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Volkswagen Jetta 2022 Review: A Better Compact SUV

Image Source: Darren Brode / Shutterstock

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta packs more standard features for a better compact car value. The five-seat Jetta and its sporty GLI counterpart compete in a shrinking but value-loaded compact sedan class along with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and other imports. There’s not a bad one in the bunch, and this year the Jetta adds more standard safety and convenience features to stay competitive.

For 2022, not too much is new on the outside except new front and rear lower bumpers, as well as standard LEDs on the headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights. Inside there’s a standard 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, contrast stitching on the doors and armrests, and new cloth or leather seat patterns. VW swaps out engines for a 1.5-liter turbo-4 used in the VW Taos small crossover. A new Sport trim steps above the S and below SE and SEL trims to add flair and fun on a budget, with 17-inch alloy wheels, an electronic limited-slip front differential, and black trim elements.

Conservative but confident, the Jetta neither stands out nor shrinks away. The lower front and rear bumpers flare out to the edges this year to add visual width for a sportier, untucked look. A creased hood matches the parallel body lines running down the rockers and belt lines to the rear. The Jetta GLI drops the body less than an inch with good effect, it looks a little sharper and red exterior accents jazz up an otherwise plain shape.

A new turbo engine can’t shake the pursuit of fuel economy. The Jetta aims to please, and it pleases most at the pump. The GLI ups the engagement factor, and a new Sport grade locks in a happy medium while a standard 6-speed manual shifts more power to the driver’s hands. But this people pleaser is all about practicality.

The Jetta is front-wheel drive only, and it rides on front struts and a torsion-beam rear axle. It’s tuned more for compliance than performance, but the new Sport model adds an electronic limited-slip differential that eases some of the understeer endemic to front-drive cars. The steering is light and lacks feedback, keeping in character with pleasing the masses.

A larger 1.5-liter turbo-4 replaces last year’s pokey 147-hp 1.4-liter turbo-4, and it shaves the Jetta’s 0-60 mph to under eight seconds with the 8-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual comes standard. The same EA211 engine is used in the heavier 2022 Volkswagen Taos small crossover, making 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque here. A bit of lag gives way to a spirited surge when the torque comes on as early as 1,500 rpm. At light throttle or letting off abruptly, the engine paired with the 8-speed can dance.

For more sport, and more money, the 2022 GLI embraces the outgoing GTI hatchback’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft. With the available 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, it hits 60 mph in less than six seconds, according to VW. The independent rear suspension with adaptive dampers, along with the limited-slip differential, actuate enough grip and responsiveness to justify it being called a GTI with a trunk. GLI to GTI, we’d prefer the latter for its overall composure.

Lacking a hybrid, the Jetta’s turbo-4 is about as efficient as it gets. The new turbo-4 improves on fuel economy by 1 mpg over the outgoing model, for an impressive 31 mpg city, 41 highway, 35 combined. With the 6-speed manual, the Jetta suffers a small penalty of 29/43/34 mpg. The Jetta GLI’s bigger 2.0-liter turbo-4 rates 25/32/28 mpg with an automatic. Opting for the manual drops the highway figure by 1 mpg. That’s on par with small-car big boys like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but hybrid versions of both are rated much higher.

Headlights limit night vision, but the Jetta holds up well in crash tests. LED lights and standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as blind-spot monitors shine a safety light on the 2022 Jetta. But the base headlights failed to pass muster with the IIHS, which rated its LEDs at “Poor,” thus precluding it from a Top Safety Pick. It aced the six crash tests, however, and we expect the NHTSA’s five-star crash rating to carry over. Unlike even some luxury brands, Volkswagen makes its full suite of driver-assist features including adaptive cruise control and active lane control available even on base models with an automatic transmission for $955.

Inside, the Jetta tilts its tiny touchscreen toward the driver, but it makes no pretense about its entry-level status. Thin, dull plastics cover most visual surfaces, and the upholstery is positively proletariat. Climate dials and buttons are a welcome relief from too much touchscreen, but the current 6.5-inch setup in most Jettas feels like an afterthought. The button blanks flanking the shifter feels like we’re missing things.

One of the roomier compacts, the Jetta can grow from college commuter to first-time family duty. Split by a wide center console, the basic front seats have limited comfort and limited power availability, with only the top trim getting leather upholstery. Hard plastics abound on the dash and panels, befitting of its entry-level status. The charm of the Jetta’s size is it’s roomy enough to grow with its owner, from a college commuter to fitting it with child safety seats.

The 2022 Jetta houses 94.7 cubic feet of passenger volume, which is nearly large enough to qualify as a mid-size sedan based on EPA rankings. The new Honda Civic sedan earns that larger class, but the Jetta has nearly the same rear seat roominess. Same as the Civic, the roomy rear seats offer up 37.4 inches of leg room, which tops the compact sedan class. Five collegiate passengers could fit for the road trip home for winter break, but they should travel light with only 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space. The 60/40-split rear seats fold down for greater cargo flexibility.

A good value and good warranty overcome the Jetta’s limited feature set. The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta stands out as a value among compact cars. Starting at $21,460, the base Jetta comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, a dinky 6.5-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility, and an excellent 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster. All Jetta’s come standard with a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty that includes the first two years or 20,000 miles of service.

The new Sport trim adds 17-inch black alloy wheels, black trim accents, and an electronic locking differential for $900 more to bring the automatic to $22,990. The $24,890 SE adds heated seats and synthetic leather, but the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen and 10.3-inch instrument cluster only comes standard on the $28,890 SEL, which is priced high enough to look at a better equipped Elantra.

The Jetta GLI Autobahn tops the lineup at $32,390 for the manual, but still only $800 more for the automatic. That’s more expensive than the Honda Civic Si, but just a shade below the punky Elantra N. In addition to the adaptive dampers, sport exhaust, and limited-slip diff, the loaded GLI comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless start, a 10.0-inch digital instrument cluster with dynamic views and bold 3D maps, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Beats Audio, wireless smartphone charging, leather seats, a 6-way power driver’s seat, heated and cooled front seats, a sunroof, and 10-color ambient lighting.  With all that content, it’s cheaper than the Elantra N.

Volkswagen’s Jetta is a unique choice in a myriad of small sedans by lots of room and value. The 2022 Jetta is the sensible choice with tasteful styling, features that people want, and stellar safety scores. It’s the slightly quirky sedan that we’d want to be commuting in daily since it does everything well without breaking the bank. What the Jetta lacks in pizzazz it more than makes up for in surefooted driving and great value.

Image Source: Darren Brode / Shutterstock

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