By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 8.3
Like other vehicles in Volkswagen's 2017 lineup, the Jetta compact sedan returns with something of a limp. That's because, as with other models, the once-desirable diesel models are not being offered in the wake of the German automaker's emissions-cheating scandal. VW optimistically says the Jetta's trim lineup has been "simplified," with the former hybrid model also being shown the door. Still, what remains has some appeal. All 2017 Jettas are powered by turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engines, ranging from a small 1.4-liter in lower models to the potent 210-horsepower 2.0-liter in the performance-oriented Jetta GLI. The Jetta stands out from rivals like the venerable Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic with European character and spry manners, but its uphill battle against those stalwarts just got steeper.
If you want a sporty, European-derived compact sedan at a non-European price, the 2017 VW Jetta delivers the contemporary design and handling dynamics for which German cars are known. The Jetta is also fuel-efficient, earning up to 40 mpg with a manual transmission.
KBB Expert Ratings
For 2017, the Jetta lineup loses its diesel and hybrid offerings, and has been trimmed to four trims. Even base models now get a rearview camera standard, and the blind-spot monitoring safety system is standard starting on Jetta SE models.
All Jettas remain on the spry, fun-to-drive spectrum among compact sedans, and that attribute only intensifies as you climb trims. The Jetta S and SE models come with...
... a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that delivers good acceleration and great efficiency, while the Jetta SEL uses a larger, 1.8-liter turbo-4 that has more punch yet still offers good fuel economy. The Jetta GLI is the most powerful variant with its 210-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo, and combined with its sport-tuned suspension can be thought of as a less-expensive Audi, the luxury-brand cousin of Volkswagen. Aside from invigorating engines, we appreciate the Jetta's responsive steering and brakes, and smooth transmissions. Jettas have a taut but compliant ride, but the Jetta GLI with its stiffer suspension and larger, 18-inch wheels can be harsh.
For drivers seeking a cure for the boring sedan, the Jetta GLI is welcome medicine. In addition to sporty manners, the GLI brings the most standard equipment in the Jetta's lineup, including advanced safety and driving aids, and a premium audio system.
1.4T TURBOCHARGED GASOLINE ENGINE
This powerplant recently replaced the dated, 115-horsepower 2.0-liter engine formerly used in Jetta base models, and the car is far better for it. This thoroughly modern engine grants a great balance of power and efficiency.
The Jetta 5-passenger sedan offers good interior space, though rear legroom can't quite match that of the Toyota Corolla. At 15.5 cubic feet, the Jetta's trunk is as big as that of a midsize sedan. The Jetta's interior feels minimalist and clean, with DNA from its European cousin Audi. We like small touches such as the adjustable armrest between the driver and passenger that comes on all but base models, and the 1-touch power operation for all four windows. Unlike competitors, genuine leather seating isn't offered -- just V-Tex Leatherette. All Jettas come with a simple-to-use touch-screen audio system.
As with its sleek yet minimalistic interior, the 2017 Jetta's exterior styling favors quiet sophistication over swooping lines, a massive grille or -- heaven forbid -- a giant rear spoiler. This is European subtlety, clean and simple. We're rather fond of this approach, and while the Jetta may not scream, "Look at me," we wager it will stand the test of time better than a fair share of its rivals. Jetta GLI models can be spotted via their unique front fascia with a red line running across the grille, red brake calipers and a small rear spoiler built into the trunk.
The 2017 Jetta lineup has been reduced to four trims: S, SE, SEL and the top-line, performance-oriented GLI. At its most basic, the Jetta includes a turbocharged engine, 5-speed manual transmission (automatic is optional), rearview camera, 6-way driver's seat with height adjustment, and 16-inch wheels. Infotainment is provided by a 5-inch color touch-screen system that incorporates AM/FM/CD player with SD and USB ports, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. For $3,000 more, the SE model includes power sunroof, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, larger touch-screen display with phone app features, faux leather seating, push-button start and premium wheels.
Aside from a 6-speed automatic transmission that's standard on SEL models, most extras in the 2017 Jetta sedan are had by climbing trims. The SEL also includes a more powerful engine, power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system, rain-sensing windshield wipers and forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Top-line GLI models add a still-more-powerful engine, sport-tuned suspension, 400-watt Fender premium audio system and the Park Pilot front and rear parking-sensor system.
With the demise of the diesel and hybrid powertrains for 2017, the latest Jetta is offered only with turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engines. On the upside, whichever of the three you choose is easy to recommend. Jetta S and SE models use a 1.4-liter, SEL models have a more powerful 1.8-liter, and the GLI goes larger (and more powerful still) with a 2.0-liter. All Jettas are front-wheel drive. S and SE models come with a 5-speed manual transmission, but most buyers will opt for the 6-speed automatic, which is standard on the SEL. The manual transmission on Jetta GLI models is a 6-speed. Though VW notes that the max power figures seen below are achieved via premium gasoline, all the engines are fine drinking regular unleaded.
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 (S, SE)
150 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm
184 lb-ft of torque @ 1,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/40 mpg (manual), 28/38 mpg (automatic)
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 (SEL, Sport)
170 horsepower @ 4,800 rpm
184 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/35 mpg (automatic)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (GLI)
210 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm
207 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/33 mpg (manual), 24/33 mpg (automatic)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $18,715 for a base, manual-transmission model. Most buyers will opt for an automatic, which is an extra $1,100. We recommend at least stepping up to the $21,715 SE model, which has more amenities and the blind-spot monitoring safety feature. The Jetta SEL begins quite a bit higher at $25,815, while the 2017 Jetta GLI starts at $28,715 and can reach to just under $30,000 with an automatic transmission. At these prices, the Jetta begins slightly above rivals like the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte. Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying for their new Jetta. Going forward, we expect the Jetta's resale value to be on the lower end of the compact-car spectrum.