The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta has undergone some minor changes – depending on trim – after recieving numerous updates last year. Available in several trims, Volkswagen’s compact sedan has one of the more well-known nameplates in the business, and it brings a level of refinement to the class that’s usually reserved for higher price points.
The Volkswagen Jetta is a compact car that’s available in 1.4T S, 1.4T SE, 1.8T Sport, 1.8T SEL trims. There’s also a Jetta Hybrid and the sporty Jetta GLI, which is offered in SE and SEL trims.
Following a refresh last year, Volkswagen has made a few updates to the 2016 Jetta lineup. A smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engine replaces the outgoing base engine and offers improved fuel economy. A new touch-screen infotainment system is now standard, and available tech upgrades bring in support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring systems. There is no available diesel engine for the 2016 model year.
A new Technology package available on the base model includes a rearview camera, an upgraded infotainment system and a USB port. All Jettas now have an automatic post-collision braking system.
For 2016, the biggest change for the GLI is new duds. The GLI now has a honeycomb grille, fog lamps, a more aggressive front fascia and a rear diffuser to go along with chrome exhaust tips.
The Jetta’s look is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s handsome and its lines flow nicely. On the other, it’s inoffensive, with no real risks taken. It’s not surprising that the automaker would choose a conservative design. The Jetta’s silhouette is pretty recognizable by now, so VW doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Our test Jetta GLI has an exterior that is bolder, but it still remains subtle. The Tornado Red paint color on our test vehicle was the only thing that made it stand out. This leads to a car that looks like any other compact sedan, while hiding a spunkier personality.
As with the outside, the interior design will be immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time around a Volkswagen in recent years. It’s a design that prioritizes function over form and does it well. There are real knobs for tuning the radio and adjusting the volume, and the climate controls are easy to reach and decipher. Our test model didn’t have the available navigation system, but it had Apple CarPlay, which provides access to Apple Maps.
Ahead of the shifter is a small cargo tray that also hosts the USB port. Big enough to store a cell phone, keys or sunglasses, this tray makes a nice addition to the interior storage space, as the center console isn’t particularly large (there’s also a dedicated sunglasses holder mounted on the ceiling).
The dashboard has soft-touch surfaces, and all the materials look and feel pretty classy for the price point. The gauges are easy to read, and calling up info from the driver’s information system is intuitive.
Front-seat space is plentiful for adults, as is rear-seat space. The Jetta offers 38.2 inches of headroom and 41.2 inches of legroom up front. That’s less than that offered by competitors like the 2016 Honda Civic, but it was still more than adequate for my tall frame.
Despite a somewhat narrow opening, the Jetta has a pretty deep trunk with 15.7 cubic feet of space (15.5 cubic feet in the Jetta GLI and 11.3 cubic feet in the Jetta Hybrid). There’s plenty of room for luggage, groceries or golf bags.
In a nod to its sporting intent, Volkswagen gives the GLI a flat-bottomed steering wheel. There are also sport seats with red piping.
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that makes 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque is also offered. With both of these engines, a five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is available.
If going green is your intent, you can get the hybrid model, which combines a 1.4-liter turbo-four with an electric motor for a combined system output of 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automated manual transmission is standard in the Jetta Hybrid.
The Jetta GLI provides the most power in the lineup with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 210 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed automated manual transmission is available.
The base Jetta gets an EPA-estimated 28/40 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission, or 28/39 mpg with the automatic. Models with the 1.8-liter engine are rated as high as 25/37 mpg city/highway. Fuel economy for the GLI with the manual transmission is 23/33 mpg city/highway, while with the automatic it’s 24/33 mpg. Finally, the hybrid is listed at 42 mpg city, 48 mpg highway.
A nine may seem like a high score for a compact car that’s not a dedicated performance model like the Subaru WRX or Volkswagen’s own Golf GTI, but hear us out. Driven at normal speeds, the Jetta GLI feels like any other compact – it rides well, it doesn’t feel especially peppy, the steering doesn’t feel particularly tight – but dig deep into the gas or attack an on-ramp and the car’s character changes, all without the help of a Sport mode. Once the higher rpm ranges are explored, the Jetta has some pep (although not a ton, since there’s only a little more than 200 pound-feet of torque on tap). The manual’s shift throws suddenly feel a little crisper, and the car leans into turns with enthusiasm. The GLI really is a sleeper car: relaxed at cruise and not too exciting to look at, but ready to play when the driver so chooses. It should be noted that our test vehicle wore 18-inch summer tires.
This sportiness doesn’t come at a real price in ride. The Jetta GLI is a little stiff but not terribly so, and longer highway trips are pleasant enough. This makes the GLI an acceptable choice for commuting duty, although the clutch take-up is a little high (particularly noticeable in stop and go), and the brakes could use a tad more bite.
Our GLI SE test car offers a relatively standard level of tech, but certain items, such as a factory navigation system, aren’t available. For that, you’ll have to step up to the GLI SEL, which is happily still available with the manual transmission. However, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on the SE, which makes having navigation a moot point. The SE’s list of standard tech equipment includes a park-assist system, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, a USB port, Bluetooth, an auxiliary port and a Fender premium audio system.
Most of the GLI’s tech and convenience features are available across the Jetta lineup, depending on trim. The base S starts off with Bluetooth and a 5-inch touch screen, for example, while walking up the line nets you items like a rearview camera pretty quickly.
Our test GLI came equipped with Volkswagen’s park-assistance system, which was mostly useful. However, it also had a habit of sounding alarm bells even when the car was stationary, in neutral with the parking brake set. Fortunately, it’s easily switched off.
The Jetta has a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), earning a top rating of Good in all crashworthiness tests. It also gets an Advanced rating from the IIHS for crash avoidance and mitigation thanks to the availability of forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the Jetta earns five stars overall, which is the top score. It gets four stars for rollover and front-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection. Available safety tech includes a rearview camera, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta starts at $17,680, plus an $820 destination charge. Models with the larger 1.8-liter engine start at $20,895 for a 1.8T Sport, or $25,380 for a 1.8T SEL Premium.
The Jetta GLI SE starts at $26,920, and our test vehicle had no options. The GLI SEL starts at $29,280, but unless you really need blind spot monitoring and a factory navigation system (and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s hard to justify navigation), the SE should suit you fine.
Our overall impression is probably boosted a point by our test Jetta GLI’s fun-to-drive behavior and relative value. Still, the Jetta offers a lot for the money without breaking the bank, and it’s roomy with a spacious trunk. It’s a bit of a jack of all trades for the compact-car market: it’s conservatively styled, with well-rounded performance and pricing that’s in line with the rest of the group. The 2016 Jetta may not be a standout, but it does everything well.