Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE: Which Trim is Right For You?

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

When it comes to affordable, compact German sedans, there’s only one choice: the Jetta.

Volkswagen has been making small, people-pleasing cars for several decades and the brand’s current Jetta is no exception. There’s a reason it’s still on sale while many compact competitors have fallen by the wayside.

Part of the Jetta’s appeal is the low entry price. It offers a lot of car and features for not a lot of money. But is the lowest priced Jetta the best value? Or is it worth stepping up a few trim levels? That’s what we plan to find out in our head-to-head matchup of the Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE.

The S is the entry-level trim for the car while the SE sits in the middle of the model lineup, two slots above the S. Below, we compare the Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE over eight key categories to help consumers decide which is the better for their lives. Read on to see what we think is the better value.


It’s nearly impossible to tell the Jetta S and SE apart from the outside. Bot trim levels feature LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights. As well, the S and the SE come with power mirrors and body colored door handles.

The biggest visual difference comes down to the wheels. The S features 16-inch alloy wheels while the SE has a choice of two 17-inch alloys. The SE also has the option of adding a panoramic sunroof.

Cabin Space

Inside, there’s a bit more difference in terms of materials and looks. The front seats are different, and it’s not just because the SE has a V-Tex leatherette surface while the S utilizes a cloth covering. The front buckets in the S are what Volkswagen refers to as comfort seats while the SE are called sport seats. The SE also features a power driver’s seat and heating for both front seats. Neither of those features are in the S.

Standard in the SE are a leather wrapped steering wheel, leather gear shifter, and leatherette shift boot. These features are not included as standard equipment with the S but can be added for a cost. What can’t be added to the base level S is a fold down rear center armrest, which is standard in the SE.

Cabin space is the same when comparing the Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE. There’s 38.5-inches of front headroom and 37.2-inches of cranium capacity for those in the rear. Front seat passengers will enjoy 41.1-inches of legroom, while rear seat riders still get a decent 37.4-inches of space.

Powertrain, Suspension, Tires

The S and SE versions of the Jetta receive a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft. of torque. The engine is torquey and more than enough for the small sedan. Best of all, it runs on regular grade fuel.

The S comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission – a rarity these days. There is an optional eight-speed automatic available on the S as well. That eight-speed auto is the only transmission choice for the SE trim.

Both trim levels feature the same suspension and brakes set-ups. One difference when comparing the Volkswagen S vs SE has to do with the tires. Since the S comes with smaller wheels, it wears 205/60R16 all season tires, while the SE has slightly lower profile 205/55R17 all season tires.

There are minor weight differences between the models as well. The S trim with the six-speed manual transmission weighs 2,915 lbs. Equipped with the eight-speed automatic transmission, the S weighs in at 2,989 lbs. The more equipped SE weighs a bit more, tipping the scales at 3,016 lbs.

Fuel Economy

There are differences between the S and SE trim levels when it comes to fuel economy. The S with the six-speed manual is rated to achieve 29 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. The eight-speed automatic in the S gets better city fuel economy, but worse highway efficiency, with ratings of 31 mpg city and 41 mpg highway.

The heavier SE trim is only available with automatic transmission and returns the worst fuel economy. In the city it achieves 29 mpg, while on the highway ratings are pegged at 40 mpg.

Cargo and Towing

As far as cargo and towing go, there’s no difference between the Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE. The trunk capacity in both trim levels is a spacious 14.1 cubic feet. Towing is not recommended for Volkswagen’s small compact, but it can hold just under 1,000 lbs of payload total.


Safety is quite robust on the Jetta, regardless of trim. Both the S and SE come standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, blindspot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert.

Volkswagen’s IQ drive is standard on the SE and optional on the S trim when equipped with the automatic transmission. IQ drive ups the safety game with features like active blindspot monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, travel assist, emergency assist, a multifunction camera, and more.

Those who wish to purchase a six-speed manual Jetta S can still add some of the features found in IQ Drive, but not all. The optional Driver Assistance Package adds active blindspot monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and more.

Tech and Features

The S and SE are equipped with the smaller 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Other standard features include an 8.0-inch digital cockpit display, 4 speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Items that come standard on the SE and can be added to the S for an additional cost include rain sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Equipment exclusive to the SE entails a dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless access with push-button start, and remote start.


The lowest price Jetta on sale is the S with the manual transmission. It starts at $21,760 (all prices include destination charges). Upgrading to the automatic transmission on the S trim bumps the MSRP to $22,550. There are two option packages available on the S which are very similar, broken up by transmission choice:

  • $955 for the IQ Drive (automatic transmission) and Convenience Package. It includes front assist, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, travel assist, emergency assist, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain sensing windshield wipers, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, and leather gearshift knob.
  • $955 for the Driver Assistance Package (manual transmission) and Convenience Package. It includes front assist, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, travel assist, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain sensing windshield wipers, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, and leather gearshift knob.

The SE has a starting price of $25,480. It too includes a pair of option packages:

  • $395 for the black 17-inch alloy wheels
  • $850 for the panoramic sunroof

With both options added, the cost of the SE jumps up to $26,725.

Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE: Verdict

When comparing the pros and cons of the Volkswagen Jetta S vs SE, we come to two basic recommendations. The first is for the budget enthusiast. With a torquey turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission, we say go for the entry-level S model. It’s packed full of value and fun at price that barely eclipses $20,000.

Our second recommendation is directed towards the consumer looking for value, safety, and comfort. Here, we recommend the Jetta SE. It still includes more features, comfort, technology, and safety for a price that’s just a $1,900 increase over the fully equipped S trim level. The SE is the sweet spot in the Jetta lineup.

Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

More by Mike Schlee

Join the conversation