2020 VW Jetta

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Many car companies have given up on sedans altogether – because buyers have been giving up on sedans. Ford and GM, for instance, have stopped making most of the ones they used to make.

Because buyers weren’t buying them.

Someone maybe ought to ask why.

Maybe it’s because so many of them are so got-verdammt boring. So, of course, are most crossovers – but they at least have the upside of being utilitarian. If you’re going to buy a boring, homogenous appliance might as well at least buy one that can take a few bags of mulch.

Then there’s this Volkswagen Jetta  – which isn’t boring. It comes standard with a manual transmission – which is very entertaining – as well as something pretty much all the sedans that no one wanted to buy didn’t even offer.

For this and other sound reasons, the Jetta does sell – in spite of it being a sedan.

The others might get a clue.

What It Is

The Jetta is the anomalous sedan.

It’s larger than compact sedans like the Honda Civic but not quite as big  – on the outside –  as mid-sized sedans like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord while being nearly as roomy and much less expensive.

Prices start at $18,895 for the base S trim with a six-speed manual transmission; an eight-speed automatic is available optionally.

You can also get the manual in more than just the base S trim. The  luxurious R-Line trim – which has Audi-esque trim and amenities – stickers for $22,695 to start and comes standard with the manual.

A top-of-the-line SEL Premium stickers for $27,945.

This is the sole Jetta trim that comes only with an automatic transmission.

What’s New

VW’s Car-Net  telematics app is now standard in all trims; it was previously optional. All trims except the base S trim get standard wireless phone charging. VW is also offering Corona Fever financing: Zero percent for six years as well as six months payment forbearance if your job gets Corona’d.

What’s Good

A choice of transmissions – in a choice of trims.

Mid-sized room – in a smaller-than-mid-sized package.

Feels like an Audi. Priced like a VW.

What’s Not So Good

No choice of engines.

Apple-only USB ports.

Compact-sized cupholders.

Under The Hood

All Jettas, regardless of trim, come standard with a turbocharged 1.4 liter four cylinder that advertises 147 horsepower – and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Which is why it feels stronger than just 147 horsepower.

Turbos have their downsides in everyday drivers – including the potential expense of having to replace the turbo after the warranty ends. But using boost to replace displacement (to score better on government fuel efficiency tests) has not only maintained performance it has improved it, particularly in everyday-drivers like the Jetta.

Torque is what what you feel (or don’t feel) when you initially push down on the accelerator pedal – and the Jetta’s turbocharged four has as much torque as larger engines without turbos, like the Camry’s standard 2.5 liter four.

And also the Honda Civic’s standard 2.0 liter four – which makes a bit more horsepower (158)  but much less torque (138 ft.-lbs. ) and not until 4,200 RPM, because it’s not turbocharged.

You have to push down harder on the Civic’s accelerator pedal and maybe even all the way to get it going at the same rate the Jetta can deliver with much less pressure on the pedal.

And unlike the automatic-only Camry, the Jetta has that third pedal, which adds that important intangible . . .

Fun.

Without cost.

You can still get a manual in the Civic – but it you’ll pay significantly more for it ($19,750 to start) and you’ll get much less torque, as described earlier. More torque is available – and you can get it with a manual – but it requires spending even more, for the Civic’s optional (turbocharged) engine.

The Accord also offers a manual – but it’ll cost you even more: $26,350.That’s almost $7,500 higher.

It’s a lot to pay for a third pedal.

And you pay at the pump, too. The manual-equipped Accord’s mileage is just 26 city, 35 highway . . . and you only get 192 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Meanwhile, the Jetta’s mileage – 30 city, 40 highway – is the same, with either transmission. It’s usually the case that the manual-equipped version of a given car will be down about 3-5 MPG vs. the same car with an automatic.

At least on paper – or rather, the window sticker.

Automatics can be programmed to shift for maximum MPGS on the government’s test loop. But in the real world, the manual-shifted version might actually do better – depending on the driver.

Regardless, the Jetta’s mileage – even with the manual – is better than the mileage advertised by bigger-engined/automatic-only rivals like the Camry (28 city/39 highway) and automatic-equipped rivals like Civic (30 city, 38 highway).

It’s just a shame VW had to pull its formerly available TDI diesel engine – which was available with a manual, delivered 50 MPG and 236 ft.-lbs. of torque.

And – when it was still available – could be bought for around $22k.

On the Road

The Jetta can tout another thing that’s not only unusual but unique in this class. It’s a German luxury car. Perhaps not officially – in terms of the badge.

But in terms of the lineage. And the experience.

VWs and Audis are brothers from the same mother. The Jetta may not have everything you’d find in an A4, but it has shared bones. And because of that, a very similar driving feel.

Especially as regards the quiet. Close the doors and you close out the world. Triple seals insulate the doors and the seals you can’t see insulate everything else. Ain’t no Corona gettin’ through to you.

The 1.4 liter engine is one of those engines that punches above its weight – because of that torque, which is all there at just 1,400 RPM. This is diesel-like torque, which makes it rarely necessary to rev – though you can do that, too because you can pair this engine with a manual. If you do, you’ll find you can light the tires through second gear – and even with the automatic, it’s not hard to leave a little rubber.

Which, again, is  . . . fun!

It’s also worth a little harping on that the VW’s optional automatic isn’t a CVT automatic, as many of the automatics (standard and only or optionally available) are, including the Civic’s and the Accord’s.

CVTS – which don’t shift, per se but rather vary the ratio, continuously – are another reason why cars have become so dull. Shifting adds something to the experience of driving -whether you’re doing it or the transmission is doing it. CVTs subtract shifting from the experience, which makes driving less of one.

Speaking of less…

Because the Jetta is not as large – on the outside – as the mid-sized cars it compares with very favorably, like the Camry and Accord – it takes up less space in your garage and can take advantage of less space, curbside.

There’s also something else.

The ghost of John DeLorean – the legendary Pontiac engineer who became a DeLorean engineer – may have had something to do with the Jetta’s cockpit. Which echoes the stylish, personal and driver-centric look of a Pontiac Grand Prix SSJ.

The dash curves toward the driver; the controls mounted on the center console too. Even the air vents are focused primarily on the driver.

Which makes you want to go for a drive, just because.

Few sedans inspire that feeling anymore.

This one does.

At the Curb

The Jetta is also subtle. No angry catfish or kabuki samurai face.

Maybe for the same reason that a guy who is decently endowed doesn’t need to stuff a sock down his pants.

Speaking of size.

While the Jetta is smaller on the outside (185.1 inches long overall) than mid-sized sedans like the Camry and Accord which are about 192 inches long overall) it comes very close to being just as roomy.

There’s 37.2 inches of legroom in back – within the margin or error as much as in the much larger Camry, which has 38 inches- and the Jetta’s 14.1 cubic inches of trunk capacity compares very favorably with the Camry’s only marginally more 15.1 cubic feet.

The Accord offers more of both – including 40.4 inches of backseat legroom and a 16.7 cubic foot trunk – but there’s a $7,500 upsell to get it.

The Civic sedan has about the same backseat legroom (37.4 inches) and marginally more trunk space (15.1 cubic feet) but it also costs more and comes with less torque, unless you pay more.

Some of the Audi-esque equipment that’s available in this VW includes heated rear seats and windshield wipers – part of the Cold Weather package – a 400 watt, 12-channel audio rig and a 10.2 inch LCD “digital cockpit” very much like what you’d find inside an Audi. But because this is a VW, you have the option not to pay extra for it.

The VW’s integrated LCD secondary display – which is embedded in the dash – is arguably nicer-looking than the Audi-equivalent’s tacked-on-looking tablet display.

R-Line trims get cross-stitched leather seats and steering wheel, plus dresssier piano black trim inserts.

Unfortunately, all trims come standard with ASS – automated/stop-start “technology.” Which is more like a gimp. At least there’s still an ASS-off button. But you have to remember to push it every time you go for a drive.

A neat feature integrated with the GPS system is an app called Parkopedia that locates open parking spots in real time. So you save time otherwise spent circling the block.

The Rest

The Jetta is unusual in one other way that’s not so laudable.

It has two USB ports in the center console – but they aren’t general USB ports that you can use to plug in/power any device. They are Apple-input-specific. VW does make a “dongle” interface, but if you haven’t got it, you can’t directly plug-in/power up Android  devices.

Also, the Jetta’s cupholders are not big-cup-compatible. This is, however, compensated for  to some degree by very deep/wide door panel cubbies that will take a larger-than-medium-sized coffee cup or soda.

Or just use the center console storage cubby – which is huge. And deep. Flip the armrest lid and you can fit a six-pack, just about.

The Bottom Line

If more sedans were like the Jetta, sedans would probably still be selling well.

. . .

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I just bought my fourth Jetta this past February. Ive purchased a 2000 GLS, 2004 GLI 1.8T (still own), 2013 GLI and 2019 GLI. When i bought my first in 2002, i was a working college student. I wanted an economical compact that was manual shift to replace my 1991 Ford Taurus SHO (oh i wish i still had it). After narrowing down competition that offered manual shift; the Jetta was a no brainer. My family had always purchased American. Well, except for our Chryslers that had VW miser engines in them. Anyways, the A4 Jetta’s are my favorite. They were known as the poor man’s BMW. Many features and well thought design; everyone gets a sunroof! I wish they still made them like this. They made the A4 for many years after 2005 in Canada as the City Jetta and still later in China. I still have my 2004 GLI with 206k on the odometer. The 2013 GLI was kind-of blah, it didn’t have as much separation in features and appearance over a standard jetta at the time. They changed this a couple of model years later. The DI 2.0 TSI engine for this era was highly problematic for carbon buildup and always gave me trouble. I traded the 2013 for a 2019. I find the 2019 rides more like the A4, as it’s a much stronger and stiffer (MQB) body over the A6. It has more torque and hp over the 2013 2.0 TSI. I have an autobahn, so it comes with the digital cockpit. The one annoyance is there’s no clock that displays on it while driving. It does appear when you turn the car off. You have to look at the radio for it otherwise. VWs have always had a clock in the gauge cluster. The controls are typical VW, well arranged and illuminated. I do miss the panel dimmer rheostat. You must now adjust it in infotainment. The dash layout is perfect. Reminds me of the layout of the A2 dash. The ambient nighttime interior lighting is nice and customizable. For they deleted the 2 handy red ambient lights that shine down from the ceiling console found in the A5/A6. I *like* that the interior dome/map lights are *incandescent* and not LED. I don’t like the pure white LED interior lights used on other VW and most other makers; too harsh. All exterior lights are LED except for the front turn signals (baffled?). I don’t favor the pure white headlamp glow at night, i’d rather it be warmer to halogen temperature. The heated seats get much hotter than they did in my 13. Mine also has cooled seats like the old Saabs (but quieter); it works very well with the AC on. Im undecided about the full glass sunroof. I feel that the previous design allowed better airflow when pop-vented. I’m happy that leather is back over the previous vTex seating surfaces. The rear doors are not as wide as previous generations. This makes it a bit harder getting in and out. Mine still comes with a spare, but it’s doughnut size; no full size anymore. They say many cannot change their own tire these days. I could go on, but so far Ive been impressed with my 19 GLI and would recommend that anyone in the market for a sports sedan give it a test drive for yourself. Its a fun drive and a great value!

    • Seth, thanks for your comments. It makes me feel good about what I bought last August. I had been driving Toyota RAV4’s for a while when I read Eric’s review of the 2019 Jetta GLI. I decided it was time to go back to a manual sedan. Actually all of his reviews make me want the car he is reviewing! I test drove and loved the GLI but it was $10k more than the bottom of the line S trim — and for 19, the only other trim that came with a stick shift — so I did an even trade with a twice “wrecked” (separate deer and parking garage incidents that body shops fixed), upholstery stained, paid off RAV4 and drove off with a new Jetta. Actually I paid $250 but that’s so close to an even trade I hardly count it. I came out way ahead of the dealership, I thought, since it cost them that much to pay someone to fish all the French fries out from under the seats. I average 40 lifetime mpg in local-rural and occasional long distance drives with the Jetta and never got that with the RAV4. It’s also much more fun to drive!

  2. I *reeeeealy* dig the new Jetta, and I’ve always hated them, but this new gen is so sharp looking. Suits my purposes perfectly well, it would be the most responsible and practical option, and there’s something for my left foot to do.

    But front drive!! UGh1!!!1!

  3. A 2019 with 37K for $12.7K at Lindsay Buick in Warreton, VA is one I have noticed and been thinking about. Seems like one of the last cars with real gears in the transmission, and limited tech that’s almost affordable!! But the mileage is what concerns me. I wonder how much longer the constraint would last?

    • Hi RK,

      Yup; it’s tied in with the clutch. Which results in similar annoyance. ASS has to be the number one most annoying new car “feature” developed in my lifetime.

  4. One should be able to turn off the ASS through a VAG COM which is available through Ross Tech. Not sure about the 2020 models but with the earlier cars it’s possible. The VAG COM works with a Lap Top and is a bit expensive but it can be used to find faults with the car which is useful if you don’t want to be at the mercy of the Dealer. Also it can be used to turn off those stupid Day Time Running Lights and Seat Belt Reminder as well as other modifications. And NO, I don’t have any finanicial interest in promoting this product.

  5. The non-CVT automatic, and manual tranny option are both great.The absence of a garish grill is also good. Upmarket Audi ambience and a De Lorean-esque cockpit are moderately attractive too.

    But only 147 ponies!!?? I don’t care if the strong torque delivers a nice punch off the line. That will only satisfy the “car as transportation appliance” buyers. There’s just not enough horsepower to make it interesting. Not enough to lure many away from a more “utilitarian” crossover.

    • Yeah, considering that three or 4 years ago, the Jetta had a 170HP 1.8L turbo motor in it. It’s 1980 all over again

    • It’s a balancing act to achieve those high mpg’s. My Jetta only has 90 ponies, and really it’s all I need for getting around. The torque makes up for it easily.

      • Hi Bin,

        I was surprised by how peppy the Jetta is; in real-world/everyday driving, it feels stronger than the Jetta with the previous 1.8 liter engine. And for more, there’s always the Jetta GLI!

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