2023 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Review

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee


Engine: 1.5L I4 Turbo
Output: 158 hp, 184 lb-ft
Transmission: 8AT, FWD
Fuel Economy (MPG): 29/40 (city/hwy)
Fuel Economy (L/100 KM): 7.5/5.7 (city/hwy)
Starting Price (USD): $21,750 (inc. dest.)
As Tested Price (USD): $29,875 (inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $24,745 (inc. dest.)
As Tested Price (CAD): $31,940 (inc. dest.)

A few generations ago the Volkswagen Jetta took a seismic shift in direction.

The small, compact, premium German sedan transitioned into a large, value-packed family vehicle. Many faithful Jetta fans were aghast at the car’s sudden change in philosophy. But in hindsight, Volkswagen was right. While compact cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Focus, and Dodge Dart have been put out to pasture, the Jetta soldiers on. In fact, last year it even received a significant update.

So how does a vehicle like the Volkswagen Jetta SEL continue to survive? It’s a simple formula really; offering near mid-size sedan features and sizing, at compact car prices, all while offering a decidedly sophisticated drivetrain.

Still a Large Compact

When the sixth generation Jetta was introduced in 2010, one of its most striking features was just how big the car was. It was nearly a class larger in terms of length and interior space. Over the past decade, many competitors have grown as well, making the Jetta appear to be more of a trend-setter than an outlier. But, at 186.5-inches (4,738 mm) in length, the current seventh generation Jetta still offers a few more inches than a Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra.

This leads to ample room inside, with rear seat passengers enjoying 37.4 inches (949 mm) of rear legroom. Behind them, there’s a cavernous 14.1 cu ft. (399 L) trunk.

Headroom is a bit tighter, as front seat passengers get 38.5 inches (979 mm) while rear seat occupants make do with 37.2 inches (935 mm) headroom. Despite these figures, four six-foot tall adults can travel inside the Jetta in comfort.

2023 Volkswagen SEL and Highline

Aside from the sporty GLI, the top-of-the-line Volkswagen Jetta for 2023 is the SEL trim like the one I am driving. Ok, technically I am driving a Canadian Highline spec vehicle, but the SEL and Highline are virtually identical.

SEE ALSO: 2022 Volkswagen Jetta First Drive Review

Standard equipment in these cars include leather seating surfaces, heated and ventilated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and heated rear seats. To brighten up one’s day, there’s a large sunroof and adjustable ambient lighting. When the weather takes a frosty turn, there’s the wiper de-icer, remote engine starter, and heated steering wheel.

Lots of Tech

When it comes to technology, all the usual boxes are once again ticked off. There’s an 8.0-inch color touchscreen infotainment system capable of running both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. Sound is provided by BeatsAudio. It’s a good system, but to my untrained ears, not as memorable as the old Fender sound systems in Jetta’s of yore.

My favorite tech feature is easily the adjustable digital cockpit. Plenty of cars these days have some form of digital gauge clusters. But usually only the more premium models allow for the various screens and options found in the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta SEL. Want traditional looking dual gauges? No problem. Looking to turn the cluster into a giant navigation map? It can do that. Or maybe it’s a screen full of data one is after.

As expected, all the latest advanced safety systems are present and accounted for. There’s adaptive cruise control, crash mitigation, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, etc.

Not a Lot of Price

Now that we’ve covered the size and feature content of the Jetta, let’s move on to pricing. The most basic Jetta starts at a price of $21,750 including destination. Moving up to the SEL and pricing clocks in $29,875 including destination. That’s less than a Honda Civic Touring, but more than a Hyundai Elantra N-Line.

SEE ALSO: Honda Civic vs Volkswagen Jetta: Which Compact is Right for You?

In a refreshing change for Canadian customers, the Jetta is even more of value up north. Starting at $24,745 including destination charges, the fully loaded Highline trim is a mere $31,940 CAD including destination.

Small Engine, Big Sophistication

Remember us mentioning earlier that the Jetta received a significant update last year? At the heart of that update was a new engine. Gone is the old 1.4-liter unit, replaced by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Granted this isn’t a huge change, but power is up 11 hp to 158 hp total, while torque remains the same 184 lb-ft.

The 1.5-liter can be paired to a six-speed manual transmission in lower trim models, or an eight-speed automatic like found in my test car. With the automatic, the drivetrain in the Jetta feels more premium than plenty of its competitors. Everything operates smoothly with little drama or noise.

With only 3,016 lbs. (1,368 kg) to haul around, torque is instant and plentiful around town. On the highway, there is still ample grunt, something that isn’t always true of small turbo engines.

Official fuel economy figures for the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta SEL are 29 mpg (7.5 L/100 km) in the city and 40 mpg (5.7 L/100 km) on the highway. During my week with the car, in mixed wintery driving, I was able to achieve 32.2 mpg (7.3 L/100 km) on average.

Conservative, Restrained, or Boring?

The rest of the car drags up a debate. Is it conservative, restrained, or just boring? Let’s start with the exterior styling. Less square than the sixth generation Jetta, the new model introduced five years ago still has a somewhat boxy overall shape, buy with a rounder nose and more chiselled rear. There’s no real personality to the look, but it doesn’t offend eighter. I like the hood creases and roofline but haven’t warmed up to the new grille. The full complement of LED lighting all around does give it some pizzaz.

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Elantra N Line vs Volkswagen Jetta GLI Comparison: Healthy Competition

The ride and handling raise a similar debate. It is comfortable and handles well enough but doesn’t really excel at either task. I can feel the sporty pretensions built into the suspension tuning, but with rather narrow 205/55R17 tires, it lacks the outright grip to make for an entertaining ride. With the option of the sportier GLI in the lineup, I’d like to see the Jetta SEL lean further towards comfort.

The Verdict: 2023 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

Still, as a total package, the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta SEL continues to strike the right combination of size, value, and performance to entice enough buyers to keep it relevant in our drastically changing world. In a market gone mad for SUVs and crossovers, the Jetta is a compelling compact-ish sedan alternative.


What’s the difference between SE and SEL Jetta?

The SE is a mid trim level Jetta while the SEL is the top-of-the-line. Mechanically the vehicles are identical, but there features and content differs.  

Does the 2023 Jetta have remote start?

Yes, the Volkswagen Jetta SEL doe have a remote engine starter. 

Is there a 2023 Volkswagen Jetta?

Yes. The vehicle continues on for the 2023 model year. 

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  • Drivetrain
  • Passenger Space
  • Feature Content


  • Mundane Styling
  • Forgettable Driving Experience
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.

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Join the conversation
  • AladdinSane AladdinSane on Jan 09, 2023

    My one question: Is pedestrian detection part of the Jetta's advanced safety features here in the United States version? Thanks! ??

  • Jeff Wilson Jeff Wilson on Jan 13, 2023

    I took over a lease of a 2019 Jetta a few years ago without having driven this generation Jetta before, and I have been pleasantly surprised. Mine's a base model six-speed, which means it has the amusingly low-grade plastic steering wheel (that's still got the squared-off bottom), but has Apple CarPlay and seat heaters hot enough to toast my buns. But what really thrilled me was that even though it's decently peppy and fun to drive for a cheap-o car, it's incredibly efficient. In a rare twist, the stick-shift cars with the 1.4T were actually rated for slightly better efficiency than the autos, and my trip computer is showing an astonishing long-term average over a few thousand kilometers of less than 6 L/100 km (over 40 mpg). That's mixed driving, in and around the Toronto area with plenty of traffic, roof-racks on for my SUP, and wearing inefficient winter tires for nearly half the year. I needed a cheap, but reliable second car and this Jetta has delivered that and more.