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2021 Volkswagen Jetta vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which Is Better?


The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta and 2021 Kia Forte distinguish themselves by providing efficient use of space in compact packages, an important consideration in the compact sedan class. But which is better?

Quick Facts

  • Both the Forte and the Jetta are small on the outside but seem bigger on the inside.
  • Kia Forte comes with a class-leading warranty.
  • Jetta GLI Autobahn gets a turbocharged four-cylinder and a more sophisticated suspension.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta

2021 Volkswagen JettaBase price: $19,990 / Read our 2021 Volkswagen Jetta Review

What we like: Roomy interior; good ride/handling balance; sporty GLI trim; base engine earns 40 mpg highway.

What we would change: Base engine can feel underpowered with a full load; high-end models can get expensive; bring back longer warranty.

Overview: A compact sedan that’s surprisingly roomy on the inside, the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta is refined and athletic to drive, with a European feel and sophistication. The base 1.4-liter four-cylinder is a bit underpowered when the Jetta is full of passengers, but the steering is precise and the suspension provides good balance and confident cornering. Plus there’s the top-trim GLI model, which comes with a 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, and in GLI Autobahn trim, gets a sophisticated adaptive suspension. Borrowed from its mates over at Audi is a digital cockpit, which allows customization of what’s in front of the driver, such as a navigation system instead of a speedometer, while a touchscreen controls infotainment features and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. While the base price is quite competitive, be aware that the top trim GLI can reach as high as the low $30,000 range, and resale values trail some of its Japanese competitors.

What’s new for 2021: With the Jetta having been redesigned for 2019, changes over the last couple of years have been minimal. The 2021 VW Jetta gets a few updates to trim levels, including new two-tone 16-inch alloy wheels for the S and a 6-way power driver seat and contrasting stitching on the steering wheel and shifter for the SE. The SEL trim gets the MIB3 infotainment system, and the top trim GLI Autobahn gets adaptive cruise control.

Features and technology: There are a whopping seven trim levels for the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta. All trims are powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder except the GLIs, which get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The base S and R-Line trims get a 6-speed manual, with an 8-speed automatic an option. All other trims get the automatic standard. The GLI S gets the 6-speed manual, with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic as an option.

Standard features include 16-inch wheels, a 4-speaker audio system, Wi-Fi, a pair of USB-C ports, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and AM/FM radio. The next step up is the SE, which adds forward-collision mitigation and blind-spot monitoring, as well as heated front seats, simulated leather seats, keyless entry/ignition, and dual-zone climate control. Next is the R-Line, which retains some sporty vibe but maintains the base engine. It also includes an electronic front differential, 17-inch alloy wheels, and foglights.

Beyond that, the SEL premium includes more luxury features such as an 8-way power driver seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a navigation system. The top GLI S and GLI Autobahn trims, beyond the turbo, get a limited-slip differential, 18-inch wheels, better audio systems, and a larger touchscreen, with the GLI Autobahn including a more sophisticated suspension.

What does the future hold: The VW Jetta has been in production for more than 40 years, bringing some nice European sophistication to the compact sedan class. We would like to see the base engine gain some power, and we think VW could increase buyer confidence by bringing back the previous 6-year/72,000-mile warranty. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta for sale near you

2021 Kia Forte

2021 Kia ForteBase price: $18,855 / Read our 2021 Kia Forte Review

What we like: Roominess; impressive number of standard features; good CVT; class-leading warranty.

What we would change: Improve the looks; replace some plastic with more soft-touch surfaces; improve reliability.

Overview: Just because a car is an entry-level compact sedan, does not mean it needs to be dull, particularly in this very competitive segment, and the 2021 Kia Forte presents a compelling case for itself, with a roomy interior, ample standard features list, a choice of transmissions, and even an uplevel GT trim that brings a turbocharged engine and a more sophisticated suspension. If anything, the Kia’s exterior is not the most exciting thing, but the interior, aside from some hard plastics, is perfectly pleasant and amply equipped. The Kia comes with a manual, but there’s also a CVT that is surprisingly good at mimicking the shifts of an automatic. While resale values have not been strong, buyers can at least take some solace from Kia’s class-leading warranty.

What’s new for 2021: For 2021, most of the changes to the Kia Forte involve equipment being added to different trim levels. For example, the EX trim now includes a powered sunroof, wireless charging, and the Harman Kardon upgraded stereo system. It also gets Uvo telematics through a smartphone app, which can set cabin temperature, or dial roadside assistance and 911. The GT trim with an automatic transmission now gains blind-spot monitoring, and models with a manual transmission get Michelin summer tires. The GT Line Premium also includes a power-adjustable driver’s seat.

Features and technology: The 2021 Kia Forte is offered in five different trim levels, although the basic trim is impressively equipped. Prices range up to $23,655 for the GT with an automatic. Most noticeably, every Forte includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. There’s also a fair amount of active safety equipment, including forward-collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, and driver attention monitoring. It also has an adjustable steering wheel, 6-way manually adjustable front seats, A/C, a USB port, Bluetooth, and a 4-speaker audio system. The next LXS trim includes different wheels and the CVT, plus some nicer plastics and split-folding seats.

The GT Line adds 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6-speaker stereo. The GT Line Premium includes the 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, two USB ports, wireless charging, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The EX adds even more features, and there’s also a GT2 package for the GT trim that includes Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires and a more sophisticated transmission.

What does the future hold: As the tweaks for 2021 mostly include upgrades to packages, we expect more of the same. We would like to see more soft-touch surfaces across the model range, however. Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale near you

Jetta vs. Forte: Strengths comparison

Jetta Benefits: Fuel economy; driving dynamics; distinctive looks; higher crash test rating.

Forte Benefits: Class-leading warranty; more standard safety equipment; not as expensive for the top trim level.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta vs. 2021 Kia Forte: Which is better?

In the compact sedan class, value for money is important, and here the 2021 Kia Forte delivers, with good standard equipment, pleasant driving manners, and good space for passengers. But the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta just does a little more. Its looks are more distinctive; its interior a bit more special; and its driving dynamics more fun. It’s our choice. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta for sale or Find a 2021 Kia Forte for sale

2021 Volkswagen Jetta 2021 Kia Forte
Popular Powertrains
Engine 1.4-liter I4, turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
Horsepower 147 hp @ 5,000 rpm 147 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 184 lb-ft @ 1,400rpm 132 lb-ft @ 4,500rpm
Transmission Manual, 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd
Fuel Economy 34 mpg (30 city, 40 highway) 31 mpg (27 city, 37 highway)
Also Available 2.0-liter I4, turbocharged; Automatic, 8-Spd; CVT; 1.6-liter I4, turbocharged, automatic, 7-Spd
Specs
Basic warranty 4 years or 50,000 miles 5 years or 60,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 4 years or 50,000 miles 10 years or 100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating 5 Stars 4 Stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 105.7 inches 106.3 inches
Overall Length 185.1 inches 182.7 inches
Width 70.8 inches 70.9 inches
Height 57.4 inches 56.5 inches
Turning Diameter 36.4 feet 34.8 feet
Headroom, Front 38.5 inches 38.8 inches
Headroom, Rear 37.2 inches 37.5 inches
Legroom, Front 41.1 inches 42.2 inches
Legroom, Rear 37.4 inches 35.7 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 55.9 inches 56.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 54.0 inches 55.3 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 94.7 cubic feet 96.0 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 14.1 cubic feet 15.3 cubic feet

Doug Lloyd
Doug Lloyd is an author specializing in comparison tests. A veteran of the automotive press world, Doug started at Sports Car International and Vintage Motorsport magazines and has worked at both Porsche Panorama magazine and Edmunds.com. Doug is also a jazz piano player and a composer for television.

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