My thoughts on this 2017 Volkswagen Jetta are summed up in a pretty innocent question from my sister: “Is that an old car or a new car?” she asked.
Engine: 1.4L turbo 4-cyl
Output: 150 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 5-speed manual/6-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 28 city, 40 hwy (manual)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.3 city, 5.9 hwy (manual)
US Price: Starts at $18,715
CAN Price: Starts at $18,040
(All pricing includes destination)
I don’t blame her for wondering. This generation of Jetta doesn’t exactly look like a new car, with its conservative styling easily being overshadowed by the crazy angles and swoopy lines of other cars it competes with. And the interior doesn’t look very modern either with a design that’s not too different from what it was 10 years ago.
This generation of Jetta came out in 2011, and it really shows. That’s positively ancient in car years and Volkswagen hasn’t done that much to keep it current. But there are a few things the Jetta still does really well.
The Volkswagen Jetta has always driven better than the competition and that much still holds true. The drive feels very German, meaning the drive is balanced and everything is screwed together tightly. That unmistakable build quality is the Jetta’s strongest suit and how it operates is entirely predictable. There are simply no surprises to how the Jetta drives, and it’s really good at just operating exactly how you’d expect it to.
It’s not a fast car, but it gets to highway speeds without too much drama, and the steering is tight, well weighted, and responsive. It’s easy to park, the suspension is good in a corner yet not at all harsh on rough roads, the sightlines are decent, the seats are comfortable, and the back seat and trunk are quite roomy.
This particular Jetta is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Under full acceleration, the engine can get really shouty, but that’s pretty normal for small displacement four-cylinder motors. I’d opt for the upgraded 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder with 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to give the compact sedan some needed urgency. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and intuitively.
Livable but Uninspired
The Jetta is inoffensive and very easy to live with, and its user-friendliness and logical interior layout have earned it many fans. Although everything is where you’d expect it to be, the materials used and the interior design are uninspired. The infotainment system is also quite dated and could use some more simplicity in its menu structure, which makes the availability of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay very appreciated.
The gauge cluster is also laughably old-school; while other cars in this segment are getting digital dashboards, the only digital part of the gauge cluster is as pixelated as Space Invaders, except it’s not retro in an endearing way. VW forces you to upgrade to get a color readout. This will be addressed in the upcoming 2018 VW Jetta, which will get a fully customizable digital dashboard similar to the ones Audis use.
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While many of its competitors are going in a more upscale direction, the Jetta’s interior could leave some people wanting — everything works, but it would benefit from being more interesting and high-tech. The Jetta is available with all sorts of driver assistance tech like blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, and collision mitigaion, but they are part of pricier option packages, where some of its competitors offer some of those things as standard equipment.
The Verdict: 2017 Volkswagen Jetta Review
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta still excels at giving drivers a German driving experience for a budget price. That means everything is screwed together nicely and the driving dynamics are exceedingly decent. But going back to that question from my sister, the Jetta is an “old-new car” and can’t help but feel and look dated and behind the times. Much of its competition is more affordable all while offering more features, even if they don’t drive as nicely.
The biggest problem with this Jetta is that there’s a brand new one coming next year, and drivers who want that budget German driving experience but also want all the features and tech are better off waiting for that one. My personal car is a 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit, and this base Jetta doesn’t make a strong enough case for me to upgrade, which says a lot because my car is nearly a decade old. The next Jetta is sure to impress, however, and I eagerly await its arrival.