Once upon a time, the Volkswagen Jetta was a car with an edge, and that applied to more than the car’s angular design. The Jetta was a car for young driving enthusiasts (and even for those who were not quite so young) on a relatively tight budget and needed four doors and a trunk, but who demanded more sporty, dynamic performance than was offered by the typical compact sedan.
Manually shifted, the Jetta — in normally aspirated or especially after a turbocharged engine became available — was fun to drive, a real hoot and a half, as they say, a larger cousin to the acclaimed VW Golf GTI, even something of a spiritual successor to another wonderful old German sedan, the BMW 2002.
The Jetta entered its sixth generation in 2011. For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen has given that car what it terms “freshened styling, enhanced content, new driver assistance systems and improved fuel efficiency.”
Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye, the once edgy Jetta has become just another generic sedan, sort of a Passat Lite. Most will find that to be high praise for a compact sedan, because the Passat is smooth and stylish, and such aerodynamics certainly enhance fuel economy.
Speaking of which, if you really want fuel economy, VW offers a new 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder in the 2015 Jetta that is rated at 31 miles per gallon in town and at 46 mpg on the highway. (Read Bob Golfen’s ‘Second Opinion’ below)
The basic engine is a 2.0-liter, normally aspirated and gasoline-fueled four, good for 115 horsepower and 25 city/34 highway federal economy ratings. You also can get a turbocharged 2.0-liter for 210 horsepower and 24/32 fuel-economy figures. Available as well is a gas/electric hybrid powertrain that can operated only on battery power up to speeds of 44 miles per hour.
Or, as in the case of the Jetta 1.8T SE that we’ve been driving, a 1.8-liter turbocharged four that provides 170 horsepower and 25/37 fuel-economy figures.
We like the power the 1.8 turbo provided, but longed for a five-speed manual gearbox to extract power when we wanted it. Instead, our test car arrived with a six-speed automatic, which didn’t even have paddle shifters.
But then what we were driving was sort of a luxury version of the car, an SE “w/ Connectivity & Nav” as the Monroney pricing sticker put it.
The basic Jetta is the S. We were in the SE, but the most loaded of the three SE levels, what with 17-inch Joda alloy wheels, keyless entry, push-button start, fog lamps and touchscreen navigation, rear-view camera, as well as the ability to add on several special option packages should you want to pay more than the $25,465 sticker on our test car, which was equipped with the optional $995 Lighting Package.
Oh, and standard on all SEs are such things as heated front seats, heated windshield-washer nozzles, power steering, Bluetooth, power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, power locks, power mirrors, and satellite radio.
Above the SE, the 2015 Jetta comes in SEL and GLI trim.
As usual, the Jetta driver’s seat is a great place to be. And so is the back seat of these sixth-gen Jettas with their added legroom — and very nice-sized trunks, especially for a compact-class sedan.
The steering column tilts and telescopes, and has fingertip controls for cruise and audio systems. Chromed-ringed gauges and the central driver information display are, as is the navigation screen at the top of the center stack. Stacked below that screen are nice old-fashioned dials to control the HVAC system.
The 1.8-liter turbo reaches maximum torque — 184 pound-feet — at just 1,500 rpm and the engine is plenty spunky with the turbo adding its power both immediately and steadily as you leave the line or merge onto the freeway or pass slower traffic. But each of those events would be more fun with a manual.
And so would setting the car up for turns and then powering out the other side.
Alas, it seems the Jetta’s not just all grown up, but even has become mature.
2015 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8 SE w/ Connectivity & Nav
Vehicle type: 5-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive
Base price: $23,650 Price as tested: $25,465
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 170-horsepower @ 4,800 rpm, 184 pound-feet of torque @ 1,500 rpm Transmission: six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 104.4 inches Overall length/width: 183.3 inches / 70.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,124 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 25 city / 38 highway / 30 combined
Assembled in: Mexico
Second opinion from Bob Golfen:
Unlike Larry, who was saddled with the mass-market automatic-transmission Jetta SE, I was fortunate enough to get a 2015 Jetta TDI SEL with a stick shift delivered to my driveway. This is the way to go, in my opinion, and the little turbo-diesel VW proved to be highly refined and fun to drive, and it delivered great fuel mileage.
My views of the new Jetta’s fairly generic styling but accommodating interior pretty much echo what’s written above, so let’s go straight to the drivability differences.
VW has been a long-time proponent of diesel power for its automobiles, often the sole brand in the U.S. offering diesel, unlike the preponderance of diesel cars in Europe and elsewhere. We could talk all day about how far diesels have come in recent years, from the slow, smelly, rattly contraptions of the past to today’s sophisticated engines that you’d hardly even know are burning fuel oil instead of gasoline.
The latest generation again demonstrates VW’s mastery of diesel technology. The engine performance is remarkably smooth and seamless, and fairly quiet with just a bit of low-pitched growl, mainly at idle. And I never detected a hint of diesel-fuel odor, the oily stink that haunts freeway truck stops and construction sites, and which in the past has been a deal breaker for potential diesel-car buyers. No more.
The engine also is a spunky accelerator. Although the horsepower rating is a sparse 150, diesel engines are all about torque, and this little 2-liter four-banger churns 236 pound-feet that comes on strong at just 1,750 rpm, according to VW. That equates to sharp getaways from stoplights and immediate, gutsy pull for passing or freeway maneuvers. Who knew that a compact car with a small diesel engine could be such a gas to drive? (Please pardon the pun.)
The six-speed shifter has a precision feel, and the long-legged gearing allows you to get the most from the low-revving engine. That’s one of the things about diesel driving: winding out the engine is pointless since power tends to peter out above 4,000 rpm and redlines at 5,000. The power comes on down low, so you get used to early upshifting for optimal performance.
But overall, the differences between driving diesel vs. gas are minimal. I’ve driven VW diesels with automatic transmissions, which works out fine, but manual shifting is the thing for the driving enthusiast in you. Although with automatic, there are absolutely no adjustments to make for diesel driving.
Cruising at freeway speeds is relaxed and comfortable, with a very tall sixth gear that allows the diesel to run all day in its low-revving sweet spot.
Fuel economy is, or course, a major selling point, and the Jetta diesel is rated by the EPA at 31 city and 46 highway. But, and this is a major but, the actual economy has to be weighed against the fact that diesel fuel typically costs about $1 per gallon more than regular unleaded gas.
With gas prices as low as they are right now, that’s a significant difference in the cost of filling up the tank. So if you do the math, the better mileage could be a wash considering the higher cost of the fuel. Also add in the slightly higher cost of the Jetta TDI compared with the gas models.
2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI SEL
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive
Base price: $26,410
Price as tested: $28,920
Engine: 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, 150-horsepower @ 3,500 rpm, 236 pound-feet of torque @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheelbase: 104.4 inches
Overall length/width: 183.3 inches / 70.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,241 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 31 city / 46 highway / 36 combined
Assembled in: Mexico