The latest Volkswagen Jetta debuted for the 2011 model year. In automotive terms, that means the current model is getting old, especially in the crowded compact car segment. So how does the Jetta fare against its rivals? We spent a week with a mid-level 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE model to find out.
Solid, But Basic
One thought that most of our staffers had when they drove the Jetta was that it felt pretty solid. It's quiet on the highway, the controls don't feel cheap and the Jetta still sounds and drives like a bigger car than most Asian and domestic rivals. That's good news for shoppers interested in a compact car that feels like it has some substance around it.
While it may feel solid, the Jetta is no luxury car. Everyone who drove it mentioned that the interior looked and seemed rather basic. There's no excess style or enjoyment from the controls, and everything seems like it's placed there because it has to be. In other words, there's no real wow factor inside the car.
Bland Elsewhere, Too
That feeling of blandness continues to the outside of the car, where the styling can best be described as simple. We wouldn't call it gorgeous, and we certainly wouldn't call it ugly. Instead, it's a very traditional look that doesn't stand out from the crowd.
The same can be said for the driving experience. Steering feels a little over-assisted, and acceleration is good but not great. Admittedly, the new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine is much better than the outgoing 2.5-liter. Fuel economy is also good but not great, and we were left wondering where the sedan's sixth gear was located, as nearly every rival offers it. Engine noise and road noise were tolerable -- not class-leading, but not at the bottom, either.
Not a Standout
If we were to sum up the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE with a few simple words, it would be that it's fine but not excellent. Part of the reason for this is the Jetta's aging design, which has been surpassed by many competitors, including the Ford Focus and Honda Civic (all new for 2012), and the Kia Forte, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, which are all-new for 2014.
Another reason the Jetta doesn't stand out is that Volkswagen didn't engineer it to do so. Instead, VW wanted a good, solid car designed to appeal to drivers who are not in search of the latest style or the newest gadget but instead reliable, roomy, affordable transportation. We think the Jetta is just that, but little more.