2016 Volkswagen Jetta review: Decent value for what folks want, but poor seats


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Ever the Alternative from an Ocean of Civic Sameness

The Volkswagen Jetta continues to be the alternative of note to the Honda Civics and Ford Focuses of the world; always feeling like a little extra thought was put in to styling, handling and overall creature comforts at a fair price. German engineering and all that. And while the Americans and Japanese competitors have done a lot to catch up with the “cool kids,” this particular Jetta model shows you can still get a great combintion of German styling, connectivity features and creature comforts at a very reasonable price point.

Of course, some of those creature comforts were more comfortable than others. The seats, for instance, just aren’t that comfortable anymore. They’re hard and flat, offering up almost no back support. I drove it for a few semi-extended periods of time over the weekend and ended up with a twinge in my spine. The seat heaters are strong, which is nice on a chilly November morning, and the wipers seem to do a good job of clearing off the frost; VW’s latest touchscreen radio system is also good looking and easy to use. It’s also nice to find a whole infotainment suite — Bluetooth, satellite radio, rearview camera, touchscreen interface and App-Connect (allowing you to access your phone’s apps on the center display) — in a car under $25,000.

 

2016 VW Jetta interior

The Jetta interior is plain, but useful.

The turbo four itself is adequate, but had me wishing for that torquey diesel we may, sadly, never see again. It lags a bit before getting up to speed, but expressway passing isn’t too bad when you put your foot to the floor. I had to put it in sport mode to make it livable in normal traffic. The brakes on this particular model weren’t very efficient. I had to move the pedal a good five inches before anything started to happen. They get a little more grippy once you’re that far in.

The Jetta doesn’t feel as solid as the past cars did, at least as far as I can remember. It sounds a little tinny when you slam the doors, and much of the road sound penetrates the cabin, especially at higher speeds. It’s the same with big potholes and road cracks, they broadcast into the passenger compartment through the floorboards. 

Granted, the VW Jetta starts at $18,700 or so, within a few hundred bucks of the Civic and a thousand or so of the Ford Focus, and if this car was “entry level” some of the nitpicks could be forgiven; it’s not, though — this is a $23k car with a lot of competition in that price range. Still, the value proposition is strong, and for those who refuse to join the army of Civic drivers on the road (over 325,000 last year compare to 160,000 who opted for the Jetta), the Jetta still provides a nice compact sedan alternative. If you can live with the seats, that is.

VW readies TDI engine fix

OTHER VOICES:

“Whatever else this Jetta might have had to offer — and between the easy-to-use infotainment system, cool phone-app access and always convenient push-button start, there’s definitely a lot here to like — it was all eclipsed by the terrible driver seat. After a single 11-mile drive home, my back was a wreck. The brakes were also weirdly weak, and the styling has become too dull for my taste. The transmission also had an odd tendency to shudder on downshifts. Still, this Jetta is definitely a better-priced VW than I’ve seen in a while from a content-for-dollar standpoint, but I could not get past those seats.” –Natalie Neff, editorial content manager

“Even with a redesign the Volkswagen Jetta is definitely lacking an allure. The back seat was cramped, the infotainment screen was small and the cabin seemed to be filled with hard plastic. I would personally go with the Mazda 3 instead of the Jetta. It is fuel efficient, more roomy and more fun to drive for roughly the same price.” -Justine Woodard, editorial intern

“Since I’m used to absorbing punishment throughout my daily work routine here at AW, I guess I didn’t notice the seats until my colleagues above made mention of them. Then I paid closer attention and yes, they are pretty miserable. They don’t have to be, all’s I’d need is for the bottom seat cushion to tilt rearwards just a little and for some trace of lumbar support. But maybe even then they’d stink.

It’s too bad because otherwise I love this 1.8T SEL. It is just the right size for everyday suburban living. It gets into parking garages just fine and fits in my ridiculously skinny 1926 driveway, a slot made for Model Ts. I love the steering, which is just the right amount of boost and feel for urban command, and even the steering wheel, which has the best cross section short of a McLaren 650S. Partial-throttle acceleration is likewise a joy, just touch the gas a little on the freeway and you’re off. Full-throttle passes take a while though, as the turbo spools up and the trans kicks down. It’s roomy, it’s comfortable and I’d buy this over an Accord or whatever you think it competes against. I’d buy it, that is, if it wasn’t for how much I hate my local VW dealer’s prices for parts and service. I hate those prices enough to not buy a VW, even though I love driving VWs. But that’s another story…” –Mark Vaughn, senior editor, West Coast

 

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