Car Comparison

2016 Volkswagen Golf vs. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta: What's the Difference?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2016

If you're interested in buying a compact Volkswagen, you probably already know there are two options to choose from: the 2016 Volkswagen Golf and the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta. Obviously, one is a hatchback and one is a sedan, but are there any other major differences between the two models? We've created a close comparison between the Golf and the Jetta to help you find out and to help you choose between the two popular models.

Exterior

On the outside, the Jetta and Golf are about the same -- for the first three-quarters. They share a general headlight design, an overall profile and a front-end look. In back, however, the Jetta and Golf have a dramatic (and obvious) difference: The Jetta is a 4-door sedan with a full trunk, while the Golf is a 2- or 4-door hatchback with a liftgate. The result is that the Jetta is quite a bit longer than the Golf, with an overall length of 183.3 inches to the Golf's 167.7 inches in total length.

It's worth noting, however, that the new Golf Sportwagen -- formerly the Jetta Sportwagen -- combines the Jetta's general sizing with the Golf's hatchback design. Technically a wagon, it comes in at around 180 inches in length.

Interior

Inside, the Jetta and Golf offer roughly the same cabin layout, design, materials and styling. In fact, if you're staring straight ahead in the driver's seat, we suspect you'd have a hard time telling apart the Golf and Jetta based on their appearance or their front seat room, which is identical. In back, however, the Jetta offers more room in just about every area, especially the all-important category of legroom, where the Jetta has a 2.5-inch advantage over the Golf.

As for cargo space, the Golf is the winner: Normal hatchback models offer 22.8 cu ft. of cargo space behind the rear seats or 52.7 feet with the seats folded; the Sportwagen brings those numbers to 30.4 and 94.3. The Jetta, meanwhile, offers just under 16 cu ft. of cargo space.

Mechanicals

At the moment, the standard Golf offers only one engine: a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which touts up to 25 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. There are also two high-performance versions. One, the GTI, uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that offers up to 220 hp, while the wild Golf R boasts a raucous 292-hp version of that same engine. Finally, the electric e-Golf is sold in a handful of states and touts a 115-hp electric motor with an Environmental Protection Agency-rated 83-mile range.

Meanwhile, the Jetta offers several powertrain choices. Base models use a 150-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which boasts up to 28 mpg city/40 mpg hwy. Drivers looking for more power can upgrade to the 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged engine found in the Golf or the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine from the GTI, though that model is called the GLI in Jetta parlance. Finally, drivers with an eye on fuel economy can opt for the Jetta Hybrid, which uses a 170-hp hybrid 4-cylinder and returns an impressive 42 mpg city/48 mpg hwy.

Features & Technology

When it comes to features and equipment, the Golf and Jetta are in the middle of the compact car pack. Both trump aging rivals like the Ford Focus by offering forward-collision warning with automatic braking, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert, but neither one touts as many gadgets as class leaders like the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 or Honda Civic. Missing items include lane-keep assist, multiangle camera systems and LED headlights.

Beyond safety technology, the Golf and Jetta offer some modern features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as keyless ignition with push-button starting, but lack other amenities like ventilated seats and navigation system voice controls. Still, these two models are virtually identical in terms of equipment, which means you're unlikely to find a feature in the Golf that you can't get in the Jetta, and vice versa.

Driving Experience

On the road, both the Jetta and the Golf offer a sharper feel with more communicative and precise handling than most of their compact car peers -- with the exception of the Mazda3 and the latest Honda Civic. That alone will be enough to sway some car shoppers towards the models, especially drivers who are interested in performance and a sporty feel around corners.

Meanwhile, we think the Golf is even sportier than the Jetta. Benefiting from its smaller size, the Golf appears to offer sharper handling and an even quicker, lighter feel around turns. Otherwise, the two models are roughly identical, touting the same excellent ride comfort, roughly average braking capability and decent forward visibility. It's worth noting that the Golf's rear visibility is better than the Jetta's and while that's true with most hatchbacks compared to sedans, it's especially true in this case due to the Jetta's high trunk line.

Safety

In crash testing carried out by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, both the Jetta and the Golf earned a perfect 5-star overall rating. Both models also earned the coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

As for safety features, the Golf and Jetta are identical, offering ample equipment for their segment. In addition to standard side-curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes, both models boast available forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. Safety, then, is a tie: Neither the Golf nor the Jetta has a significant benefit over the other model.

Conclusions

Despite similarities on paper, 2016 Volkswagen Golf and 2016 Volkswagen Jetta are surprisingly different in practice. They tout largely different powertrains and different styling, along with different interior sizing and different cargo volume. They also offer a different driving experience, with the Golf a little sportier than its Jetta stablemate.

As for pricing, however, it's the Jetta with the advantage: Its base model starts around $17,600, compared to $19,500 for the 2-door Golf or $21,000 for the 4-door version. With that said, the Jetta offers a base-level engine you can't get in the Golf; account for that difference and they're a little closer. Still, we think the Jetta is probably the better choice for most shoppers, especially given its larger interior and wider selection of powertrains. But for drivers who want a car that's easier to park (or one that offers more cargo room), the Golf is a great choice.

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Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf 4-Door
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2016 Volkswagen Golf vs. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta: What's the Difference? - Autotrader