By Eric Peters
Soon — in just a few years from now — VW says it will only be selling electric cars. Right now, it is one of the few companies selling cars at all.
The rest are selling almost nothing but crossovers and SUVs.
VW also sells a car — the Jetta — with something else that you can’t find anywhere else in a car like the Jetta.
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What It Is
The Jetta is a very affordably priced compact-sized sedan that can serve as a family sedan because it is almost a mid-sized sedan in terms of its interior spaciousness and the size of its trunk.
But not what it costs.
It is also the only sedan left in the class that is still available with a manual transmission — and not exclusively in the more expensive “sport” version, either.
Prices start at $18,995 for the base S trim, which comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission. You can opt for an eight-speed automatic, which bumps the sticker price up to $19,795.
The R-Line, which is fitted with fog lights, piano black trim and an electronically controlled limited slip differential, is also available with the manual ($22,795) or the automatic ($23,595).
SEL ($25,745) and SEL Premium ($28,045) trims come exclusively with the automatic. These trims are also eligible for VW’s Digital Cockpit, which replaces the analog instrument panel with a configurable flat screen, along with a secondary LCD display for the infotainment systems.
There is also the GLI, which comes standard with a larger, more powerful engine paired with either the six-speed manual ($26,345) or a seven-speed automated manual ($27,145).
SEL and SEL-Plus get an updated infotainment system.
The stick puts some fun back into driving … and also some economy .
It’s nearly as spacious as more expensive (and automatic only) mid-sized cars.
It’s available with higher-end features for not-as-high cost.
What’s Not So Good
This is probably one of the last cars VW will offer with an engine.
Top-of-the-line Beats audio system is excellent, but the tap/swipe controls can be frustrating to use.
There’s some pushy “safety” systems (e.g., headlights turn on when the car thinks they should be on).
Under The Hood
All Jettas except the GLI come with the same 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It produces 147 horsepower and 184 pounds foot of torque, which is a bit less than what comes standard in other models in the class, such as the Mazda3. The Mazda3 comes standard with a larger, 2.0-liter engine that makes 150 horsepower, or you can order an even larger, 2.5-liter engine that makes as much as 250 horsepower. But you can’t get the Mazda’s engines with anything other than an automatic transmission.
But you can get a Jetta GLI with 228 horsepower and a six-speed manual.
Interestingly, the manual-equipped 1.4-liter Jetta produces higher gas mileage numbers than the automatic-only competition — a very impressive 30 city and 41 highway.
On The Road
Cars have never had as much power — and been so lacking in personality — as they are today. Put it in drive, push down on the gas pedal … and try to stay awake.
It is almost a shock to see a real shifter — not a gear selector (lately, a button of some kind that you push) — standing proudly at attention in between the seats. And it is a reminder — once you’ve fired ‘er up and are shifting through the gears yourself — how fun it is to drive when you have something to do besides put it in Drive and push on the gas pedal.
It is particularly fun in a car with a small engine that makes whatever power it makes at higher RPM because you can more finely control the engine — revving it into and keeping it within its powerband.
And with this particular engine, you also have an abundance of low-end torque because of the turbo, which breathes life into the little engine so that its peak output of 184 pounds foot is at your command at just 1,400 RPM.
You have to drive the Jetta to appreciate what the numbers don’t convey. And if you need more numbers, there’s the 228 horsepower GLI.
At The Curb
By the numbers, the Jetta is a compact-sized sedan. Well, by some of the numbers.
It is 185.1 inches long, which is about the same length as rivals in the class such as the Mazda3 sedan, which is 183.5 inches long. But have a look at some more relevant numbers:
The VW has 37.4 inches of backseat legroom and a 14.1 cubic foot trunk as opposed to the Mazda’s 35.1 inches of backseat legroom and its 13.2 cubic foot trunk.
The more relevant comparison may be Jetta versus Camry (or Accord) or other mid-sized family sedans. The Camry, for instance, is a much larger car in terms of its length (192.7 inches), but it’s not appreciably more spacious inside (38 inches of backseat legroom), and the trunk is only nominally larger (15.1 cubic feet). However, the Camry’s base price is $25,045, which amounts to a difference of $6,050.
Of course, like all new cars, the new Jetta comes standard with pretty much every amenity and feature that is necessary for civilized driving, including (of course) AC, power windows and locks, plus modern necessities such as multiple USB ports, Bluetooth wireless and a good stereo to play your music through, wirelessly.
But what makes it exceptional is how inexpensive it is — and how much more fun it is, for less than the rest.
The Bottom Line
If you’d like to own a new car like this before they stop making cars like this, make a beeline for the last place that’s still selling them.
To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com. Eric’s latest book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now.
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