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Compact Car Comparison: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta

By Jack R. Nerad, KBB.com on June 30, 2015 2:00 PM

HOME , Corolla , Civic , Focus , Jetta , Mazda3 , Dart , Impreza , NEXT PAGE

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If you are shopping the compact car class, there is very little not to like about the Volkswagen Jetta. Its handsome and sophisticated exterior design makes most of the other contenders in the segment look like they are trying way too hard. And its exterior is matched by a sophisticated interior that works well both the first time you slip behind the wheel and after miles and miles of driving. The car's driving dynamics, especially in the upper trim levels, are exemplary as demonstrated by the fact that it scored above-average ratings from our expert testers in all three driving categories -- highway, city and sporty. In terms of space and utility, the Jetta has one of the largest rear seating areas in the class and a substantial, easily accessed trunk. In short, as a contender in the red-hot compact car class the Jetta has virtually everything you could want.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta at a Glance

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Compact Car Graph

The fact that it isn't a runaway bestseller speaks to the overall high quality/high value of its competitors and the fact that there are questions about the car's reliability/dependability. We experienced no mechanical or fit-and-finish problems with the Jetta that we tested in this comparison. And we found our mid-level SE 1.8T test version of the car very satisfying overall, but if you are seeking "cheap transportation" the Jetta SE might cost more than you bargained for. Complete with navigation and connectivity the Jetta SE had a manufacturer's suggested list price of $26,160. With typical discounting we figure the car as equipped in our test could typically be purchased for about $23,500, so the day of the $15,000 compact sedan is long gone. The Jetta does offer space, amenities and overall ambiance that rival midsize cars of just a few years ago, but if you desire all the bells and whistles a Jetta could possibly provide, you'll find the GLI version has an MSRP of over $31,000. We look at the SE 1.8T as a sounder bargain. No, it doesn't carry all the equipment of the GLI or offer the same suspension tuning, but it is a reasonable approximation that nets you the bulk of the Jetta's overall goodness while keeping considerable cash in your bank account.

That is good news indeed, because there is so much to like about the Jetta. For the segment, the overall ergonomics are about as good as it gets. The seats are easy to adjust and quite comfortable over long journeys. The instrument panel is a study in simplicity, and previous shortfalls, like difficulty in pairing phones, have become a thing of the past. The navigation and infotainment are intuitively operated via center console-mounted controls, and the single negative is the proprietary connectivity input. Not only is the trunk 15.7 cubic feet big, but it also features twin fold-down rear seats and a handy access door for long items. It will actually accommodate the proverbial 10-foot pole. (One of our testers went to Home Depot and tried it.) If you'd like a little European verve in your compact car, the Jetta is likely your ticket.

Here's how the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta stacks up against the others:

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Dodge Dart

This is a head-to-head between the two vehicles in the test that have the most European heritage in their design and engineering, although the Ford Focus can make claim to that as well. While the Jetta is among the largest in the segment in both passenger space and trunk capacity, the Dart is among the smallest. The Dart's powertrain also struggled to keep up in comparison to the Jetta's turbocharged 1.8-liter in our test version. Dart is the winner in the infotainment faceoff.

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Ford Focus

In this battle between one of the least expensive vehicles in the test and one of the most expensive, the Ford is nearly the equal of the Jetta SE in the on-road categories - a feat since it is nearly $5,000 less expensive - but it trails the Jetta badly in rear seat room and cargo-carrying utility. If these items are not high on your wish list, we think the Focus could offer a less expensive alternative.

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Honda Civic

Honda's venerable compact car boasts a better reputation for reliability and stronger resale values than the Jetta...and just about every other compact car out there.

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Mazda Mazda3

Do you like sporty driving? Or do you like driving sporty? Both vehicles offer an uncommon level of driving enjoyment, and both vehicles also feature better than average overall interior appeal and cargo areas. If you need substantial rear seat room, you might find the Jetta a better bet, while the Mazda3 has the edge in infotainment. Or you might just choose the one you think looks better.

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Subaru Impreza

How much do you value all-wheel-drive? The Impreza has it as standard equipment; the Jetta doesn't offer it. We found the Impreza regal on the highway, absorbing most road imperfections, arguably a touch better than the VW. The Subaru's leather-trimmed interior with very conventional dash is attractive, but not as clean as the Jetta's. USB and auxiliary input access are very awkward at the rear of console box in the Impreza, but at least it offers a proper USB port as opposed to the Jetta's proprietary interface requiring a proprietary cord.

Volkswagen Jetta vs. Toyota Corolla

The Corolla is the number-two selling car in America for 2015, so obviously Toyota is doing a lot of things right. It scores high among the compared cars in both entertainment and rear seat room. Corolla also has substantial strengths in quality and reliability, handily out-pointing Jetta in those areas while trailing the VW in the driving dynamics categories.

More Compact Cars

Build and price your own 2015 Volkswagen Jetta, read our full review or check out our Compact Car Buyer's Guide to see more options in the segment.

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