED taillights. There is a longer rear overhang compared to competitors, which isn't as appealing to the eye, but is the reason the Jetta has expansive cargo space in the trunk. Around back are redesigned body color bumpers with either a chrome or a black honeycomb diffuser and a wider dual exhaust. Taillights and trunk remain the same. The full range of trims look similar without much to differentiate them other than the wheels. The Jetta continues to evolve in its style that is more mainstream than cutting-edge.

Wheels (+)
Each trim receives different wheels. The Jetta S comes standard with 16-inch two-tone machined aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped in 205/60 R16 all-season tires. The Sport trim includes 17-inch two-tone machined alloy wheels with a 10-spoke design. SE models feature 17-inch silver alloys with a 10-spoke design as standard and offer the same wheel in dark graphite as an option for only $395. SEL models wear 17-inch two-tone machined alloy wheels with a five-spoke design. All three models with 17-inch wheels have 205/55 R17 all-season tires. The GLI comes with 18-inch machined alloy wheels standard, and 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels are included in the available Black Package, both with 225/45 R18 all-season tires. The designs are all fresh and complement the overall exterior well.

Performance (+)
The standard Jetta is an economy sedan built to serve as a commuter car. The standard 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder produces 158 horsepower to deliver a respectable ride. For a more performance-oriented ride, step up to the GLI with the more powerful 2.0L 4-cylinder that pushes out 228 horsepower. The base model is sufficient for most buyers looking for an affordable but engaging car. The S comes standard with a six-speed manual while an 8-speed automatic is also available. Acceleration is decent as it gets from 0-60 in 7.1 seconds. The turbo kicks in to give it a little boost for some extra fun. One thing I've always loved about the VW Jetta is its crisp handling and steering across all models. It feels stable around corners and athletic for a compact sedan.

The ride is smooth with minimal road noise. The overall feel will adjust based on your preferred drive mode. The Driving Mode Selection feature in Jetta SEL and GLI offers four modes: "Comfort," "Eco," "Sport," and "Custom." Comfort and Sport have a different steering heft and throttle response, while Custom allows a driver to tailor the steering and throttle to their preference. On cars with the automatic transmissions, the Sport mode gives more aggressive shifts. Eco mode optimizes shift points, throttle response and climate control settings for improved fuel economy compared to other drive modes.

Manual or Automatic Options (+)
Both the manual and automatic are fun to drive, although as an enthusiast I'll always choose the manual. The DSG automatic is with the later smoothly shifting through the gears. The DSG automatic gives an immediate response as it shifts through the gears for a compelling drive. There's also the option of tapping into the shift paddles for some in between manual controls. While not the same as a true manual, the paddles worked well to still deliver a gratifying drive.

Fuel Economy (+)
When it arrived with a full 13.2-gallon tank, it offered a range of around 520 miles. 2.0L manual models get an estimated 29/42/34 MPG city/highway/combined while the 8-speed automatics are rated at 31/41/35 MPG city/highway/combined. Regular unleaded fuel is recommended. The Jetta gets better than average fuel economy amongst its competitors.

Interior (+/-)
Hopping inside, VW loyalists will find the interior familiar, but fresh.  It's updated with an all-digital gauge cluster and haptic touch controls, but the rest lacks any pizazz to set it apart from competition like the new Honda Civic. The build quality feels good even with a fair amount of hard plastics. The cockpit is driver-focused with a focus on functionality with all controls angled to the driver. The standard Digital Cockpit and MIB infotainment screens are surrounded by a trapezoidal trim piece with a piano black surface linking the two screens. The fully digital cluster features an 8-inch screen with two views and customizable widgets. To either side, decorative trim runs across the width of the dash and into the door panels. In Jetta S and Sport models, the trim pieces are silver accented with a herringbone pattern, while SE models feature a light grey crosshatch design, and SEL models sport a modern grey woodgrain design. GLI models play up the performance nature with gloss black trim accented with red hairlines. An available power tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof is worth the $850 as it gives the car a ton of light and feels luxurious. Overall, it has a functional, clean design with some Audi vibes, but not quite the Audi quality.

Technology (+/-)
At the center of the dash is either a 6.5 or an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display. It wirelessly connects to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while also providing a wireless charging pad and USB-C ports. The infotainment system is intuitive and uses capacitive touch controls as well as dials for volume and tuning. The touch system allows for swiping and pinch-zooming similar to a mobile device. While advanced in theory, the functionality didn't always work in colder climate situations creating some frustration. Thankfully, VW has kept some standard dials and buttons for audio/climate controls as well.

Comfort (+)
The Jetta exceeded all expectations for passenger room and comfort as a five-passenger compact sedan. Base models come with cloth seats, with leatherette and leather seating available on higher trims. A six-way adjustable driver's seat is standard on all models while SE and above add power adjustable seats with lumbar support allow passengers of all sizes to find a comfortable seating position. This was a big draw in my household as it's important for my 5'2" wife to be able to see comfortably just as much as it is myself.  There is sufficient head, shoulder, and leg room up front. Front seats are heated on SE and GLI models, while SEL trims add heated rear seats. Ventilated front seats are also standard on the SEL and GLI. The back seats had plenty of headroom for taller adults and would comfortably fit two. All three of my kids fit with enough leg and shoulder room as well, but there's not much extra space to accommodate water bottles or snacks.

Cargo (+)
All Jettas have been known for their large, cavernous trunks that offers 14.1 cubic feet. While the Jetta used to be a leader, it now falls short to the Civic's 14.4 and Elantra at 14.2. Nonetheless, it's still an impressive trunk size with a wide opening and deep storage. The rear seats also fold down in a 60/40 split.

Safety (+)
To help protect occupants, Jetta and GLI models provide a combination of both passive and active safety systems. Standard on all models are features such as
* Automatic post-collision braking system.
* Intelligent crash response system
* Front assist forward collision warning
* Automatic emergency braking
* Blind spot monitor
* Rear traffic assist

Other features available on base levels as an option, but standard on SE and up models include IQ.Drive, travel assist, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, emergency assist and high beam controls. NHTSA crash test ratings are five out of five stars in all categories except rollover ratings where it gets four out five stars.

Final Statement (+)
The Jetta makes a strong case for the relevancy of sedans. It's fun-to-drive, affordable, offers good passenger space, and a long list of safety features. There's a lot of value that comes in this well-equipped package with a very reasonable range of prices well below the average new car price.  It's a great option for someone looking for a reliable, stylish commuter car.

First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle:
2023 Volkswagen Jetta 1.5T SE
Exterior Color: Blue Metallic
Interior Color: Titan Black Leatherette
Notable Options: Power tilting & sliding panoramic sunroof ($850), Black wheel package ($395)
Price as tested: $26,725 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.