2022 VW Jetta SEL review: frugal is its main play
This loaded up Jetta has one big trick up its sleeve: good gas mileage.
2022 Volkswagen Jetta SEL review by The Road Beat.
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman.
What is it?
Volkswagen's Jetta, their compact sedan that's proved extremely popular the past two decades, here in fully-optioned SEL trim. It's simple, small, and reasonably sedated. If sipping gas is what you're after, but don't want a Japanese hybrid, you might be interested in this German offering. It starts at a lowly $21,460 with this tester coming it at $29,190.
For those after conservative styling inside and out, the Jetta will deliver. While this is a con for some, it definitely remains a strong plus point for others. There's no denying it's a handsome shape while basic. Standard Corollas look stubby and Sentras look overdone. Honda's new Civic blends a best balance of class and restraint, but the Jetta will be ideal for many. Boring for others, but aesthetic for the rest. It's all personal preference. It also has a VW badge and its German identity going for it; Other German brands will require significantly more money to play.
The biggest reason to want a Jetta like this is the fantastic fuel mileage. Though not as fantastic as other Volkswagen cars I've tested with the older 1.4-liter engine, it's still quite exemplary for a gas-powered, non-hybrid machine. With a highway mileage of 44 MPG at 70 MPH and averaging 33 overall, it's friendly on your wallet in the age of $6.00/gallon gasoline in the States. For the record, a Golf and another Jetta last year reached 50 MPG on the highway at times even.
Performance is decent, even if it never feels particularly quick. With 158 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque from its turbocharged 1.5-liter engine, 0-60 MPH takes 7.3 seconds. That's quicker than almost all competitors including the Civic and Corolla. The 8-speed automatic also works well with no annoying characteristics.
The interior is comfortable and spacious given the tight exterior dimensions and shallow footprint on the road, and the trunk is enormous. I actually drove the Jetta with a 80-pound Labrador in the back seat for an hour and a half, and even he had a plethora of space. If you have a large dog or two, the Jetta's rear accommodations are more than adequate for your fluffers. The front seats are fine, just too flat, but they're well acquitted enough for this class of vehicle. The SEL's leather wheel feels fabulous in your hands, and the wheel itself is a nice shape and size - none of that inconvenient flat-bottom crap found here.
Compared to other cheaper Golfs and Jettas I've had, this SEL definitely shows a marked improvement in overall quality. The Volcano Brown interior with real leather seats add some flair to avoid being too drab, which the black interior option would create. While still no luxury car, and a loaded Mazda3 and Civic Touring are still the kings here for this size of car, you can appreciate the effort VW has made to refine this proven formula.
Point the Jetta at some bends, and it is unexpectedly happy when shown corners. In normal driving, the steering can feel too light and rubbery, but the chassis does perform reasonably well when asked and comes about in a natural and fluid manner. Understeer is minimal, with literally zero torque-steer, and the front differential does well to help guide you through and out of turns as you apply the power. While not class-leading, for a small, economy sedan, it does drive well enough when asked, and the ride quality is superb, too.
Beeps and bongs are aplenty in the Jetta, with perhaps the loudest single bong in any new car. If you're like me and always start your car with the door open (to let air in on hot days), you will be greeted (wait no, greeted would imply its friendly...) by a blaring bong alerting you your door is open, even though the car is in park. Basically all cars do this, but this sound is like a megaphone in your ear - it's so loud. I looked to adjust the volume and you can't. Which brings me to the next point, and that's the settings menu of the vehicle is only accessible when parked - not even a passenger can do it for you. That also means you have to stop to access the digital traction controls. Oh, and you also can't drive off with the door open, with the automatic transmission forcing you into park. This might sound like a stupid complaint, but what if I'm parallel parking and want to open the door to see the curb? Nope, it won't let you move. To be fair, many new cars also do this, but I thought the Germans would think higher of their drivers.
The interior has been improved, but there are some cheap plastics still present, like the air conditioning controls for example, and the style of the cabin needs a fresh update after classy and swoopy-cool updates from Honda and Hyundai recently. It's just a bit boring. If you do spec a black interior, it'd feel like a bleak dungeon inside.
I do like the way the car drives when some aggression is added, but in normal driving, this is a very boring prospect to say the least. Behind the wheel, this is pure Novocain during a morning commute. And the steering does seem to have used Jell-O in place of bushings, something the average consumer won't notice, but it does lack the confidence and direct nature of Honda's new Civic. Strange that an economy car like this is weirdly better to drive hard than softly.
A better Jetta? Or a never Jetta?
The Jetta is a good choice for many needing an affordable and economical car. It gets great gas mileage and is spacious on the inside. The entry price is very attractive, too, but this SEL raises the admission to a questionable amount when there are other very alluring players to contend with. As an overall package, the new Civic is unbeaten. It's nicer to drive, has a better interior, and is also wondrously efficient; It really does it all. But, for those wanting something a little more German in character, that 'Das Auto' life, the SEL Jetta is a better Jetta with the added touches and quality it includes. However, if you're really set on a Volkswagen of any kind, go for the GLI or Golf GTI, both of which are absolutely electric to drive in comparison and properly fast and only another $3,000. And they still get plenty good mileage. You'll thank me later.
2022 Volkswagen Jetta 1.5t SEL
As-tested price: $29,160
Pros: Great economy, quicker than rivals
Cons: Interior is improved, but rivals best it; kinda boring
Verdict: Efficient, affordable, and unexciting transportation
187″ L x 71″ W x 58″ H