The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta uses a design that was conceived and engineered specifically for American tastes. Moreover, the Jetta is now only offered in the Americas. You may be asking, “So what?” Well, the major benefit to an America-only Jetta is that product planners loaded it with features popular with Americans of the U.S. variety. For example, LED headlights and taillights are standard on all grades, as are App-Connect and aluminum-alloy wheels.
Europe’s best-selling nameplate in the U.S., some 3.2 million Jettas have been sold in this country since 1990. Americans love Jettas and there’s even more to love in this longer, wider and taller edition that was introduced for 2019. Assembled on VW‘s Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform that underpins the new Tiguan and Atlas, the seventh-generation Jetta provides a pleasing (and quite American) compromise between ride quality and handling.
More coupe-like in its exterior styling, the Jetta still doesn’t stray all that far from the lines of the last generation. Also in line with Jettas of yesteryear is the availability of a performance-oriented GLI variant. The GLI shares its powertrain with the legendary GTI and offers an overall more value-oriented package than VW’s legendary hot hatchback.
What’s New for 2020?
After being all-new for 2019, the Jetta carries over with only small changes for 2020. All examples come equipped with in-car Wi-Fi capability and the next-generation of VW’s Car-Net telematics system. SEL models gain standard wireless charging and also now come standard with the Cold Weather Package, which includes a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a heating element to free the windshield wiper from ice, heated washer nozzles and a remote. SEL and SEL Premium models now come standard with 17-in alloy wheels.
GLI Autobahn trims gain standard wireless charging and the DCC adaptive damping suspension for 2020, plus an optional black package that adds black 18-in wheels, a black roof, black mirror caps and a black spoiler. See the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta models for sale near you
What We Like
- Decent value
- Standard LED lighting
- Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Generous 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty
- High-performance GLI is great to drive
What We Don’t
- Middle-of-the-road driving dynamics for non-GLI models
- GLI lacks active safety features that are offered on basic Jetta
- Evidence of cost-cutting still exists
- No more 6-year/72,000-mile warranty for 2020
- Reliability is still a concern
Base Jettas come with a 147-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Granted, 147 ponies doesn’t sound like a lot but the 184 lb-ft of torque arriving at 1,400 rpm brings a bit of gusto to accelerating. Neck-snapping, no. Lively, yes. A 6-speed manual is standard for some trims but most models come equipped with an 8-speed automatic. Four driving modes (Normal, Sport, Eco and Custom) offer different shift points and throttle mapping as well as changes to steering, HVAC and so forth on SEL and SEL Premium trims.
No matter the transmission, the government estimates fuel economy for the non-GLI Jetta to be 30 miles per gallon in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg in combined driving.
The performance-oriented Jetta GLI comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the competitors who only offer a manual transmission, VW offers the GLI with either a 6-speed manual or a fast-shifting 7-speed dual clutch automatic, which VW calls the DSG, or “direct shift gearbox.” The DSG comes with paddle shifters and launch control. Both transmissions return the same fuel economy, with the EPA rating the 2019 Jetta GLI at 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined. Acceleration is brisk, with the new GLI making the sprint from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.1 seconds.
Standard Features & Options
The regular Jetta is offered in four different trim levels. Prices below include a $920 factory delivery fee.
The Jetta S ($19,815) anchors the trim choices with standard equipment including LED daytime running lights/headlights/taillights, 16-in alloy wheels, cloth seats, power outboard mirrors, power locks/windows, air conditioning, auto on/off headlights, six airbags, a backup camera, an automatic post-collision brake system, Bluetooth connectivity, Car-Net App-Connect, a 6.5-in touchscreen, a 4-speaker audio system with a USB port and, new for 2020, in-car Wi-Fi capability if you subscribe to a data plan. The only factory options are heated outboard mirrors and the Driver-Assistance Package with forward-collision warning/automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert.
The SE ($23,565) adds to the S standard features and options with a panoramic power sunroof, 16-in two-tone alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather gearshift knob, a rear-seat center armrest, heated front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control and remote keyless entry with push-button start. The only factory option is the Cold Weather Package with a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, remote start, heated windshield wipers and heated washer nozzles.
Adding to the SE, the R-Line ($23,615) includes front fog lights, a gloss-black front grille, black side-mirror caps, a unique rear bumper with dual exhaust ports and 17-in gray alloy wheels. Optional is the Cold Weather Package. The R-Line comes standard with a manual transmission; the automatic is $800 extra.
The SEL ($26,415) loses the fog lights but gains LED projector headlights, a unique set of 17-in wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, 10-color ambient interior lighting, a 400-watt 8-speaker BeatsAudio system with subwoofer, an 8-in touchscreen, two USB ports, wireless charging, a 10.25-in digital cockpit display, satellite radio capability, Car-Net Security & Service, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams. The Cold Weather Package is standard on the SEL for 2020.
To the SEL equipment and option package, the SEL Premium ($27,840) adds outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory, front sport comfort seats, leather seating, an upgraded 8-in touchscreen and Car-Net Guide & Inform.
On to the GLI, which offers two different trims for 2020. The S ($27,165) is the entry-level trim and comes with a good array of standard features, including automatic LED headlights, LED taillights, a mechanical front differential, different selectable drive modes, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 18-in wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a basic 6.5-in infotainment screen and stainless steel pedal covers. Blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic detection along with automatic emergency braking comes standard.
At the top of the GLI range is the Autobahn ($30,865), which adds items like a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, an 8-in infotainment screen, wireless charging and VW’s “Digital Cockpit,” which consists of a fully digital gauge cluster that allows for better dissemination of information and notifications along with added configurability. VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control suspension damping system comes standard on the Autobahn as well. For an extra $595, GLI Autobahn buyers can opt for the black package, which comes with black 18-in wheels and black mirror caps, a black roof, and a black spoiler.
Either GLI trim comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission; the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is $800 extra. Summer tires are a no-cost option.
A backup camera and six airbags, in addition to the usual passive safety systems like ABS and stability control, are standard on all Jettas. Every Jetta grade except the S comes standard with forward-collision warning/automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and rear-traffic alert. These are part of a $450 option package on the S grade. SEL and SEL Premium models add adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams. All Jettas come with a post-collision braking system.
While the redesigned Jetta is available with just about all of the active safety features a buyer could want, Volkswagen, for whatever reason, doesn’t make them available on the more premium, more expensive GLI. We suspect that this is to wring an even greater profit margin from the performance trim but nonetheless, the GLI is only offered with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection. Other common active safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams — all of which are offered on the Jetta — are unavailable on the GLI.
The redesigned 2019 Jetta earns good crashworthiness scores in all categories of testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety but it misses out on a Top Safety Pick+ designation due to low scores for headlights and ease-of-use for the LATCH child safety system.
Behind the Wheel
The 2020 Volkswagen Jetta has been engineered to perform within the parameters of its competition, but it doesn’t outshine them. It has always punched above its price in the way it feels and behaves. It looks and feels like more than a $20,000 sedan — that hasn’t changed. Through its Americanization, however, the Jetta has lost some of its scrappy edge. We think Jetta lovers may find the seventh generation a bit too refined. Speaking as Americans, we certainly appreciate the quiet, comfy ride. We also like all the connectivity and technology, but miss the emotion. Maybe we just can’t get over the loss of the turbodiesel engine.
On to the GLI. When you sit down in the driver’s seat of the performance Jetta, you’re greeted by a thick, leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, a center stack tilted slightly toward the driver, and a variety of tastefully chosen surfaces and materials. Sure, we’d like to see higher-quality plastics used in areas like the door panels and center console but overall, Volkswagen has prioritized the areas that matter most when it comes to quality. Sticking with the standard 6-speed manual transmission gets you three stainless steel pedals at your feet. Choose the optional 7-speed dual clutch automatic and one of those pedals is exchanged for a pair of paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel. Whether you opt for cloth or leather seating surfaces, every GLI comes with red stitching on the seats and the center console box lid. While models from previous generations that were equipped with fabric seats used fun plaid inserts, VW has downplayed the iconic plaid on the new GLI, although the fabric seats on the new model do come with subtle striping that seems to be an homage to this unique interior element from the GLIs of yesteryear.
Reviewers praise the GLI for offering great handling, a confidence-inspiring ride and great acceleration. The 6-speed manual is said to deliver smooth shifts and an easy-to-use clutch pedal, which makes it a breeze to pilot, even for those just learning to drive a stick shift. Autotrader’s Rob Nestora says “As for entry-level performance vehicles, the Jetta GLI has one of my favorite manual transmissions. The clutch is super forgiving and allows for plenty of fun, regardless of skill level.”
While it may not offer the same link between man and machine, the DSG dual-clutch automatic is an engaging drive in its own right but only when you want it to be. The DSG’s paddle shifters make changing lanes in traffic a blast and the integrated launch control feature can be fun to play with at stoplights.
While the new-generation Jetta is slightly wider and longer than its predecessor, it shrinks a bit when it comes to interior dimensions. Still, the Jetta is plenty spacious as far as compact cars go and it starts to approach the midsize segment in overall size.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Honda Civic — No discussion of small sedans is complete without mentioning the highly versatile Civic. From fuel efficiency to performance, the Civic offers something for nearly everyone. Sedan, hatchback and coupe versions are offered. The high-performance Si model, available as either a sedan or coupe, comes only with a 6-speed manual.
2020 Mazda3 — Sporty and fuel efficient, the newly-redesigned Mazda3 is not only fun, but also offers an array of standard features and available technologies. While the new Mazda3 offers a luxury experience and an available hatchback bodystyle, there is no performance variant.
If you don’t mind rowing your own gears, we think the Jetta S with the Driver-Assistance Package is the way to go. The S has a lot of content and you’re out the door for 20 grand. Even if you want and pay for the 8-speed automatic, the S is still a fair deal.
As for the GLI, we’re still a bit puzzled by its omission of the active safety features offered on the basic Jetta and this hurts the vehicle’s value proposition a little in our eyes. Altogether, the GLI is a less-expensive alternative to the GTI and when compared to the alternatives, it makes for a great sport sedan bargain. We’d probably stick with the base S trim here as well. Find a Volkswagen Jetta for sale