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2016 Volkswagen Jetta: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader October 2015

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta takes another significant step toward being a serious contender after last year's revamp. Although the Jetta is officially a compact, it's one of the biggest in its class and offers space comparable to a midsize sedan. The range in general hasn't always enjoyed a reputation for having a great amount of equipment or materials of decent quality, but Volkswagen is improving this state of affairs.

What's New for 2016?

The GLI receives a new fascia with a honeycomb-patterned grille adorning the front end, plus new fog lights. At the back is a new rear bumper design with an aero diffuser and twin chrome-tipped exhausts. This model year also has a new design of 18-inch alloy wheels.

Further down the pecking order, there's a new turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine for the lower trim levels that replaces the previous 2.0-liter unit. Fresh tech includes VW's MIB 2 infotainment system featuring a 6.3-in display with Apple CarPlay touch screen capability that operates like a smartphone or tablet.

What We Like

Passenger space; trunk space (15.5 cubic feet); DSG auto transmission; Apple CarPlay; low emissions in the Hybrid; energetic engine and tidy handling in the GLI.

What We Don't

Not completely convinced about the Fender audio system; both the Hybrid and GLI are a bit pricey; the whole TDI emissions debacle

How Much?

$17,680-$31,120

Fuel Economy

The new 1.4 makes a useful 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. When linked with the 6-speed automatic transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 28 miles per gallon in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined.

The middle child is a 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder that returns 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined for the automatic transmission, while delivering 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine starts to make more sense when taking into account the models in which it's packaged.

The GLI is propelled by 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, or the automatic option is a 6-speed DSG dual-clutch unit. The EPA puts consumption at 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined for manual, or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined for automatic.

A 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder joins an electric motor in the Hybrid version, to add 27 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque to the combustion engine's output for a total of 170 hp and 184 lb-ft (peak torque kicks in at just 1000 rpm). Unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable transmissions (CVT), this one employs an excellent 7-speed DSG transmission. The result is 42 mpg city/48 mpg hwy/45 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 1.4T comes in S and SE trims. S includes a 5-speed manual transmission, power accessories, heated door mirrors, a multi-function steering wheel and the MIB 2 infotainment system. SE adds heated front seats, heated washer nozzles and push-button start. The optional Technology package includes a rearview camera and satellite radio.

With the 1.8T, there's Sport, SEL or SEL Premium. Unsurprisingly, Sport has a tauter suspension and rides lower than the regular car. We're still looking at heated front seats and 17-in alloy wheels. SEL gets a little more luxurious, the automatic transmission is standard and various optional safety features become available. SEL Premium brings 2-tone sport seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a cooled glove compartment and the Fender-branded audio upgrade.

For this model year, the Hybrid is offered in SEL Premium trim only, making it the most expensive model in the Jetta range. But it does have blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert and park distance control as standard.

The GLI has its own versions of SE and SEL. SE comes with an array of standard equipment such as sport seats, LED tail lights and daytime running lights, keyless access, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a rearview camera, parking sensors at both ends, rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, automatic headlights and the Fender audio system.

SEL adds navigation, blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert and bi-xenon adaptive headlights where the high beams can move with the steering up to 15 degrees to make a better job of illuminating corners.

In all cases where it's not standard, selecting the automatic transmission means an extra $1,100.

Safety

The 2015 Jetta obtained the best Good score from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety crash test program. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests, it was awarded four stars out of five for front impacts, five for side impacts and five overall.

Standard features include front- and side-curtain airbags, as well as the usual anti-lock brakes and electronic stability controls. SEL models have an automatic post-collision braking function that applies the stoppers when the car has been involved in a crash. The idea is to make sure the car doesn't run into anything else.

Behind the Wheel

For the most part, the Jetta range provides a composed and capable ride that should keep everyone comfortable. Although it probably won't be too thrilling.

For anything approaching real fun, check out the GLI, which positions itself as the sedan version of VW's brilliant GTI hatchback. Taking 6.7 seconds to sprint from standstill to 60 miles per hour doesn't sound that fast, but the GLI seems a little quicker when going by seat-of-the-pants feel.

It's certainly nimble and stable, yet eager to transition from left to right. Front-drive cars usually suffer from understeer, where the front tires gradually lose grip if a corner is taken too quickly. However, the GLI has XDS, an electronic cross differential system that helps with traction and mitigates torque steer. The sweet thing about the GLI is that it's such a well-balanced package with just the right amount of power to make the chassis enjoyable, yet not enough to overwhelm it.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Ford Focus -- Arguably the finest-handling front-drive compact car you can get, with punchy engines also in the mix.

2016 Mazda3 -- A superb package with good driving manners, fine style and decent equipment levels.

2016 Subaru Impreza -- Comes in sedan form and with all-wheel drive as standard. The WRX has an enthusiast edge.

2016 Volkswagen Golf -- One of the best compact cars on the planet. Involving yet comfortable, practical yet stylish. The sporty GTI didn't become an icon by accident.

Used BMW 328i -- All sports sedan drivers want a BMW when they grow up. The 3 Series is the epitome and pinnacle of its class.

Autotrader's Advice

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta gets better year by year. For those seeking a sports sedan, consider the GLI. The added practicality and cachet of the Golf-based VW GTI is tough to resist, though.

Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale

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Used 2016 Volkswagen Jetta SE Sedan
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Certified 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Sport Sedan
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Used 2016 Volkswagen Jetta
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Volkswagen Jetta: New Car Review - Autotrader