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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Test Drive Review

It might look like a mild-mannered compact sedan, but the Jetta SE certainly doesn't drive like one.

6.7 /10
Overall Score

The Jetta is designed to be a daily driver for a wide range of people whose needs change from moment to moment. It has to manage breezing down the highway to the office, being bogged down in rush-hour traffic, hauling the kids around after school and even taking on a family road trip.

Look and Feel

6/ 10

The Volkswagen Jetta got its last redesign back in 2011, and it got a less-than-stellar response from critics. It was deemed bland, unexciting and even boring, but that hasn't stopped the Jetta from being the brand's best-selling car in the U.S. This year, the Jetta gets a few minor changes to its looks but retains its sedate sedan styling. If simplicity is what you seek, then the Jetta hits the mark.

The Jetta is an attractive car, but you won't turn any heads as you drive it down the road. There's nothing wrong with how it looks, but there isn't anything that draws attention either. Volkswagen did tweak the front and rear for 2015, feeling it needed a little something to stay relevant to buyers. Up front there's a taller three-bar grille that flows down into the bumper, which holds newly shaped fog lights. Head to the back, and there's a reshaped trunk lid with a new integrated rear spoiler. These changes give the car a little more presence and also improve its aerodynamics.

The 2015 Jetta also has new available radar-based safety additions for 2015 that include a blind-spot monitor, rear traffic alert, forward-collision warning and park-distance control. Bi-xenon lights that can steer through turns are also available.

The Volkswagen Jetta boasts 13 different equipment levels in your choice of the S, SE or SEL trims as well as a Hybrid, TDI diesel and sporty GLI. The base Jetta S is available as a manual or automatic with a 2.0-liter gas engine and includes 15-inch wheels, power heated exterior mirrors, a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control and power locks with keyless entry. Add in the Technology package for a rear-view camera, push-button start and a touchscreen with satellite radio.

One step up is the SE, which adds a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine with either a manual or automatic transmission with 16-inch wheels, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, electric power steering and an iPod input. The SE with Connectivity includes chrome front grille and window trim, leatherette seats, driver's side lumbar support, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and handbrake, sunroof, rear-view camera and Volkswagen's Car-Net connected car service for 6 months. Last in this trim level is the SE with Connectivity and Navigation, which adds not just touchscreen navigation but 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless access with push-button start and fog lights. Both of those last trims are available only with an automatic.

Those looking for a sportier drive can go for the 1.8T Sport, which features all the same things as the base SE with the addition of 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport suspension, navigation, fog lights, rear-view camera and a rear spoiler with either an automatic or manual transmission. The top-of-the-line trim is the SEL, which takes the Connectivity and Navigation features in the SE and adds two-tone sport seats, a full power driver's seat, a Fender audio system, soft-touch dash, Homelink and automatic dual-zone climate control.

Leaving that 1.8T engine behind, there's the Jetta TDI diesel in 3 trim levels or the GLI in just 2 trim levels. The TDI features a new, more powerful engine that will give you 10 more horsepower than last year in trim levels with similar breakouts to the gas version, while the GLI gets the sportiest 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. In keeping with its sporty nature, in addition to the features found in the SE and SEL trims, the GLI also gets things like a sport bumper and red brake calipers. Your final choice is the Jetta Hybrid, available in only one trim that’s basically the same as the fully loaded SEL, so it's all or nothing on the hybrid.

That huge range of trims includes a huge range in pricing, with the base Jetta S coming in at just $17,325, the GLI starting at $26,920, and the Hybrid topping things out at $31,670. My test Jetta was the SE with Connectivity, and with the addition of a Lighting Package came in at $24,140.


8/ 10

It might look like a mild-mannered compact sedan, but the Jetta SE certainly doesn't drive like one. It is not a pulse-pounding sports car, either, but it is nonetheless a lot of fun. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine puts out 170 hp with 184 lb-ft of torque that comes in nice and low in the rev range, so it capably moves the Jetta on its way. It displayed no noticeable turbo-lag and accelerated confidently whether moving into heavy rush-hour traffic or zipping along winding country roads.

The only transmission option for the SE with Connectivity is a 6-speed automatic, and it did its job well, shifting smoothly and very quietly through the range. No matter how hard that pedal is pressed, the Jetta responds without sounding like it's being pushed to its limits. The transmission is also smart, kicking down a gear at just the right time to give plenty of power seconds later, completely throwing its compact sedan image out the window. If you want an even more responsive ride, switch to Sport Drive mode and the transmission will change, with a noticeably later upshift that takes full advantage of the car's capabilities.

Not only is the engine quiet even under the demands of a driver with a lead foot, but road and wind noise are also nicely muted. Having a conversation with passengers in the back seats doesn't mean having to raise your voice, even on the highway on a rainy and very windy day.

Steering is tight and well weighted with a flat-bottomed steering wheel that hints at the pep hiding under the hood. It is also responsive, making easy work of corners with confident braking to match, so the driver always feels in control. Feedback is a little light, but there's still enough to feel sure about what's happening where the tires meet the road, and the front and rear independent suspension added a few years back continues to make this a very well-controlled ride.

At the end of the day, the Jetta remembers that it's supposed to be a compact sedan when it comes to fuel efficiency, with a 25 mpg city/37 highway/30 combined rating that makes it a real gas miser. During a week of mostly stop-and-go traffic and one horrific traffic jam that had me crawling down the highway, the Jetta averaged 31.2, so a little better than expected.

Form and Function

6/ 10

The Jetta is designed to be a daily driver for a wide range of people whose needs change from moment to moment. It has to manage breezing down the highway to the office, being bogged down in rush-hour traffic, hauling the kids around after school and even taking on a family road trip.

It manages these demands well, first by providing a spacious and comfortable interior. There is plenty of room for driver and passenger to avoid knocking elbows with lots of legroom to match. The backseat in particular is roomy, comfortable and perfectly suited to two adults or a couple of kids, even strapped into huge car seats. Yes, this is a 5-passenger vehicle, but that rear center seat is stiff as a board. No one will want to sit there, except maybe a kid in a car seat who won't be able to tell the difference.

The heated front seats are nicely adjustable, reaching blazing temps in no time, and manage to give plenty of head- and legroom to the taller set while still moving up high enough that shorter drivers can see over the hood. Height-adjustable telescoping steering further ensures a comfortable driving position. Controls are well placed so they're in easy reach of driver and passenger, and they are organized in a nice, orderly, very German fashion.

Additionally, the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split, adding to an already ample 15.5-cubic-foot trunk. A wide trunk opening makes hauling big stuff, maybe that widescreen television on your list, a lot easier. The interior also offers plenty of storage for the smaller things you carry every day with a large glove box, deep door pockets, front seatback pockets, space in front of the shift lever, storage in the center armrest and two small cubbies on the back of that armrest for rear passengers.

Where things sour is in the quality of the trims and materials. The Jetta’s interior has a Spartan, cheap feel, save the leatherette seats. Too much hard plastic and vinyl give it all a lowbrow vibe that's out of line with an otherwise well-designed and comfortable interior.

Tech Level

6/ 10

The Jetta SE with Connectivity comes with a Premium VIII touchscreen AM/FM/HD radio and CD changer, MP3 playback and a 6-speaker sound system. It also includes SiriusXM satellite radio, which comes with a 3-month trial subscription. Volkswagen's Media Device Interface (MDI) includes an iPod adapter housed inside the center armrest storage area. This is a plug-and-play system that links your device to an easy-to-read touchscreen.

The stereo also offers an AUX/in port for the CD player or radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an SD card slot, which enables you to have all your music, and better yet your audio books, at the ready.

A bit of tech that's about convenience and safety is the Volkswagen Car-Net connected car service, which comes with a 6-month trial subscription and was new for 2014. This works with iPhone and Android devices and features automatic crash notification, roadside assistance and a manual emergency call so you can get help if you run into trouble.

Car-Net also serves to keep track of what's happening in your Jetta when you're not the one at the wheel with the Family Guardian feature. This will text your supported to device to let you know if the car has been driven out of your preset boundaries or if it has been driven over a specified speed limit. Think of it as a nanny for when you hand the keys to your teenager.

And should you lose your car in the parking lot, remote vehicle access will guide you back to your parked car. It will even send directions to your in-car navigation system and check the status of your Jetta anytime you get anxious about your precious being safe. To make sure your car is always ready to go, there's also a built-in diagnostic tool that will remind you when it's time for service.


8/ 10

Safety technology continues to advance, with airbags being worked into new and smaller spaces, more crash-worthy vehicles, and the addition of electronic warnings that can see what you can't and help you avoid accidents. The Jetta stays on top of this trend with excellent safety ratings and new features for 2015.

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta starts with high marks for safety, receiving an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ rating this year. It received the highest rating of Good in all five crash tests, showing a marked improvement over the Marginal rating it received in the small-overlap front test of last year's model.

The 2015 Jetta also earned an overall rating of 5 stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). This rating comes from a combination of three tests, with the Jetta getting 5 stars in the side crash test and 4 stars in both the frontal crash and rollover tests.

A combination of passive and active safety features make this a very safety-conscious car, including available features like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and a forward-collision warning system. An available rear-view camera also helps keep passengers and pedestrians safe.

Every Jetta also gets electronic stability control, 6 airbags, antilock brakes, electronic brake-pressure distribution, electronic stability control and hydraulic brake assist. These aren't all things you're aware of when you're driving, but they're right there doing their job in the background to keep you and your family safe.


6/ 10

One of the first things everyone looks at in a car these days is fuel efficiency, and the Jetta posts strong numbers. The 1.8-liter turbo is rated at 25 mpg city/37 highway/30 combined, while I averaged 31.2, managing to beat the EPA rating. These numbers are nothing amazing, but settle the Jetta in firmly alongside competitors like the Chevrolet Cruze and Dodge Dart. If the key to your happiness is truly impressive fuel efficiency, then go for the diesel, which boasts 31/46 with a manual or 31/45 with an automatic.

You'll get ample warranty coverage with a 3-year/36,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, 12 years/unlimited mileage against corrosion perforation and 24-hour roadside assistance for 3 years/36,000 miles. The benefit most likely to make you happy and guarantee that you'll take care of your car without having to spend a dime for at least a little while is Volkswagen's Carefree Maintenance. This covers scheduled maintenance service at no charge for 12 months/10,000 miles. If you drive a lot, this won't take you far, but if your Jetta is going to be a low-mileage car, then the first year will be pretty much all on Volkswagen.

The Jetta matches up with its competitors in the warranty department for the most part, but falls short compared to the Chevy Cruze with its 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty or the Toyota Camry, whose ToyotaCare maintenance goes out to 2 years/25,000 miles.

Depreciation ratings have the Jetta again on par with its competitors, earning 3 stars from ALG and getting shown up only by the Toyota Camry with its 4-star rating. As for cost of ownership, the Jetta falls to a Below Average rating from Intellichoice along with the Dodge Dart, while the Cruze manages to flip the other direction with an Above Average. Finally, J.D. Power ratings show that, despite initial owner satisfaction with the Jetta, over time its reliability is below average.

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta is priced competitively, offering everything from a base entry-level trim that's just $17,325 and will likely appeal to a younger buyer, all the way up to the $31,670 Hybrid, which is as fully loaded a Jetta as you can buy. It truly offers a trim for every budget, making it a viable choice for a wide range of buyers. It's also a fun car to drive with plenty of utility for a compact sedan and loads of personality behind the wheel, despite its somber styling.

Updated by Nicole Wakelin

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