The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta still has some redeeming features, but is showing its age in the face of a rapidly changing small sedan market.
Yes, they do still build it. Yes, they do still sell it. Yes, it’s the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta, and yes, you’d be right in thinking that it was getting on in years.
And it is getting on. The first versions of this current-generation Jetta arrived here in 2011, and that’s part of the reason that when I booked one for the CarAdvice test crew for a long-overdue review, people in the office were surprised to see it. Even seasoned journos were unaware that the Volkswagen small sedan was still available.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly is still available, with pricing starting at an attractive $23,990 for the entry-level manual version (yes, you can still get a manual!), up to $40,290 for the sporty, er, Sport model, which rocks the Mk 6 Golf GTI engine.
Ours is the 118TSI Highline, the most luxuriously-appointed version, which is priced at $34,490 plus on-road costs, making it a little exxy compared to the likes of a top-spec Honda Civic (VTi-LX – $33,590), but not as dear as a high-spec Mazda 3 (SP25 Astina auto – $35,490).
For the most part, the Jetta still has some redeeming features, like the amount of space on offer in the back seat, and in the boot.
Indeed, at 4659 millimetres long, the Jetta is only 79mm longer than a Mazda 3 sedan, yet it comprehensively smashes the big selling Japanese sedan for legroom, not to mention boot space, with 510 litres versus the Mazda’s 408-litre capacity.
The boot has gooseneck hinges which could eat into that space, but it is deep and wide, with storage zones on either side, and the opening is a good size to make loading larger items easy enough. It has a remote 60:40 split-fold seat release operable from the boot, and there’s a ski-port, too.
There’s good space in the second row, with enough head-, leg- and toe-room for a pair of six-foot adults to sit comfortably, or three smaller kids. If the little ones are properly little, there’s a pair of ISOFIX child-seat anchor-points, and three top-tether hooks. It also rear-seat air-vents and a 12-volt outlet.
Helpful for adults loading bubs in are the rear doors, which are quite broad and open up to a good angle to allow easy access, but because they swing quite wide you might have to watch energetic kids in carparks, as they may ding the car parked alongside.
There are storage options aplenty in the back, including dual map pockets and large door pockets as well as a pair of cupholders in the flip-down centre armrest. In the front, there are huge door pockets, two cupholders between the seats and a small covered centre console bin. Further, there’s a nice cubby in front of the gear selector, where the USB, auxiliary and 12-volt points are.
The practicality is good, then, but the façade is quite dated by Volkswagen’s current standards – it looks like a car that came out in 2011, but the materials used are all of a very high standard, and it still has a nice flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, and very logical placement of all the major buttons and controls. And it has a manual handbrake rather than one of those new-fangled electric ones.
This specification has leather trim on the seats, and the front seats are heated, too. There’s electric adjustment for the driver’s chair, but manual for the front passenger, and there’s dual-zone climate control as well, not to mention heated side mirrors (great for dewy winter mornings) that can be electronically folded in for tight street parking.
The instrument cluster is clear and easy to read, and features a digital speedometer – handy! Where the VW shows its age perhaps more than anywhere is the media sytem: the 6.5-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming is still pretty good in terms of its usability and layout, and it’s quick to connect and re-connect with your phone. It has the latest smartphone mirroring tech (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) found in other models in the VW range, too.
When you think a little more about the price being asked for this model, you miss out on the latest safety equipment that is now expected. Sure, there’s a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors, not to mention six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain) and driver fatigue monitoring. And all of that is still very good, but you don’t get any of the newer active safety tech, like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert… If that matters to you, you ought to shop elsewhere.
The Jetta still uses the same 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged 118TSI engine as it launched with, with – you guessed it – 118kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 240Nm of torque (from 1500-4500rpm). The engine is teamed to the choice of a six-speed manual – only in the entry-level version – and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
It’s a drivetrain that can take some getting used to. There can be some hesitation and jumpiness at low speeds: for example, when you take off from a standstill, you may feel a jolt, or some abrupt lunging, which is mainly the transmission working out the clutches.
During our time with the car there were some rainy days, and we had some fairly big issues with traction at the front axle, including wheel-spin (which can happen on dry roads, too) and some axle tramp, where the front suspension bounces up and down under hard throttle.
At least there’s no engine stop-start to contend with, and because the supercharger helps it get away without as much turbo lag, it’s pretty rapid. The lack of stop-start doesn't have too big an effect on fuel use: VW claims 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw 7.2L/100km.
At speed – on the open road or when you call upon the engine on the highway – it is certainly willing enough, and with great refinement as it picks and chooses the gears with smooth, crisp shifts. Don’t bother with the transmission’s sport mode, though, as it hangs on to cogs for too long.
The Jetta’s hydraulic steering is another nod to its maturity (more modern cars have electric systems), and it is a bit heavy at low speeds and in corners. But it is direct, and has good feel to the driver’s hands, albeit with some torque-steer (where the wheel tugs to the side under hard throttle).
The Jetta is based on the previous-generation (Mk 6) Golf platform, and there’s a fairly sizeable difference between how the Golf and Jetta drive. The Jetta Highline we drove had a less-than-settled quality to its suspension, not quite absorbing small bumps – rather, shimmying over the top of them. That means that, in this spec at least, it isn’t its happiest over crunchy country roads, but over sharp edges there’s decent body control and not too much body roll in corners.
It is a tad noisy on the open road, particularly on course-chip, with wind and tyre roar present.
The Jetta is covered by Volkswagen’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with the same cover for roadside assist included at the point of sale. There’s a capped-price service program spanning five years/75,000 kilometres, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km. Over that plan, the average cost is steep, at $558.
So yes, the Volkswagen Jetta still exists, and to some degree it remains a decent alternative to the more well-known names in the segment. But we’d be likely to choose, say, a Skoda Octavia liftback over the Jetta if we wanted the latest in VW Group tech, or a Honda Civic sedan for a more enjoyable experience overall. Or, if you don't need a sedan, you could just buy a Golf.