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2022 Volkswagen Jetta Test Drive Review

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta is updated with a revised powertrain, upgraded technology, more standard features, and minimalist design tweaks.

6.7 /10
Overall Score

Volkswagen’s career sales leader, the Jetta receives a mild but value-minded refresh for the 2022 model year. Although the compact sedan’s lineup has been pared down (farewell, SEL Premium and R-Line), the Jetta’s standard features, technology, and power rating get a welcomed boost.

Look and Feel

6/ 10

The Volkswagen Jetta has been the automaker’s best-selling vehicle for the last three decades. Even with Volkswagen’s overall sales down (because of the pandemic, supply chain issues, warring countries, warring states, a butterfly flapping its wings, etc.), the Jetta holds steady.

Last year, of the automaker’s 101,167 car sales, the Volkswagen Jetta (and Jetta GLI performance version) accounted for more than 61 percent of VW’s 101,167 U.S. sales. Through the first quarter of 2022, that number is up to 70 percent. Of course, Volkswagen’s SUV sales are two-and-a-half times that number but give the Jetta some credit. The little guy outsells the rest of the VW car lineup combined.

For 2022, the Volkswagen Jetta gets a mild makeover that includes an engine update, exterior styling tweaks, improved infotainment, more features, and a new Sport trim. The Jetta Sport replaces the outgoing R-Line model, and the SEL Premium has been dropped from the lineup completely. That means shopping for the regular ol’ Jetta has been simplified to four trims: S, Sport, SE, and SEL. For this review, we’ll be focusing on the Jetta SEL. The more powerful Jetta GLI, which Volkswagen considers a sub-model, is covered separately.

On the outside, the Jetta’s design changes require a few blinks and some rubbing of the eyes to notice. And once you do notice them, you can still unsee them. The exterior updates are that subtle. It’s like standing at baggage claim, trying to differentiate one black suitcase from the other black suitcases. Because isn’t that the Jetta’s overarching design? As bland yet purposeful as a suitcase?

The front fascia, bumper, and grille have been redone. Mostly with more chrome. The grille, for example, now features a chrome frame as well as two horizontal chrome pieces that line up with the standard LED headlights and daytime running before visually directing you toward the centered VW logo. The black grille inserts also have been redesigned as have the lower fascia and foglights. In the rear, the taillight housing remains the same but the LED lighting is now standard. The rear bumper is less squatty and more square. Like the grille, the rear bumper has a full-length chrome feature that extends from deflector to deflector.

More standard chrome appears on the window trim except on the Jetta Sport, which is equipped with a black window surround like the GLI. New wheel designs are offered for each trim level and new metallic colors are added to the seven-shade paint palette. The new-for-2022 hues are Kings Red, Oryx White, and Rising Blue.

As hard-pressed as you’d be to call out the year-over-year exterior revisions, the 2022 Jetta does seem to have a more aggressive profile. This is in large part because the lower front fascia resembles an angry Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s smirk and looks like a half-growl from the side. And the 17-inch wheel design and our Jetta SEL test vehicle has some Japanese throwing-star vibes to match.

The Jetta interior receives equally subtle but appealing updates. The standard cloth seats feature a unique new rhombus pattern as well. And all interiors, regardless of upholstery type, have an added premium look thanks to contrast stitching. If opting for leather, you have a new two-tone option in Volcano Brown and black. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard on all trim levels except the entry-level Jetta S, but it can be equipped as such with the optional Driver Assistance package.

Lastly, an 8-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster is now standard across the lineup to go along with the already standard 6.5-inch touchscreen display. Though top-of-the-line Jetta SEL receives the 10-inch Digital Cockpit Pro and an 8-inch touchscreen-navigation system, the base model doesn’t mean a view from the cheap seats either.

Performance

6/ 10

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta is offered with a single engine: a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This is the same powerplant introduced in the Volkswagen Taos SUV. In the Jetta, it replaces the previous model year’s 1.4-liter turbo-four. Torque remains the same at 184 pound-feet but horsepower does increase by 11 notches to 158 hp. Also carrying over are transmission choices: a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic.

With a little more horsepower, the 2022 Jetta does feel a little bit quicker. Its 158 ponies are plenty for a city commuter car. But most impressive was its fuel economy. The EPA estimates the stick-shift Jetta at 29 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined. Automatic transmissions, however, receive two ratings. S and Sport models are rated at 31 mpg city, 41 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined while SE and SEL models are rated at 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined.

On an 800-mile tour of Interstate 94 on the way from Detroit to Wisconsin, the Jetta averaged 46.9 highway mpg. No hypermiling was necessary. After a gas-and-grub stop in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, We continued 308 miles to our final destination—and the distance-to-empty reading listed 305 miles. Needing only two fill-ups for the roughly 1,000-mile trip, we spent just $69.13 on gas.

During the road trip, the Jetta offered a comfortable cockpit for cruising. The cabin isn’t the quietest but is competitive for the segment. You’re not going to need to turn up the audio in order to drown out road noise. It’s there but not obtrusive. The seats were well-cushioned and supportive for hours behind the wheel. The vehicle did feel minuscule being surrounded by truck-heavy, SUV-laden traffic of the Midwest, but visibility wasn’t an issue. So what if a semi filled up the outside mirror’s view?

For all of its ride quality high points, the Jetta’s powertrain is its downfall. The throttle is touchy, which isn’t unknown for VW, but the turbocharged engine offered a bit of lag and a bit of surge. And its dynamics were tepid at best.

The Jetta offers Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom drive modes. Normal felt numb, while Eco felt numb-er. The steering is accurate but the feedback was detached. Sport mode did offer a flicker of life—but barely. Overall acceleration was actually quite good but in stop-and-go traffic, you’re either lunging too quickly or braking too harshly. Any sub-25 mph drive will be nothing but incessant annoyance. On the highway, there was little issue with the power delivery, and the eight-speed automatic didn’t sputter through the gearing. You’ll certainly get where you’re going, but not without feeling jumpy.

Form and Function

7/ 10

In spite of its compact proportions, the Volkswagen Jetta is not cramped. Passenger space is plentiful for four adults but can accommodate five if you’re feeling chummy. While the seats are comfortable, the edge of the front seats’ bottom cushion does incline ever so slightly. This is likely for thigh support but those with shorter legs might not appreciate the elevated lip.

Otherwise, ergonomics are not an issue. The cabin is driver-centric and there are still buttons for all the things you want quick access for, such as climate control, audio, and controls for the heated and ventilated seats. Buttons for the engine start/stop system, drive modes, and the electronic parking brake are located next to the shifter. No need to search for an incongruous location on the center console or dashboard. Driving-related controls are exactly where you’d look.

There is usable space for stowing things up front, including pockets in the doors, a center console bin, a slot next to the cupholders, and even a sunglass holder. The center storage bin isn’t large but it’s still usable to keep things out of sight. Oddly, the compartment cover doesn't have a latch. Not that it flinging open will be a common occurrence. We simply found the lack of a “click” sound out of the ordinary.

Tech Level

7/ 10

As mentioned earlier, the refreshed Jetta receives an upgrade in the technology department. All 2022 Volkswagen Jetta models are equipped with the Digital Cockpit digital instrument cluster. S, Sport, and SE models get an 8-inch display with two views and different widgets that show vehicle information. The Jetta SEL gets a fancier Digital Cockpit Pro version, with a 10.25-inch display, three views, and even more widgets for things like navigation (if equipped), phone history, and the status of driver-assist systems.

Our favorite customization was having a full-screen view of the navigation within the instrument cluster and trip data relegated to the center display. We could adjust the map view by using the steering wheel-mounted controls to zoom in and out versus reaching over to the touchscreen to use the pinch-expand method. This was both easier and safer, as we were able to keep our hands on the wheel and our eyes focused ahead.

Standard infotainment in Jetta S, Sport, and SE trims is a 6.5-inch Volkswagen MIB2 system. The touchscreen uses a capacitive-touch sensor and operates like a smartphone or tablet, enabling swiping and pinch-zooming capabilities. App-Connect allows for Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink integration. Also standard is Bluetooth, two USB-C ports, and an SD card multimedia interface. An additional charge-only port is added to SE models and above.

The Jetta SEL gets the newer generation 8-inch MIB3 system that adds navigation, wireless App-Connect, wireless device charging, multi-phone pairing, and enhanced voice recognition. SEL models also get HD Radio, a three-month complimentary service to SiriusXM 360L satellite radio, a Car-Net Hotspot subscription, and a Plus Nav package. Car-Net offers remote-access services like vehicle locks and parking locations while Plus Nav provides real-time automatic map and traffic updates. Our test vehicle also was equipped with premium Beats Audio sound and a remote start system.

The enhanced voice activation and navigation commands aren’t intuitive, in our experience. Prompts have to be very specific, and even then, there’s no guarantee that the system will actually understand you. For example, when trying to search for the nearest Costco and OfficeMax, the MIB3 system respectively pulled up “Coco” and every non-Max office supply store. It was the most frustrating thing about the system. We manually enter addresses and points of interest to save time. The touchscreen was lightning fast, at least.

Safety

8/ 10

Standard for the 2022 Jetta is IQ.Drive, Volkswagen's umbrella term for driver-assistance tech. The Jetta S and Sport are equipped with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian recognition. A Driver Assistance package ($955) is available for automatic transmission models and will add adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keep assist, Travel Assist, and Emergency Assist.

Travel Assist combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist when traveling at speeds faster than 20 mph and on clearly marked roads. Not a hands-free driving system, Travel Assist will issue driver warnings before deactivating should your hands stray off the steering wheel. We also found the system needed extra guidance on sweeping highway curves as the vehicle would veer slightly.

Emergency Assist is a driver attentiveness feature that works only when lane-keep assist or Travel Assist are activated. Like Travel Assist, a series of visual and audio notifications will pop up to get your attention. If you are unresponsive, the vehicle will come to a stop and activate the hazard lights to indicate an emergency to other drivers.

The full IQ.DRIVE safety list is standard on Jetta SE and SEL trims. You can customize the sensitivity levels of the driver aids, but only via the touchscreen menu. The Digital Cockpit display allows for activation and deactivation of these features, but no further customization.

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta has yet to receive crash safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Although a model-year refresh, the 2022 Jetta architecture and platform are carried over from the previous year.

With that consideration, the 2021 Jetta did receive a five-star rating (the highest possible) from the NHTSA and mostly “Good” grades from the IIHS for the 2019 model (which is when the Jetta was last redesigned). The Jetta’s IIHS shortcomings are its headlights tests, where it received low scores of “Marginal” and “Poor” as well as “Acceptable” for LATCH use and the vehicle’s overall structure and safety cage.

Cost-Effectiveness

6/ 10

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta has a starting MSRP of $21,290 for the manual and $22,090 for the automatic (all prices include a mandatory $1,095 destination charge). The Sport trim also can be optioned with either transmission while SE and SEL are automatic only.

Finished in Rising Blue Metallic with a Titan Black leather interior, and with no additional options, our Jetta SEL test vehicle had an all-inclusive price of $29,190. For a sub-$30,000 price tag, a fully-loaded Jetta isn’t a bad buy—unless you expect “fully loaded” to also include dynamic performance.

If that’s the case, then the Jetta GLI would be the only choice since the vehicle has the amenities of the SEL plus a few genuine sporty mannerisms like an XDS electronic locking differential and DCC adaptive damping system. But it’ll top out at over $30,000 when available extras are added.

The Jetta Sport offers a good in-between and at nearly 10 grand less. It gets the XDS diff, but no adaptive damping, and it starts at $22,190 with the manual transmission and $22,990 with the automatic. Or if driver-assist tech is a greater priority, IQ.Drive can be added to the base Jetta S.

Within the compact car segment itself and the Jetta loses its German-engineered luster. Competitors like the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Mazda 3 showcase German-tuned dynamics but with Italian-inspired design. The Honda Civic, meanwhile, got a redesign for 2022. In a competitive albeit dwindling car market, the Jetta simply falls behind looking like an uninspired old suitcase—even with the updated bits.

Updated by Beverly Braga

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