By on January 27, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Jetta S, Image: © 2017 Michael Freed

I’d spent about a year building up to this moment: my first new car purchase since 2005. A lot happened between then and now, including a messy divorce that took two years to finalize, and which left a giant, smoking, Ground Zero-style smoking hole where my finances (and credit) had been.

But I needed a second car so my 20-year-old daughter could use my old Buick LeSabre to get back and forth to college and her student teaching gig. So, I rebuilt my credit, Six Million Dollar Man style. I did my homework on financing. I drove Lord knows how many cars over a one-year period. And I decided on one that I thought was vastly superior: a Volkswagen Golf. I even negotiated a decent price.

Still, the numbers weren’t working.

“You have to be kidding. That works out to how much?”

The payment was coming in quite a bit higher than I’d anticipated. Was it the usual car sales game? It was entirely possible. Then again, as it turns out, VW had a promotional rate going on Jettas that wasn’t available on Golfs. I’d extrapolated that rate and applied it to the Golf. Either way, the Golf was much more expensive.

I’d promised myself up front that I’d hold the line in my budget, so I told the (young and quite attractive) saleswoman that I wasn’t standing for this, and was heading to the Honda dealer to buy a Civic, on which I’d already worked a deal. She asked me to wait a moment, and walked back to the office. I figured this was the old “talk to the sales manager” bit. Instead, a few minutes later, she pulled up in front of the dealership in different car.

That’s how a manual 2017 Volkswagen Jetta S, in Cardinal Red, ended up in my parking slot.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta S, Image: © 2017 Michael Freed

Jettas have never gotten a whole lot of respect, least of all from me. I rented one a couple years back, and I’ll be kind and simply say I was unmoved by it. The rental was a base Jetta with an automatic and the God-poundingly bad “two point slow” engine. It wasn’t all bad. The Jetta felt solidly built and felt more connected to the road than most other compacts, but it was loud and tediously slow. The interior was also darker and harder-edged than Sylvia Plath’s worst nightmare. So, when it came time to actually buy a Jetta-like car, the Jetta itself wasn’t even on my radar.

So, when the saleswoman pulled up in that Jetta, I groaned, but I tried it out because attractive, young ladies have a way of talking divorced men of a certain age into just about anything. And, yeah, that was a desperation play on her part, but it turns out there’s nothing desperate about base Jettas anymore.

The first impression the Jetta makes on you isn’t much of an impression at all. There’s a lot of stylish metal in the compact market — Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Ford Focus, in particular — but very little of it found its way onto the current-generation Jetta. It’s relentlessly conventional and anodyne, albeit with correct proportioning and details. It’s an all business, no-frills, gluten-free sort of look.

After you climb in and take a moment, you’ll notice how solidly the door handles operate and how the door itself opens with just enough resistance to feel damped. The doors, hood and trunk all shut into place with a solid, no-nonsense feel. You feel bolted in, just as you do in the Golf – or an old Mercedes, for that matter.

Once inside, you find the excellent, firm, supportive seats from the Golf. There’s no digital instrumentation here — just a tach, speedometer, and an information center between them. Still, those instruments are clear and eminently readable, and they don’t wash out in sunlight like the digital ones do on the Mazda 3. The seating position is somewhat high with some of the best seat backs in the class, and the Jetta’s controls are all intuitive and easy to use — unlike the Civic or Mazda, which require a learning curve to master all the various high-tech control. It’s a direct, no-bullshit driver interface.

The S model I bought doesn’t come with advanced app integration (you have to step up to the SE model for that), but it does have a useful, simple, hands-free Bluetooth interface for your phone and music. All the must-haves — air, cruise control, power windows and locks, etc. — are here, too. Oh, and trunk space is plentiful.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta S 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, Image: © 2017 Michael Freed

The Jetta’s ace in the hole lives under the hood. In 2016, VW replaced the hated 2.0 in base Jettas with a 1.4 turbo, and ditched the old beam-axle rear suspension for a fully independent setup. In so doing, Volkswagen transformed the Jetta into a fine little stealth warrior. The 1.4 produces a middling 150 horsepower, but you also have 184 lb-ft of torque at 1,400 rpm. You can get the Jetta with a very good six-speed automatic, but you’ll want the five-speed manual teamed with its sweet, fluid clutch.

No one’s done instrumented testing on a manual Jetta, but automatics accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 8.5 seconds; informally, I’ve timed mine at around 7.8 with the manual, and that’s first-rate in the compact class. From a dead stop, there’s a small hint of turbo lag that leaves you wondering where all that torque is, and then you get a seemingly endless, effortless, smooth flow of torque from around 1,500-2,000 rpm to about 5,500 rpm. From 3,000 rpm to 5,000 rpm, in second or third, the Jetta feels fast as hell, and that makes it a blast in everyday traffic. Need to squirt into that spot in traffic? Drop it into second, and you’re there. Want to waste that guy next to you on the freeway on-ramp? Get into third and you can consider it done. Like the Golf, the Jetta feels effortlessly quick, and there’s a sweet, refined, just-loud-enough engine note. And because the Jetta looks so innocuous, no one sees the hurt coming.

 

But the 1.4 also has a split personality. Yes, it’s quick, but it’s also amazingly efficient if you drive it like you’re trying to get back into the EPA’s good graces. So far, in a mix of around-town slogs and freeway driving, with a large mix of (admittedly lame) Stig imitations, I’m averaging around 32-34 mpg. On the highway, I’ve seen averages of around 38-40 mpg. Combine those rates of consumption with the Jetta’s 14.5 gallon tank and its outstanding freeway manners, and this should prove to be an A-plus student on the Interstate.

On back roads, the Jetta’s no GTI, but it’s quick, precise, refined and satisfying. The steering rack is electric, but it’s one of the better ones out there – it tightens up nicely with speed, and there’s a decent amount of feel. The new independent rear suspension works wonders for its handling – turn-in happens quickly, and there’s minimal roll. Does the Jetta feel as eager to run as, say, a Mazda 3? No, but it’s certainly entertaining for someone who loves to drive, and it’s blessed with that businesslike, refined feel that German cars have. Ask it to go fast and it will — with quiet composure.

So, paraphrasing Han Solo, the Jetta may not look like much, but if you like going fast and you’re on a budget, it’s got it where it counts.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta S Interior, Image: © 2017 Michael Freed

That’s a good thing, because the faults people used to (justifiably) trash the current-generation Jetta are still there. Lots of hard, black plastic? Yep. Cheap-looking fabric? Check. Unexciting styling? Definitely. Hell, my Jetta even has plastic wheel covers! There was the bait-and-switch sales tactic. And then there’s the 900-pound gorilla in the room: VW’s reputation for quality, or lack thereof. (Hopefully doing a 36-month lease solves that issue.) These are all turn-offs, particularly when the car you’re comparing it to is the zero-cheapness Golf, which feels and drives like a $20,000 Mercedes.

All this occurred to me when I was driving the Jetta.

When I started the test, I was wondering why I was wasting time when I could just go down to the Honda dealer and pick up the Civic. But I’ll be damned if the Jetta didn’t connect with me. I can’t explain why rationally. Maybe I like boring-looking cars with a harlot’s heart. Maybe it’s the suave, composed way the Jetta goes about its business. Maybe I felt smarter than the average bear for liking a car that no one else does. And remember the promotional lease rate I talked about earlier? It was available on the Jetta. Combined that with some haggling, the numbers worked out perfectly.

As much as I liked the Civic – and if you can get past the styling, I’d definitely recommend it – I fell in love with the Jetta.

She may be Plain Jane, but she’s drivin’ me insane.

[Images: © 2017 Michael Freed]

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235 Comments on “How I Ended Up in the Arms of a Base-Model Volkswagen Jetta...”


  • avatar
    Michael Haz

    So the cleavage was strong, was it?

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Pictures of the car, but not the reason you bought the car? WTF?

      • 0 avatar
        mtmmo

        Now you know why he’s divorced.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Actually, you and my ex would make a dandy couple. Want her phone number?

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Ha

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            It’d be two attention seekers in love. So beautiful.

          • 0 avatar
            mtmmo

            Sorry I’m very happily married. I enjoyed your article as it serves as a lesson on what not to do in life financially especially if you’re a low-wage earner. You should look into getting some counseling as it’s obvious you still harbor a lot of anger.
            Getting back to the car a smarter move would have been to buy the Honda vs leasing the VW. You did lease a nice color though but you should replace those plastic wheel covers as they’re ugly and scream I’m poor. A decent set of rims are not expensive.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “I’m very happily married.”

            Oh, yeah… I remember your saying you married Otto’s little sister.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Wow, I wish I could understand people’s personal finances and vehicular needs just by reading between the lines.

            Then maybe I could sit around telling people I barely know what all they’re doing wrong in their lives.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Yeah, guess the “mind reading” and “ability to see future mental illness” centers of my brain were off line when I met the ex…it’s all my fault…

        • 0 avatar
          slipperywhenwet

          The only time that I’ve ever wanted to post a giant “thumbs up” by a comment, and there’s none to give.

    • 0 avatar

      On my WAY out the door.

      See ya, wouldn’t wannna be ya.

      All of you deserve each other.

      Cancel my account.

      I’m out.

      • 0 avatar

        Since you didn’t cancel my account…

        Had enough,

        REMOVE ME.

        I’m a F*CKIN’ AMERICAN PATRIOT. An Ex-Army soldier. Real deal.

        I love my country,

        Almost everyone in this forum I’ve fought for. I’ve lost friends that gave up their lives so you assholes are free to say what you say.

        I’ve fought for you all. But I’ve had enough.

        I’ve tried to be patient.

        I’ve tried to be civil.

        What have you done in return?

        Tonight, I looked an EX-MARINE in the face. An EX-MARINE who’s wife was almost killed in a car accident. He is struggling.

        I looked him in the eye. Eye to eye. Then I looked in my wallet. I had $90. I gave it to him.

        What have you sniveling a$$hole jerks done lately for one of our treasured Veterans? What?

        I do something every damn day to protect Country and lifestyle.

        What are you jerks doing? Popped your last $90 bucks out of your wallet for a Vet lately?

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          No one is making you post here. If you no longer wish to post here, just move along. It’s not worth it.

          Thank you for your service and all you do for veterans.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I think Whiskey is upset because I didn’t buy a Trabant.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Sniveling ahole accuses others of being sniveling aholes and then seeks their external validation. If you are able to simultaneously keep a presence here and have a cause outside it, what makes you think the other folks here cannot as well?

          My father is a vet. I am not impressed by you.

          Get lost.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          There are no ex-Marines. There are only former Marines, Marines who formerly served. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

          On behalf of a Marine friend of mine who died at a young age in his sleep last year for no reason anyone can figure out, I thank you for helping that man out. Were I with you, I would have joined in.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            ^ A-Men

            (Dad is retired USAF and my great uncle was at Pearl Harbor. I support and have the deepest respect for those who serve(d).)

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @wiskeyRiver – sorry to hear about your friend’s wife. A friend of mine lost a son in Afghanistan. Well,technically what was left of him lived long enough to die in Canada. There are many who have made sacrifices for their country. I respect those who have served. Good bye and God bless.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          Was the Vet drafted or a volunteer?

        • 0 avatar
          hgrunt

          What are you angry about?

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Great, Mike, just great. You buy a Jetta so now Whiskey has to up and leave us.

      • 0 avatar

        Seriously. How can I delete myself? I’m done.

        • 0 avatar

          If I point out that all of you deserves the crap you dish out, can I at least get banned?

          Please?

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          “Seriously. How can I delete myself?”

          Self control helps. You:

          1) Do not type “www.ttac.com” into your browser
          2) Do not click “log in”
          3) Do not enter username and password

          Steps 2 & 3 are unnecessary if you follow step 1.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            WTF is going on here, why is whiskey so upset? If it happened on some of the political articles, I missed it because I avoid them to keep myself from getting p¡§§ed at people here I otherwise respect.

            If that’s what happened to him, well, I’m glad I chose to avoid it more often than not.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “Seriously. How can I delete myself?”

            I’d be committing a crime if I provided council.

    • 0 avatar
      daviel

      OK. I’d some sneaked in issues with the 2011 Kia Sportage, but really liked the car. I needed the cargo room, it drove fine on the highway. I took it in to the dearer for an oil change. While I was waiting, a young hot blonde, all legs asked me if I wanted to look at new Sportages. Of course I said yes. We walked through the lot and into the showroom where I saw a black Kia Forte Koup SX. The combination of the looks of the car and the looks and theremones of the saleswoman knocked me out. I bought it. Traded in the Sportage. Got a great deal. I’m known at home as going for an oil change, come home with a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      mechaman

      I’ve been fooled by it … countless times. Usually didn’t result in getting a car, though.

    • 0 avatar
      trflucker3388

      Agree with you on the majority of your comments regarding the Jetta’s basic architecture. It’s good enough to make you overlook things like the plain styling and the lack of amenities. I tend to prefer less options because in the long run the reliability will be much better with less electronics and whatnot. And I do love the feel of the German cars. Good choice!

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I’ve looked at Jettas too…just can’t stand the light gray cloth seat inserts on the S model…on the ’16s the whole seat was dark gray. The light gray would be filthy in no time in my house. I looked at the Sport…not sure how I feel about VTex upholstery, even if it is perforated. I don’t want to sweat my butt off all summer, and the wheels on the Sport look cheesy to me. I think the SE would be good, except we’re right back to the VTex seats. No way on earth would I spring for an SEL, too much money.

    I looked at the Passat S also…it might be worthwhile just jumping up a size to get prettier cloth seats in the base model car. What to do, what to do…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      After much reflection, I finally figured out what the color scheme on my car’s seats remind me of…

      http://catacombs.space1999.net/main/images/space/titles/spty1001.jpg

      Which is OK, because I enjoyed that show. But I’m with you on the V-tex…no sale. I wouldn’t mind the nicer instrumentation and infotainment on the SE, though.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      I’ve been looking at them myself. For everything that has pleather nowadays, I will say that the V-Tex is one of the better implementations out there.

      I do think the SE is the sweet spot. It can still be had with a manual if you’re a purist, and you get the apple/android connectivity, heated seats, and blind spot monitor. Plus stuff that doesn’t matter like a sunroof and keyless go.

      Granted, moving to alloys and heated seats on the S only costs $700 extra, but I think the sum total of the additional stuff on the SE is worth the extra coin.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Buried the lede there: the salesgoon could drive stick.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      And a cute female too? Sounds like he found a car and wife #2. j/k

      But its a 5 speed? OK… we all know manual transmission are few and far between, but only 5 forward gears in 2017? Hopefully the power windows work, to be safe I’d carry some duct tape with me at all times. So good call on the lease. The car looks like a Passat reduced 20%, its an under the radar look for sure. The previous 1.8T became even quicker with an ECU flash, just un-flash when the lease is up.

      • 0 avatar
        never_follow

        The 5 speed has properly spaced gears for decent highway cruising, it’s really not detrimental with the torque spread.

        We’re not looking at Honda Fit gearing or working with ol’ 2.slow power levels.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Having driven the 1.8T (with the same torque rating as this 1.4) and 5-speed, I agree.

          • 0 avatar
            TonyJZX

            My daily drive is a 5.7 v8 with the T56 6 spd manual.

            It is effectively a 5 spd because it cant pull in 6th… not even on dead flat billiard smooth hwy.

            I get the appeal of the above car. But I also know why many many people, nay the majority find it an anathema… where’s the keyless entry? where the apple android carplay?

            wheres the reverse camera slash blind spot warn slash lane departure slash radar cruise slash auto brake assist?

            I come from an age where I’m happy I get to play tunes off an SD or USB stick and I have aircon, central lock and electric windows mirrors.

            Kids these days didnt know we had to insert a key into a door way back when.

            Also I’d still take a Kia Cerato/Forte what with the 7 yr unlimited warranty.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Tony, maybe that’s why I plan to hold on to my 1995 for as long as possible. One day, people won’t believe you couldn’t open or start a car without a key!
            Or that transmission/transaxles had less than 6 forward gears, yet the car gets 25-30 MPG.
            Or that 140 hp is enough to move a midsized sedan fairly well (low end torque helps).

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        I just checked out both at the DC car show this weekend. Honestly, the Jetta seems right-sized while the Passat is big but not in a good way – it throws front seat ergonomics off to me. I can easily sit behind myself in the Jetta at 5’10” as well. That said, the Passat will definitly fit a rear-facing car seat more easily.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Nah, bumpy, it wasn’t like that. I’ve been with my girlfriend for six and a half years. Playin’ isn’t what I do.

      But she was nice looking. And when a nice looking young lady says, “here, drive this,” 53-year-old guys like me tend to say, “OK.”

  • avatar
    iNeon

    We certainly live in good times– this is poverty.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agree 100%. How could we have survived all those years without the must have luxuries that are in today’s ‘poverty spec’ vehicles/

      Kudos to Mike on the writing. Enjoyed reading this.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Thanks, Arthur!

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          You’re welcome but you earned the accolades. Please update us on the cost of the first service and thereafter at least once a year. You can either help prove or dispel the VW self-destruction theory.

          • 0 avatar
            TOTitan

            I can help with that. On 09/30/15 I bought a new 2016 Golf Sportwagen SE. The car now has 24,000 miles and has had no issues at all. It still feels like its machined from a piece of billet and is probably the most useful daily driver for running errands I have ever owned. The mpg is still getting better at 35 for freeway driving. For road trips I still prefer my 335d. The massive, instant torque of that car is addictive.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      Amen! When I was looking at off-lease used cars and saw my Elantra had heated seats I about sh!t. Seriously. That was luxury stuff not long ago. And I don’t even have the Limited model. Never mind the Bluetooth, power stuff, cruise, etc. An economy car with all this? I remember my old Ford Escort, it didn’t even have AC. A four speed stick, who needs a fifth gear? Yes, these are good times. I’ve had some very nice cars in my life, but anymore besides a powerful drivetrain there is no reason to not just stick to the cheap stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        ShoogyBee

        One can now equip a 2017 Kia Forte with a power driver’s seat with two-position memory settings. The 2016+ Optima also has this, and one can even get a power passenger seat with the proper option package. I believe the Ford Fusion SE also has both power driver and passenger front seats. Those are important features for me and my front seat passengers, so I’ll definitely be checking those cars out when it’s time to replace my 2010 Camry. I’m fairly certain that the Accord, Camry, Legacy, etc. do not offer height-adjustable passenger seats at any price or trim level.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        Lol I remember just after high school when I found my 1994 Tempo at a car lot. I couldn’t believe an economy car would have power windows, locks, *and seat*! I was amazed, lol and it was just a GL.

        Of course, as I got to drive more and more cars (working for dealerships), it didn’t seem so amazing anymore.

  • avatar
    FoPa

    Mr. Freed, you have a way with words. Very entertaining and informative read. At least VW still sells manuals (I mean manual transmissions, not owner’s manuals). I had a ’98 manual diesel Jetta and it took me to 250K before I unloaded it on my brother-in-law in its dotage (the car’s, not my brother-in-law’s). Looking forward to more postings.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Agree. Hope to see more by FreedMike.

      VW controls in rental Beetles and Jettas confounded me in the past few years. Not intuitive as other makes. Guess VW has improved in that aspect.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Agree. Nice storytelling, Freed. An enjoyable read — my compliments.

      I like what I hear about the 1.4 and the 1.8 except for the absence of port injection to negate the carbon buildup potential of direct injection. Lexus does it. VW does it with the 2.0T used in Audis, but not in these. Tells me it’s a good thing you’re only in for a lease.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        I thought only European market Audis had dual injection as of yet? The cynic in me thinks that manufacturers are being deliberately slow about introducing dual injection to the (more litigious) US market. They want it to be perceived as an incremental improvement rather than as correcting a flaw.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    So don’t leave us in suspense, what was the lease deal? At the right price this may be my next car.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Nice write up. The upgraded motor and suspension moves this into “Budget Cars I Could Live With” territory.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Nice piece! Although I think one “smoking” was probably enough to convey the effect of the divorce on your credit.

    These are definitely the kind of cars VW knows how to do. One of the better VW’s I’ve ever driven was a basic Euro-spec MkV Golf with a naturally aspirated 1.4 and the five-speed stick.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    This is clearly was a purchase that resulted from an infatuation with the saleswoman. The rest of the piece is an attempt to rationalize the purchase that was driven by impure thoughts. I think we’ve all been there. I had no intention of buying a floor model Sony TRV-11 video camera at Circuit City in July of 2001..but the salesgirl took my breath away…

    That is the only explanation. ;) The TRV-11 did turn out to be a good camera so I hope you have the same luck with the Jetta.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    If anything, the restrained styling is a pro – basically everything else on the market is going to look dated in 5 years. I also wish Bruno Sacco would give up on that retirement thing, and remind everyone that some timelessness is a good thing.

    I did look at a base Jetta when I was buying, but it came in just a little more expensive than my Mazda, and I didn’t need the extra space. Of course, this was back in the 2.Slow days (which I didn’t find that bad with a manual, but pretty much everything I’ve ever owned has been slow), and the 1.4 might have been enough to get me to spring for the VW. Although hopefully there’s been some work done to help these age better. It might just be that the deferred maintenance crowd gravitates to the cheaper Jetta over the Golf, but when I worked with used cars, plenty of them had noisy rear brakes, or other minor evidence of cost savings.

    • 0 avatar
      Raevox

      I owned a 2004 5-speed with the 2.slow

      Believe me when I say the first two weeks of ownership were “OK”, and the remainder of ownership was “why didn’t I buy the 2003 1.8T GTI instead”.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Mike,
    Thanks for contributing to the TTAC community.Enjoy the Jetta!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the color, and the cleanly-styled interior. Plastic wheel covers aren’t cool these days, but they may look better than alloys after years of exposure to road salt.

    Oh, and your fuel economy is excellent; that’s hybrid territory.

    Given the beatings VW is taking lately, it should be a good time to buy – as you found.

    Nice report, and many happy miles to you!

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      The fuel economy is OK but not outstanding. Hybrids will be around 45-50 and my Mazda 6 gets 37-38 on the highway with a 28 commuting average. I would expect the less powerful and smaller Jetta to do better.
      They have made improvements like the engine and suspension as mentioned but there are better offerings – unless you are very budget constrained.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        I’ll echo Mike– These 1.4t engines get great mileage and almost feel like enough engine, but they’re often caught flat-footed and need to be wound up.

        Dart’s lifetime average is 30.2MPG over 8810 South Florida miles– 57% highway, 43% city. Best is 53.4MPG

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Not getting the argument, mike. The less powerful and far more cramped Mazda 3 w/ 2.0 is only rated to 37 highway. The rear seat room, low-rpm grunt, road noise control, road manners, and driving position are pretty strong arguments in favor of the Jetta regardless of price.

        • 0 avatar
          mike978

          My point wasn’t about ratings but real world fuel economy and how the Jetta was not much better on the highway than my bigger car. Just adding context to the fuel economy statement and someone saying it was close to hybrid levels – which it isn’t. The Accord hybrid gets 45+ real world mpg.

      • 0 avatar
        Stevo

        If the 1.4 was anything like the larger engine in our Golf it will loosen up after 1000 miles or so and the mileage will gain a couple more. I don’t think I was imagining the jump.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Depends on the hybrid and the actual commute (use). My commute is tailor made for a hybrid and routinely get 36 with the Altima hybrid – which is in the low/mid 7 seconds for 0 to 60. Using a second gen Prius I get 48/50. The 2014 Prius returned 57 in the same commute. Thanks to the guys at work for the exposure to various company cars.

      This Jetta is actually appealing as a base commuter car. Adequate power, good handling, and what seems to be good tactile feedback and refinement. the exterior even looks good. Those things matter, even more so to me and apparently the author. Buying it from a hottie is just icing on the cake.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @SCE:
      Thanks. Now, if the Jetta were getting true “hybrid numbers,” I’d think it’d be more like 40 around town and less on the highway. But, yeah, no complaints about the MPG. The only caveat I’d offer is that the 1.4 offers plenty of sport, and plenty of economy, but not at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        The terms we use to discuss fuel efficiency lead to distorted perceptions.

        The difference between 40 and 45 MPG is 12%. About a quather-gallon less fuel used in a 100 mile drive. That small margin wouldn’t be persuasive for me. Forty-five sounds like big number, though.

        If you can raise your city mileage from 25 to 30 MPG, a 20% improvement, you’re saving 3/4 gallon. But how about trading a 20 MPG car for a 25 MPG one? You’re saving a whole gallon out of every five.

        Moral: It’s hard to get blood from a stone. Efficiency gains come when you raise the lowest MPG performance levels, not so much my improving the already efficient vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        These tiny turbo 4’s are incredibly efficient, and gutsy under boost too. You get much of the benefits of a hybrid or turbodiesel, without the extra (initial) cost and weight. (And the Jetta comes in brown! With a manual!) I never thought I’d see a 1.4 liter Jetta, much less a 1.5 liter Malibu, on US roads, but modern turbos make it work.

        Downsides: Frightening lag if you need to suddenly accelerate from 0-2000 rpm (source: my turbo Passat vs an oncoming 18 wheeler, an incident that required me to then detour to Target for new underwear), emissions and oil consumption at full throttle, and unknown long term reliability. The first is less of an issue with a manual: rev it and drop the clutch! As for the potential impact on clutches, catalytic converters, or highly stressed engine innards, well… that’s a good argument for leasing.

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Clutch dumping on the Dart can’t happen because of some funny thing called a clutch damper. The clutch has a delay circuit like the brake hill hold, or something like an automatic turntable– it always engages just a second after you’ve actually let out the pedal.

          It was disconcerting when I first began driving the car, but now I just dip the throttle twice and let the clutch out. It’s certain to wear faster, but it seems to give me what I need to comfortably drive the thing.

          Turbo cars are lumpy, gruff, unrefined and seem less robust than larger displacement N/A engines. I like it fine, but it just doesn’t please me like the lighter, less powerful neon or the heavier, but stump-puller PT Cruiser.

          Gets better mileage than the PT, but the neon got just the same MPGs and felt more lithe/willing doing it. Also had a softer seat and better upholstering.

          I do feel like I know Jetta’s character because Dart is so similar a formula (cheap, euro, giant FWD cars with tiny turbo engines built cheap and to a low price point) but maybe VW worked some magic FIAT/Alfa/MOPAR couldn’t. Iunno.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            the Dart wasn’t bad for a “because we had to” car.

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            Oh– Nothing about it is terrible (my partners’ Benzes (E and GLK 350s) are just as DI/valvey crass and vibrate/rattle just as much) but it is positively forgettable. No presence or style.

            At the purchase, I thought it much like the Jetta spoken of here. It isn’t stylish enough to look dated. It isn’t miserably cheap in it’s construction or mechanical bits– it has a lightened suspension, full aero kit, Lightweight turbine wheels and full-width taillights ferchristssake. It’s positively luxe for a poverty car. The carpets and floor padding are super thick. The seats are sculptural and have rather intricate piecing.

            All that lightness/sportiness, though– it transmits every vibration into the driver’s controls. When I remove my hands/feet from the controls the damned thing rides/feels significantly better– only fractionally different from the -much- more expensive Mercedes cars.

            Fkuc aging and turning into a typical Lexus buyer.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “There’s a lot of stylish metal in the compact market — Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Ford Focus…”

    WOW! Kia Forte, but not Mazda

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      One man’s stylish is another man’s hideous. I’m not in the market, but if I was I’d have to overlook the styling to consider any of them.

      The Jetta may be plain, but at least it’s not got lines running every which way in a desperate cry for attention. The noses are especially overwrought.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        Case in point, the Focus and Escape. They look doodled-on. There’s no rhyme or reason to the body details, except for the business of it all. They remind me of Motorhome RVs, with their flame and swoosh decal designs that fail to disguise the boxiness and size and sameness of every model.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Most cars look modern when new, and dated in five years. VWs look dated when new, and timeless in five years.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        If I actually had the cash, I’d buy a Fiat 500. They’re cheap, they’re cheerful, and they come in colors. And all I ever carry around is myself, so all of the “not much use as a family car” issues could not be less relevant to me.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          If you have fifteen bucks in your pocket, you can buy a Fiat 500.

          If you can fit in the driver’s seat, a 1 or 2 year old model–the market value of which is equivalent to the altitude of a boulder at the bottom of the ocean–is a steal.

          Hell, for $17 make it an Abarth.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            In the real world, the market entry point for a decent used 500 with an unbranded title is about $6000 where I live. Which as I said, is cheap. I still don’t have $6000 though.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I did look at a Mazda 3, and I really, really liked it.

      But I was leasing, and at the time, the deal on the 3 wasn’t very good.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Yay! Owner review at last, thanks FreedMike and Mark S.

    Nice writeup Mike. This Jetta has been a whipping boy since 2011 but it has received more updates since then than most cars between full redesigns and even the 2011 pre-turbo pre-IRS 5-cylinder was a fundamentally solid car. It’s restrained, it’s tasteful, the structure and road manners are far more refined than the plastic dashboard would suggest, and the driver ergonomics are very good.

    I haven’t driven the 1.4T but the 1.8T has a midrange punch that frankly surprised me even with the automatic. 7.8 to 60 is excellent for a base engine, my 5-cylinder manual was right about there but it sure as hell didn’t return 38mpg under any circumstance.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I haven’t driven a Jetta 1.8T but the Golf was darn quick. I’ve seen tests of manual Golfs doing 0-60 in a shade under seven seconds, which would make it Big Daddy Don Garlits in this class.

  • avatar
    Arcadia Ego

    In December I bought the Jetta SE – same car as the S with a sunroof and some electronic tschotschkes which I will never use as I am a Luddite. My criteria were – manual transmission, good fuel economy, and ability to drag me and my wife on a 13 hour trip to Canada a few times a year without requiring trips to the chiropractor thereafter (we are entering what used to be called our “prime”).

    We drove Mazdas (3 and 6), Hondas (Civic and Accord), as well as the Jetta GLI and Golf. In a fit of environmentalism we even drove the Ford C-Max (fun, but mileage not any different from the Jetta), and the Prius (simply uncomfortable, and no fun to drive). For a variety of reasons, settled on the Jetta SE, and so far are quite happy with it. Very comfy, quiet at 80 on the interstates, and as the author suggests, nicely fuel efficient. In our fairly rural neck of the woods we are averaging just over 34 mpg. It can do speedy when needed, and handled a bit of snow up in Ontario quite well.

    The clincher though, was that on a relatively cheap model, the passenger seat had an adjustable tilt (i.e. not just forward and backward, or tilt-able back of seat). Made a lot of difference for the passenger’s comfort on the long haul. To get that kind of thing in most cars requires you to get the top trim level, which not only adds cost, but also removes the possibility of a manual trans.

    Of course reliability is a concern, and most of the discount off MSRP went on an extended warranty. We will see how it goes.

  • avatar
    deanst

    With an updated dash and 6 speed this would be very desirable. But it would have to be in tornado red.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice piece Freed, it flows well and is enjoyable.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Congratulations on the purchase. I can sympathize with the financial issues after a divorce; it’s why I’m rocking a Montana now and the past couple of vehicles I’ve had have been death’s-door hand me downs, and why I’m looking at a Yaris iA in a year and a bit when I’ve clawed my way out.

    It’s an incredible wealth destroyer.

    Good luck with your purchase. I hope you enjoy it.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “It’s an incredible wealth destroyer.”

      I think I’ll stick to hanging out with strippers. They’re only a minor wealth destroyer.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      So far, the butcher’s bill in alimony is well over $90,000, which is ironic since the court also gave me custody of my kids. Translation: you get a LOT less money to raise the kids…alone. And when I say, “alone,” that’s exactly what I mean – the kids want nothing to do with her either. She got visitation but they choose to spend no time with her at all. They figured out the same thing I did, which is that she shouldn’t have custody of any form of life higher than a Betta fish (and, and frankly, if I caught wind she has fish, I’d be tempted to call the Animal Rescue folks…she’s that bad).

      It’s been great for my family – I got to rebuild it on a far more solid foundation – but it’s been horrid financially. The good news is that the alimony ends in August.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        So, in August, you’ll truly be “freed” from the pshyco B¡tch from hell. I bet it can’t come soon enough. Congrats.

        From what you describe, she sounds an awful lot like my sister-in-law. Only my idiot brother is too stupid, or lacks the courage, to do what you did and get out.

        I’m just glad I didn’t go ahead and marry my ex like we planned. I would be up $h¡ts creek without a paddle even worse than I am now, after only being with him for a while.

        As it stands, I owe Verizon about a grand, and of course my phone is shut off.

        I owe thousands of dollars to my parents and others who helped me, or “us” out.

        I finally quit smoking (again) on New Years, and I’ve almost got the smell out of the Taurus. I had been quit for many years but he had got me smoking again. So glad I was able to quit and stay quit for nearly a month now. I feel like I’m over the hump, I only think about having one when I’m really upset. But, it hasn’t been bad enough to go buy a pack. I pray I won’t get to that point again.

        Then there is the damage he did to the car, the thousands of miles I put on it for him, the hundreds of dollars worth of clothes I lost, not to mention all the people I p¡§§ed off along the way.

        But, I learned a hard lesson. Ill be more prepared when the next one comes along, and I won’t put up with nearly as much bullsh¡t as I did with him ever again.

        I just hope it doesn’t take another 33 years to find the next one.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I found that when I took charge and did something about all the stuff that was wrong in my life – and about 60-70% of it was connected to my marriage and what it was doing to me and my kids – good things began to happen.

          But that first step is a cold, hard b*tch to take, and it took a LOT of suffering for me, and probably a lot more for my kids, to get to the point where I was ready to make changes.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            I don’t pretend that my situation was as bad as yours, but yeah, as I look back on it, it was hell and I can’t believe I put up with it for so long.

            All the signs were there, I just blocked them out and told myself it would work out eventually if I just stuck with it. Clearly that wasn’t a wise move. Like I said, I’m just glad I didn’t get married before I did finally realize that the longer I put up with it, the more I would be putting up with.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            See what marriage equality has done? Now two men get to experience the exquisite joy of awful marriages and divorce, which, until very recently, has been the exclusive province of men and women. Equality rulz!!!

            Seriously, I’ve been with my girlfriend for over six years now. We may just end up living in sin forever when we get to finally combine households. I think marriage becomes a far more imperative thing in your 20’s and 30’s, but us old farts have been there, done that.

            Still, we could both use the tax break.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Well, to be honest, I still would like to get married someday. Just to someone with more maturity, honesty and integrity.

            And that’s weird, because two years ago if you’d asked, I’d have said there’s no way in hell I’d consider getting married.

            There’s one out there, I’m sure. And if given the oppertunity, I believe I’ll make a great partner/husband/whatever for someone.

            I wish the best to you, your children and your girlfriend. Maybe all the BS will end up being worth it in the end, as it helped you end up with someone great.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            The lady is DEFINITELY worth the wait. She’s a keeper. Hope you find someone worth the wait too.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            :)
            Thanks my friend.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            nothing validates staying single more than this conversation here.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “nothing validates staying single more than this conversation here.”

            Except you’re smart and with an equal partner that hugely mitigates the stresses placed upon any relationship.

  • avatar
    RoninSam

    I ended up in a similar car about 1.5 years ago — 2015 Passat TSI, base model with 5-speed.

    It checked all the boxes for me: 1) Blue, 2) New, 3) Manual, 4) Made in US. Plus, it was one of those $5,000 off end of year discounts.

    11,000 miles later and no regrets. Very solid daily driver, fun to drive, and the seats are damn comfortable (though not very fancy looking). The huge back seat is a plus for the two carseats I put back there.

    And to the commenter who complains that this is “poverty”– not really. I am a cardiologist, and frequently check out the listings for new/used BMWs to replace the old 2003 325xiT I have, and think about trading this car in, too. But then I think, what can I get for the same amount of money that I enjoy driving as much and is as practical as this?

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I’m pretty sure the poster’s remark meant that it’s amazing how much content a low-end vehicle offers these days. A base Jetta is “poverty” only in the sense that it’s one of the cheaper cars you can buy new today.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Well, you can buy a $11,000 Versa…but oh hell, no.

        • 0 avatar
          John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

          They’d have to pay me $11k to take a Versa off their hands. I can’t drive one for 15 minutes before I’m in agony. I think I could build more comfortable seats using plywood and some old socks.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        “I’m pretty sure the poster’s remark meant that it’s amazing how much content a low-end vehicle offers these days.”

        Right. If one gets the oppertunity to do so, sit in a Datsun B-210 Honey Bee and in a modern base Nissan Sentra.
        Or a 1981 Ford Escort and a new Fiesta (the first gen Escort was a subcompact, the Fairmont/LTD and later the Tempo were Ford’s compacts until the Escort grew and added a 5th seating position in 1991).

        If you took a modern base model car (like Mike’s Jetta) back in time to anytime from the mid-80s on back, people would think it was a luxury car. Power windows?! That’s Lincoln or Cadillac territory, son.

        I blame Hyundai/Kia. They started making power windows/locks standard to make their cars appear to be a better value (that value was quite diminished when the car is ready for the junkyard at 130k). Naturally, others followed suit.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Good article. Note to car writers everywhere: All plastic is cheap. All of it.

    I think that this illustrates how a couple of changes makes a dog of a car interesting. Better engine. Better suspension. Manual transmission. The article didn’t say, but it’s a VW manual transmission so, nice feel no doubt.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      True, but not all cheap plastic is created equal. Some cheap plastics are definitely better than others. Honda does a nice job with it in the Civic, and Mazda’s interior materials look nice as well (particularly the refreshed 3). The Cruze also has some very nice looking plastic materials.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        IMHO, the hard plastic door panels are the only glaring sign of cheapness in the Mk. 6 Jetta interior. They aren’t cheap because they’re hard plastic, but because the plastic feels noticeably thin.

        Omitting the rear seat vents found in all other global Jettas/Sagitars/et al. was also a dick move on VW’s part.

        • 0 avatar
          John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

          Decontenting FTMFW!!!

          I find it funny the things missing from my neighbor’s 1997 Taurus compared to my 1995 Taurus. Both are GL models.
          no under hood lamp
          no trunk light
          no footwell lighting
          no dual sun visors
          no delayed dome lamp (the 95’s will stay on for like 30 seconds or something, or until you turn the ignition key)
          no dome light activation when the exterior door handle is pulled
          no rear armrest

          Chasing the Camry’s lower price ruined the car. Things should be gained from one generation to the next (and some were, like 60/40 rear seats, flip/fold center console/seat for column shift cars, standard tachometer and power windows/locks across the board), not lost.

          It may not seem like much, but the little things are why I love the 1st and 2nd gen Taurus so much. So innovative, so thoughtful.

          • 0 avatar
            Middle-Aged Miata Man

            Same goes for some glaring differences between my folks’ old 2002 Caravan and their current 2007 Town & Country. Both are midline SWB models of the same generation with otherwise comparable equipment levels, right down to the seat cloth.

            Goodbye heated windshield wiper grid, goodbye tachometer, goodbye second rear liftgate lamp (replaced by a tacked-on – literally – blank out panel), goodbye cloth door panel inserts, goodbye ratcheting cup holder arms, goodbye carpeted OEM floor mats able to withstand more than 30K miles of use before wearing through to the rear matting.

            At least the transmission in their ’07 has lasted more than 100K… so, progress, I guess.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            I love it when automakers troll you with “well, there COULD have been something cool here” blank panels.

            The early Nissan Hardbody instrument cluster with no tachometer is a great example. The lines are still there in a circle, so at first glance it looks like a real gauge…until you notice no needle or numbers lol.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            J-Taurus – the book “Car” goes into this exact issue: How Ford targeted the “fat” Camry only to issue the T/S line at the exact time Toyota decontented the new Camry at an alarming rate. Not just content, but the quality as well. Yes the reliability did not falter but the overall durability of the car sure did. My 92 Sable looks better than most of the ’97-2000 Camrys out there. Yet the “fat” Camrys hold up better than any other affordable car from the era. Very telling.

          • 0 avatar
            John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

            Golden2husky,

            I have heard of that one before.

            I always liked the styling of the 1997-00 Camry, just not the car itself.

            Maybe because it looks like a what would be a 3rd gen Ford Tempo (which never existed of course, although seeing what a flop the Contour was and how strongly the Tempo always sold, I bet Ford wished they had built a 3rd gen Tempo instead).

            Especially the tail lamps, they’re very similar, only smaller. Kinda like how the 1992-5 Taurus tail lamps were very similar to the 86-91s, only smaller.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Good writing Mike . Hope everything works out for you.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    A man must do what his situation allows. All in all, not a bad looking car, despite the meh reputation. It looks good in that color.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Just checked my local dealer’s web site. Holy moly those are dirt cheap!

    Sure, you are entrusting your life to a car made by psychopaths. But still…

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      I didn’t know Mexicans are psychopaths. Always seem like decent people to me.
      Of course there are exceptions (murderous cartels) as with every race/nationality.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Congrats! And a nicely written post.

    I helped my lady partner-in-crime lease this exact car but in Silk Blue last summer. Really a stunning value, and that 1.4T/5spd combo is a peach. She is averaging high 30’s mpg on a fast suburban commute to work, and easily hits 40 on trips. She didn’t put a cent down and still ended up under $200/mo with 15K miles a year. She managed to hit a deer with it when it was <1 week old to the tune of $12K in damage, but the VW dealer fixed it such that I can't tell it was ever damaged. But still glad it is leased…

    Does the '17 Jetta S not get the headunit with Android Auto and CarPlay? My lady friend's '16 has that – I THINK it is the same unit as in my GTI, just without the extra performance and gauge screens.

    I really don't get VWs pricing. There is no reason the Golf should be as much more expensive as it is, and then the gap to the GTI from the regular Golf is just as big or bigger. Maybe they are just losing their shirts on the Jettas? But another case where the real value proposition is the base model.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      The Jetta is on a very old platform, the Golf is on a new one.

      At least I believe so, correct me if I’m wrong guys.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I bet John is right about this. Golfs ride on the new MQB platform. And, yes, if you drive them back to back, you’ll feel the difference – the Golf’s more refined. If Mercedes sold a $20,000 car in this country, it’d drive a lot like a Golf.

        But the Jetta feels as solid structurally as anything in this class.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I know this, but one of the points of the new platform was to cut costs by spreading its use. And fundamentally, there can’t be THAT much difference in what it costs to build each car, there is not that much difference in content between base Golf and base Jetta. And then what is the difference between base Golf and base Golf GTI? 200cc more motor (but both are turbos), an extra gear in the transmission, slightly different suspension and seats, bigger wheels and tires and some different trim. And that costs almost $6K…

        The Germans are the masters of getting you to pay more. The only added feature of the GTI Sport that REALLY mattered to me was the keyless entry and start (spoiled by two BMWs with it). So I stumped up the extra for it. Just like I effectively paid $5K extra to not get a sunroof in my 2-series BMW. BUT, I am generally not budget limited at this stage in my life, so I am lucky enough to be able to do so. “First world problems” and all that. But it still bugs the cheap [email protected] deep inside me that I can’t order just what I want and nothing else.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Krhodes. No, the android auto/rear camera stereo shows up on the S w/technology. I’m not sure if there’s anything else with it but I think it’s about a grand dearer. You can also get alloys for around 300 bucks as a standalone. With this engine the jetta has become a class spoiler in my opinion. Vw is selling their 1.4t a full price point behind Honda with their very equivalent 1.5t.

      The golf is the car where no detail goes unaddressed. They make cheap golf’s in other markets, but I doubt there’s the hatchback sales volume to split that lineup here.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Right! I forgot she got that “step-up” over a truly base car. Thinking back on it, I recall thinking the price was stiff for what you got, but she wanted the toys. I would have spent $30 on a good phone vent clip.

        I’m still playing with AA in my GTI, but I suspect I will end up using my trusty phone vent clip when I need NAV. Though having figured out how to access the Google voice search through the car has helped a lot. But I sure miss that split-screen NAV/Media view in the BMW… Wouldn’t be such an issue back in Maine where I know where everything is, but I am just learning my way around down here in FL so I am really dependent on the GPS and POI search.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @tedward:

        The S with technology package ended in ’16. If you want the same stuff, it’s the SE model, which also comes with the faux-leather seats, alloys, and a sunroof. It’s about two grand more. You do get Bluetooth and the rear camera on the base S, though.

        On the Golf, you can get a very good cash price. Problem is, VW Credit isn’t subsidizing the leases on them like they do with Jettas. Money factors and residuals are not as attractive. Thus, on a lease, it came out a lot more expensive on a monthly basis, and I wasn’t going to be silly enough to do a cap cost reduction.

  • avatar
    John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

    Well done Mike, on the car and the article. Hope the Jetta serves you well.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        Forgot to say, atta’boy for getting a manual. I wish I could have one as a d/d still. I really need to find an old Honda stick shift for when I’m able and have the inkling to drive a manual. I found a nice 1993 Accord SE coupe not far from me for dirt cheap with a failed automatic. If I could afford it, I’d buy it and swap in a 5 speed. Body was extremely clean, only the ripped up leather gave away the car’s age/mileage from a visual perspective. I would love it. One of the best looking Accord generations IMO. And a coupe! Why not? I already have a sedan that won’t be leaving my possession anytime soon.

        Oh, and kudos for not being a paranoid internet ignoramus and blocking out your license plate.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Well written. You need to be a regular contributor.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      He wrote a 6-part comparison test back in 2009 so this might be the TTAC record for for time between posts.

      I remember that old series because I disagreed with his finishing order so strongly.

      Also, is there a comment of 23 year old ajla making a dipsh*t comment about how the Lucerne Super is better than the GS350?

      thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/import-sport-sedan-comparison-fourth-place-lexus-gs350/#comment-1552919

      Yes there is.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Thanks, Lou. I have some story ideas. I’ve been bouncing around with the idea of doing a deep dive on why the Chrysler 200 failed. Then again, an article that contains only two words – “it” and “sucked” – might not be up to TTAC’s standards.

      Seriously, though, I think that’d be an interesting story. I can’t even remember a major manufacturer introducing a mainstream car that bombed so badly it only was made for two years. Kind of FCA’s version of “Heaven’s Gate.”

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Nice to see the Jetta Mark VI get some love. Sometimes I miss my TDI with that simple, logical and roomy interior (and trunk). Quite a lot there for the price.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      I still miss my ’15 GLI, which I only had for nine months before accepting the harsh truth that my knee just wasn’t up to the task of daily driving a manual anymore. I also realized that I preferred a bigger, softer car for daily use, not a pocket rocket.

      Still, in my admittedly brief time of ownership, the GLI was awesome for what it was. The EA888 was a flat-out hoot (especially after adding a NPM) yet when driven conservatively had no problems with hitting 34-35 mpg on the highway, and I’d never owned a FWD vehicle that could handle corners as well as it did.

      I think you made a great choice, FreedMike. Please keep us posted about your ownership experiences.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Last year when I leased my ’16 Cruze, the Jetta S was available too. It was kind of the same price, but not really. I had very similar impressions as Mike did with the Jetta. Solid feeling if boring, the 1.4T being much smoother and more tractable than the Chevy motor of the same displacement (but less power). Much better ride and handling than the Cruze.

    But. The VW was a 3 year lease with more per month with the same money down. And it was rather Spartan inside, compared to the 2LT Chevy that was going to be less money. Plus wheelcovers, those wheelcovers are awful. The VW is arguably a better car, but it wasn’t nearly $2000 total better.

    Or maybe it is? Sounds like the VW enjoys a good hoon now and then. The Chevy does not. I will be sad to see my $113/month payment go away in 11 months, but not the car. It’s OK, a decent car compared to any Cobalt or Cavalier I ever dealt with. But it’s no VW and to some of you that’s a plus. To me, it’s a minus.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Is the Cruze from the current or last gen? I checked out one of the new ones on a Sunday lot walk. Seemed very solid. But I never drove one.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        My car is previous generation ( Cruze Limited in GM speak) but I did have a chance to drive a ’17 while mine was in the shop overnight. I found it more Honda-like than Jetta-like, but still very Chevrolet. Improved, but not so much that I’d get another Cruze.

        It was the right price for the right time, much as your VW seems to be. When this lease is up, I should be able to do better for myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Cruze, just not really I car I can see myself in again.

  • avatar
    Menloguy

    This is the exact Jetta trim and color I want to get. I like that the S trim has a key-operated ignition, a hand-actuated parking lever, a large footrest surface, height adjustment for both driver and passenger and good outwards visibility. I hope the manual transmission has a hill holder feature as I am a newbie manual driver. I plan to remove the wheel covers and paint the steel wheel silver and install black center caps from a VW Transporter to complete the Euro look. Since Jettas sold in the US are produced in VW’s Puebla (Mexico) plant, better get it soon before that tariff kicks in!

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      “I plan to remove the wheel covers and paint the steel wheel silver and install black center caps from a VW Transporter to complete the Euro look.”

      Somebody gets it! Oh how I wish for silver steelies instead of dubcaps on USDM base trim models (all makes, not just VW).

      Personally, I would like a chrome center cap, and chrome trim rings. But, the black will do.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “I hope the manual transmission has a hill holder feature as I am a newbie manual driver.”

      It does indeed, so you’re in luck. I believe the brakes get applied electronically for two seconds or so on an incline, then they release.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    Nice work, Mike. And now we (probably) know the origin of your handle–Congrats on getting freed.

    I rented one of these in Boston last year and really enjoyed it. My company car is a misery-inducing Equibox, so driving one of these (even with AT) for a week was pretty fun.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    FreedMike,
    Fantastic writing. Thanks for a great read with a real story, right to the end.

    I have a similar story on how I ended up with what could be considered a unattractive pickup, when I started out looking at LR Discoveries and Landcruiser wagons.

    Again thanks.

  • avatar
    manny_c44

    I am selling my 2014 Jetta TDI back to VW this Wednesday, but when I bought it I was planning on keeping it for the long haul– simply a fine car to drive. It is really ‘just enough’ German driving experience without getting excessively expensive with the luxury brands, I imagine the new base 1.4T has a similar feel.

    …that being said I replaced the Jetta with an Audi A3 and that is a sweet little machine, 5.4 seconds to sixty and AWD grip everywhere.

  • avatar
    EAF

    FreedMike – I very much enjoyed your writing! While I don’t like your purchase (yukk) I wish you the best of luck with both your 1.4t and your new found freedom.

    Not that it matters on a lease, but I think service position may not be necessary on this one.

    P.S. I the girls at the Honda dealership by me are gorgeous!

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “Once inside, you find the excellent, firm, supportive seats from the Golf. There’s no digital instrumentation here — just a tach, speedometer, and an information center between them. Still, those instruments are clear and eminently readable, and they don’t wash out in sunlight like the digital ones do on the Mazda 3. The seating position is somewhat high with some of the best seat backs in the class, and the Jetta’s controls are all intuitive and easy to use — unlike the Civic or Mazda, which require a learning curve to master all the various high-tech control. It’s a direct, no-bullshit driver interface.

    The S model I bought doesn’t come with advanced app integration (you have to step up to the SE model for that), but it does have a useful, simple, hands-free Bluetooth interface for your phone and music. All the must-haves — air, cruise control, power windows and locks, etc. — are here, too. Oh, and trunk space is plentiful.”

    You’ve just pretty much described the 2013-2015 Acura ILX 2.4, which is a Civic Si in adult clothes. Still the Si motor, still a 6 speed manual, but only one trim level with just the interior you describe. The instrument panel is tach, speedo, and a small info panel in between. No app integration, no GPS, just good stereo w/XM radio and basic bluetooth. Simple. Climate control–simple.

    A true no BS interior.

    Oh, and leather seats.

    And 30mpg city, all day long–unless you choose to wind it out all the time. But in the city, in daily driving, torquey enough to get ‘er up to 6th and stay there. Highway–that’s 35mpg at 75-80mph. Hell, I’ve seen 40 in slower highway traffic.

    BTW, you should have been looking at used cars, not new.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I don’t know what gets less love – Jettas or the ILX. It’s definitely a race.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        The problem with the ILX is that American Honda thought they could print money by taking a base Civic, low end motor and suspension and everything, and do nothing but tart up the interior a bit. (Actually, they de-uglified it more than anything else.)

        I would argue that the ONLY ILX worth having in those years was the 2.4. But with the manual trans, the market was very small. Tiny, no doubt.

        So they launched the ILX very very badly. After three model years they fixed things up a bit and made the current model be one engine/trans combination–the Si motor with auto trans. Then they added trim levels around that.

        But it was too late, I think. ILX got a deserved bad reputation out of the gate, and those are hard to counter. Had they spent the money to launch it in the 2016 configuration, they would have been in a MUCH better spot.

        Such is life. Some numbnuts marketing guy at American Honda was heavily influenced by the beancounters, and let that initial cheap-feeling, cheap-riding, it’s-just-a damn-Civic-for-$30K ILX configuration out in the wild. I hope he’s not with the company anymore.

        Anyway, if you’re looking for that jewel in the bucket of ice and are looking in this market space, take a look at the 2013-2015 ILX 2.4.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Yeah, I think Honda tried the same thing with the ILX that Nissan did with the Infiniti G20 – gussy up what began as, basically, a compact sedan, and sell it for near-luxury money.

          It wasn’t the first time Acura did that, though…the old Integra/RSX was heavily based on the Civic. So maybe they figured they’d give it another shot. It worked back in the ’90s, right?

          Problem is, these aren’t the ’90s anymore.

          • 0 avatar
            jalop1991

            yeah, well, Honda’s not Honda anymore. At least not in the US.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I dunno, I’d say the new Civic very much a great Honda.

            If the deal with VW hadn’t gone my way, I’d have been at the Honda dealer 30 minutes later picking up a base LX, in red. It’s a very, very good car. I’d recommend it fully, assuming you like the styling (I do, but I’d see where others wouldn’t).

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          I think the original ILX (the regular one, not the hybrid nor the sporty one) had a stroked version of the contemporary Civic’s engine, so it had a smidgen more oomph. I’m just being That Guy, though; I don’t disagree with your point.

          It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a second-gen ILX, given that GM apparently decided it wasn’t worth it to continue a US analog to the Chinese Verano and Astra K.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    What a great review. I hope she serves you well over the next 3 years!

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Awesome write-up Mike, I was reading along and nodding the whole time, as your descriptions of the car mirror my own experiences with a rental Jetta SE last year. I will add to the Jetta list of strengths a very “bombproof” feeling suspension, it handled the worst of Indy’s inner city pavement with aplomb. Much less fragile feeling than many other compacts. I also got fantastic mileage with my rental, an indicated 41+ in highway driving with some sections of 80+mph driving. The one notable downside was a disconcertingly lumpy idle when warming it up in cold weather.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Nice review.

    I test drove a 2014 GLI when they were new and noticed some of the same things.

    Like you pointed out, the door hinges have a little resistance to them that makes the door feel more substantial. They won’t slam shut if you open them up while parked on a hill, or on a windy day, I love that. They also have a very solid feeling thunk when you close them. Like a 1992 Camry (not a 2014).

    The ride and handling were top notch too, really solid feeling, like a tank.

    Just overall solid, quiet, refined. It feels overbuilt.

    Which is why it kills me that VW can’t get their $hit together as far as reliability and ownership costs.

    I ended up with a 2014 Camry V6, but I still think about the GLI.

  • avatar
    galloping_gael

    Nice article. The Jetta can be a solid deal. VW was rolling these with no money down and $199/month when it was clearing out the 2016s in the summer. My daughter’s is brown with automatic. It’s a lot of car for the money…

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Excellent article Mike – entertaining reading. I had a 2016 Jetta recently as a service loaner while having my MkVII GTI in for service (regular maintenance only). The Jetta is no Golf/GTI but it was a solid drive with the the same underlying German philosophy about cars. Your comments are spot on. Good luck with your car; through two GTIs and 200,000 miles VW’s poor reputation for reliability hasn’t found me.

  • avatar
    Von

    A car review combined with the dealership “experience”, what more can you ask for.

    Seriously though, great piece Mike, glad to see you contributing to TTAC. The review is very detailed and honest, better than pretty much anyone except Alex’s videos. Combined with the back story and solid writing, I hope to see more in the future. Maybe periodic reports on the Jetta in the future?

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      That’s an excellent idea. Maybe a one year follow up, and when the lease is up, a “final thoughts” or “would I do it again” type article would be great.

      I thought we were going to be given regular updates on Mark S’s Fiesta EcoBoost I-3.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Sure, if Mark’s OK I can check in from time to time.

      Ronnie Schreiber did that with his Fit before he totaled it out.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The base Jetta is a lot better than it used to be. You now get an entry-level touch screen, the better 1.4T (which had already been around in the Jetta Hybrid), and color-keyed mirror skullcaps with indicators. And, yes, there’s now the miltilink rear suspension. It doesn’t feel like such a penalty box anymore. It seems more no-nonsense. And I like that.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I did too, so I bought it. :)

      No turn signal indicators on the mirrors for the base model, though…unless someone at the plant forgot to turn mine on.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I see what they did on the mirrors. It used to be that S and lower-tier SE trims got black plastic mirrors with no indicators. Upgrading to the SE with Connectivity (I believe) got you color-keyed mirrors with indicators. Now the base mirrors are at least color-keyed, although they still don’t include indicators. Which is fine.

        Two other glaring deficiencies on previous editions of the lower-trim Jettas were the cheap steering wheel with no buttons on it whatsoever (ridiculous in this day and age), and the lowline MFD display. Now you at least get the midline MFD display (full-height, but still fixed-pixel) and a nice steering wheel with convenience buttons.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          The mirrors are heated, though, which is a very, very handy feature here in Denver.

          I do wish my base model had the upgraded infotainment system, though. The Bluetooth on mine works well, but I’d love to be able to control more from the touchscreen.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    Use the steelies for snows. Go to Craigslist and get some nice alloys if you really need them.
    .

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Ye gods and little fishes! After a few errant initial comments, the comment section actually talked about cars. Nice of those who came to defend Mike. Nice article Mike about how it goes in the real world.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I see that you’re catching some grief for the sales gal, but it sounds as if the manual transmission made all of the difference.

    Automatics and CVTs suck the life out of smaller engines. A car that can be underwhelming with a slush box can be transformed simply by replacing it with a stick.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Funny thing is, the first person who read this was my girlfriend, and she laughed about it. She knows me too well…and she knows I wouldn’t go there. Thank God, she likes men. She knows we’re silly creatures.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      Visited the VW dealership on a Sunday – when they were closed – about 4 years ago. Although I wasn’t in need of a new car, I wanted to see what they had that I might like. A good deal for the money, or rather a value proposition, was what I was looking for. While I’ve liked the Passat CC since they first came out, they all seemed to be out of my price range. As far as a new car goes. So, the main car that caught my eye and appealed to me was a base model Jetta, in brown with a manual transmission. I think it was marked down about 4K off of MSRP. Sounded like a possibility, but I never went back for a test drive. If there had been an attractive young female salesperson around, I’m sure I’d have asked her about the possibility of a test drive. Hey, I’m talking about the car people, let’s keep this clean!

      Oh, and that is the closest VW dealership to me, about 27 miles and a 45 minute drive away. Just a little too far for any maintenance or reliability issues that might come up. That was the real reason I didn’t follow up on something I thought I might like. And that I’ve read about other peoples’ horror stories in regards to VW ownership. Have never had any reliability issues with any of my Mopars over the years.

  • avatar
    Raevox

    Great write-up. You almost had me convinced to change my mind from picking up a 2017 Elantra Value-Edition.

    Almost. :)

    I was looking at retired loaner 2015 Jetta SE models with 25-30k miles on them for anywhere form $13-15k. But I ultimately couldn’t stomach the idea of having a car note, right now, and still having to save up for possible repairs. I had a 2004 GL that broke a lot, and it never even made it past 60k miles in my possession.

    I test drove one. I was impressed by how quick and strong the “standard” 1.8T is, and the 6 speed auto was very responsive, even and especially in Sport mode.

    But ultimately, I decided to buy brand new. Partly in an effort to repair my credit. And partly because for only a couple grand more, I get a commuter that’s more economical, cheaper to run, much more content, competent-enough road manners despite the beam axle in back, and just about as roomy. Plus Hyundai’s warranty helps keep my 3-5 year running costs for our vehicles relatively predictable while we save for a condo (my husband bought a 2016 Fiesta last April).

    I already have an E36 328i that I am keeping, so I don’t have a requirement that my daily driver be sporty.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I wouldn’t talk you out of an Elantra – it’s a likeable car. I drove a SE, which had a six-speed automatic. Main thing I remember was the infotainment system, which was terrific.

      One problem: if you want a manual, it’s the strippo version, with no cruise control, and no Bluetooth.

      • 0 avatar
        Raevox

        The Jetta was much more entertaining to drive. I appreciated the roominess and the trunk space, and it really was a contender.

        The thing about the Elantra is that it isn’t fast, but, it’s SO much smoother than the old 1.8 and SO much smoother than their more powerful GDI 2.0 (mostly found in KIAs). Between it, and a Forte EX with the GDI, I would have chosen the new 2.0 based on overall drivetrain smoothness. To me, the extra 25hp wasn’t worth a 5 MPG+ hit in gas mileage, either.

        But I agree, their packaging sucks. Everything based on trim level with few a la carte options, like Honda does. Though now you can get the stick with a decently equipped Elantra Sport, and you can option it up with the Tech Package.

        Unfortunately as much as I want the Elantra Sport (it’s getting great reviews), Bay Area traffic nixes the manual option, and I don’t trust a dry clutch DCT in stop and go/creep traffic.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I’d have loved to try an Elantra Sport, but it was out of my price range. And +1 on the new 2.0 model being an improvement. ***Very much*** so.

          Did you end up buying an Elantra? If so, I’d be interested in how the dealer experience was. Mine was awful, to be frank.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    My first car was an 85 mkII Jetta. I am sure they have gotten better but that car scarred me in a manner that a Vega buyer must’ve felt years before. And like many buyers of Vegas and other miserable malaise mobiles, I won’t touch a VW to this day.

  • avatar
    tedward

    In other news the tunes have arrived for this engine.

    https://www.getunitronic.com/news/unitronic-performance-software-for-14-tsi

    225lb/ft and 180hp on the 93 octane map. Currently, every available vw is now able to at least hang with a gti with a little software love.

    Just an idea…do 2 years of updates on your lease then tune it for the last one. This was a great write up, a good review, and it brought out the best in the comments section. We needed that frankly.

    I really appreciate your honesty and the personal sharing in the article. I’m going to holler “freedmike!” at every red jetta S I see the next time I visit Denver however.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      “This was a great write up, a good review, and it brought out the best in the comments section. We needed that frankly.”

      YES, so much yes. Articles and conversation like this are the reasons I love this site and keep coming back.

      Sparing over politics is getting SO old and tired. None of us will convince the others to abandon their beliefs and ideologies, and its futile to try.

      All it does is turn friends into enemys, raise our collective blood pressure/stress and anxiety levels, and tarnish an otherwise great website and great writers/commenters.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I don’t mind “sparring over politics.”

        I do mind people quoting ideas straight out of “Mein Kampf,” and other people slapping them on the back and wanting to buy them a drink. Do that, and this Jew will get right up in your face. Every. Single. Time. Zero Exceptions.

        (Lookin’ at you, h8terade and Whiskey, unless you’ve already skulked away…)

        I also don’t like calling people “Nazi” because they voted for Trump. There are undoubtedly a great number of real, honest-to-goodness bigots who did, but then again, the same can be said of any candidate in any election. I don’t use that term unless I see actual goose stepping going on, and yeah, I know it when I see it. I got in a rather spirited discussion with PCH about that one.

        I also don’t like being disrespected personally because of what party I belong to. There’s polite disagreement, and then there’s “you’re a cuck,” or “liberalism is a mental disorder,” or some such nonsense. If I argue with someone’s politics, I try to make it about the ideas, not them personally…unless they make it personal about me.

        I’ve stated this any number of times, but this site should have an “ignore” button. Do that, and the folks who come on here looking to just get their five minutes’ of attention from trolling will eventually move on.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          I regret engaging Whiskey above and adding politics to your excellent review, Mike, sorry about that.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            It’s not avoidable around here, 30. No biggie.You probably recall that h8terade comment about the “jew communist conspiracy,” and Whiskey went on to offer him a hearty compliment. I called him on it in a MAJOR way. Now, he could have said, “you know, you’re right, that was over the line. Sorry, I didn’t read that carefully enough.” Instead, he said he was laughing at me getting mad. It just devolved from there.

            I regret it too, but you know what? I’m Zero Tolerance for folks who spout lines out of Mein Kampf, or the folks who say “cheers” to them. That’s a long way beyond the usual “well, you’re dumb because you’re from this party or that” silliness.

            Ah well, some people don’t like being called on their s**t.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        Mike, you’re smart enough to realize that not everyone who leans right is a bigot neoNazi a§§hole. And I realize that not everyone who leans left is a communist baby-killing a§§hole.

        I agree. The trolling makes it a problem, whereas a civil conversation is more likely without purposely inflammatory remarks from either side, VoGo and h8erade being prime examples.

        I’m only saying I wish all comment sections could be more like this than what has become more typical as of late. I’d much rather talk about the virtues of the Nissan Versa than about Trump or Clinton or Obama or anyone else like them.

        Its not TTAC’s fault. Politics and the automobile industry are interwoven and you can’t avoid it. Government policy has a direct effect on the industry, ignoring that would be stupid. Its not the Mark’s fault that some feel the need to provoke and stir the pot for fun.

        I’ve made it clear that I am not a fan of Trump. But, I do not believe he’s the second coming of Hitler. As you said, in ANY election, a group of undesirables may support one particular candidate, that DOES NOT mean that candidate necessarily supports them.

        You get it. I get it. Its a shame when people are obtuse about it and try to make it appear that one MUST mean the other.

        If NAMBLA supported Hillary, does that mean she supports pedophiles? Of course not. Same goes for antisemitic (or any hate) groups and Republicans, to include Trump.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    I liked the Jetta S manual even when it had the 2.0. Almost bought one but the VW quality rep gave me the creeps. I bought a Lancer (manual) instead (for way less money). The interior is pretty cheap and the shifter isn’t as nice as the Jetta’s, but the car is solid and enjoyable (to me anyway).

    Here’s to basic cheap manuals! They yet live! And best of luck to you FreedMike.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think Lancers were actually underrated…five or six years ago. Then Mitsubishi refused to do anything to update them for what felt like 14 years. I checked one out on a lark last fall, and it was WAY behind the current offerings. Shame.

  • avatar
    syncro87

    We’ve owned a Jetta 1.4TSI manual, a Jetta 1.8TSI manual, and a Golf Sportwagen S manual.

    Some thoughts for anyone curious…

    The seats are not the same. The Golf (s-wag at least) has different seats than the Jettas. This is not to say that the seats are poor in the Jetta, but they are different. The Jetta’s are pretty good, those in the Golf a touch better.

    Both Jettas got 15% better MPG than the Golf on the same route. The 1.8T Jetta pretty much matched the 1.4 car. 40+ on the highway was totally doable with the Jettas. I drive the same route consistently, and found that the 1.4TSI engine only delivered 1 mpg more than the 1.8 engine. The 1.8 felt a lot stronger pulling up a highway entrance ramp, etc. Again, the 1.4 is not sluggish, but it feels “thinner” or like is has a less deep bench to work with than the slightly larger engine. I probably would have been a bigger fan of the 1.4 if I hadn’t owned the same car in 1.8 guise.

    The 1.8TSI Jetta was a significantly better car than the 1.4-powered version. The numbers for both engines are fairly similar on paper, but IRL, the 1.8 car was superior. The power band of the 1.4 feels a lot narrower, the car runs out of breath more quickly when accelerating hard. The 1.4 was a noisier and more “gruff” sounding power plant. The 1.4 is certainly worthwhile, makes decent power, makes the car feel quick compared to most econo cars in the cheap car price range. But given my druthers, I’ll take the 1.8 all day long and twice on Sunday.

    (Side note: The old 2.0 non turbo Jetta MK6 was a total dog. I drove it in auto and manual formats and was blown away by what a pile of excrement it was…and I’m a long time VW fan and owner who loved his 1998 Golf K2 with the 2.slow.)

    Some have opined that the Jetta has been somewhat unfairly beaten down in reviews. This is correct in my opinion. The 2011 car was pretty bad, but VW surely and steadily improved the car substantially over time. The pinnacle was 2015. You could get a 1.8TSI manual car in SE trim for cheap. The current 1.4 S and SE cars are 90% as good as that 2015 model, and cheaper, so still a good budget buy.

    Clutch/trans: The clutch action on the Golf was inferior to that of the Jettas. Driving stick shift is very easy and natural on the latter. The Golfs have a weirdness there that is hard to pinpoint. I don’t know if the engine mounts are too soft, or the clutch engagement point is off…something. When driving our Golf, I felt a bit like I’d never driven stick before. Never an issue with the Jettas. There is drive train lash or something on the Golf that is irritating, that for some inexplicable reason does not exist on the Jettas.

    Criticism of the 5 speed: overblown. The car is fine with 5 gears. The gears are spaced pretty well, and include a nice, tall highway cruiser 5th for the flatland and excellent MPG. I rarely, if ever, felt the need for a 6th gear. The torquey nature of the turbo engines makes it a non issue, really. The 1.4 feels a bit like a diesel. Nice torque, not much lag, pulls a pay grade above it’s weight. Relatively narrow power band, though, and runs out of steam quickly above 3500 rpm.

    Interior. The Jetta’s door panels are so cheap it is painful. If you look at the plastic closely, you can see swirls in the plastic from something in the molding process or how they mix the color into the plastic. This was visible on both our Jettas (black interiors). VW could transform the Jetta by spending $20 on better door panels. It is really a shame that something this small really defines the car as chintzy.

    Stereo. VW fits some Jettas with 6 speaker systems, and some with 4. The 4 speaker setup is pretty awful. It is about equivalent to the stereo in our 2014 Civic EX, which is also crap. I swapped out the speakers on our 1.4 Jetta SE with some from Soumatrix. It was about a 10% improvement, marginally worth the cost and effort. The SE stereo in the 2014 and 2015 Jettas sounded a lot better than the 2016 4 speaker system. This is a cheap car, so this is possibly excusable to many people. The Golf wagen had a stereo even in base S manual trim that blew the doors off any of the Jetta systems.

    My main beefs with our Jetta 1.4 TSI were two fold. The center console and dash developed a creaky snap crackle popping rice krispies quality about 700 miles in. No amount of attempts to quell the creaking were effective. Worse in cold weather, but there in all seasons. Hit a bump, and snappy creaky goodness from the shifter area and center dash vents. Hugely annoying. Our 40k mile Civic has 5x less squeaks, creaks, and pops from the interior plastic as the Jetta.

    Beef #2 is a weird drone or resonance on the highway. This comes and goes in an cycle. 70 mph: hummmmmmMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmMMMMMM every 10 or 15 seconds. The 1.8 car did not do this at all. It is something with the 1.4. My wife couldn’t care less but moderately annoying to me. The drone is like a very faint version of flying in a prop plane. 95% of people would probably ignore it.

    Oh, one last VW wide beef. The last three new VWs we bought all had drunk people working at the tire plant and at the wheel balancing station in the VW factory. They all had vibration issues at highway speed. One car (Jetta 1.8), I was able to have the tires replaced and this problem was solved. Second car (Golfwag) this was never resolved. Jetta 1.4, VW tried to claim that wheel balance was a non warranty adjustment and my problem (less than a thousand miles on car). Fortunately, my dealer agreed to foot the bill for a road force balance that solved the problem. They only did this because I had not yet filled out their precious “all fives!” satisfaction survey to corporate. The B-stone Ecopia Plus tires are rocks, amplify road impacts, and are tough to balance. Poor wet traction. Total FE specials.

    Jetta pros: The suspension is quite good for an econo car on the Jettas. Electric steering is implemented better than most. Rear seat room is very good, and far better than, say, a Mazda3. MPG is great. The 5 speed manual has nice, tall ratios unlike the crap in most Asian econo cars.

    All in all, the Jetta is a decent value if you buy it in base trim. Resale is pitiful these days, so the less you spend up front, the better. If you’re a long time horizon buyer, resale is a minor concern if any. Also a non issue if you lease.

    Our Civic EX-T is a -lot- better all around car than the Jettas, but it cost $5-6k more money. For the price, the Jetta’s flaws are pretty easy to live with. The engine/trans really put lipstick on the pig so to speak. At $20-21k, you’re far better off with a turbo Civic. At $15-16k, the Jetta starts looking really good. There is definitely a case to be made to save the $5k and get a Jetta over the Honda. If you can spare the payment difference, the Civic is the way to go. You’ll probably recoup the extra up front money when you sell it (lease, non issue). But if money saved today is paramount, go Jetta, S trim, manual.

    By the way, FreedMike, nice color. I’m too lazy to own dark cars, since I have clean car OCD. I’d be out there daily wiping it down due to my compulsions, so I stick with white or silver. But that red is really a sharp color and a great choice. Far more interesting than my blandmobile colors. Good luck with the car. You could have done a lot worse for the price.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      “The clutch action on the Golf was inferior to that of the Jettas. Driving stick shift is very easy and natural on the latter. The Golfs have a weirdness there that is hard to pinpoint. I don’t know if the engine mounts are too soft, or the clutch engagement point is off…something. When driving our Golf, I felt a bit like I’d never driven stick before. Never an issue with the Jettas. There is drive train lash or something on the Golf that is irritating, that for some inexplicable reason does not exist on the Jettas.”

      That might be a quirk of your specific car. Have you seen it in other Golfs?

      I have a 94 Suzuki Sidekick that always made me look like a newbie with concrete feet when I drove it. I could never quite get the clutch engagement smooth. But I’ve driven multiple other examples with the exact same drivetrain, and never had an issue. And it persisted through a clutch replacement. Maybe just an accumulation of tolerences in the wrong way for mine.

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        I am not sure about said Jetta or your Suzuki, but the Golf does have a clutch delay valve (CDV) installed from the factory. It can be bypassed or modified to remove the hydraulic restriction.

        In my experience, whenever shifting felt odd (E34/E36), the culprit has always been the CDV. I’ve only found this device on German cars personally.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve65

          “clutch delay valve (CDV)”

          I’ve never heard of such a thing, and now that I have: that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve heard of yet. Right up there with dual-mass flywheels solving a problem that doesn’t really exist, while tripling the cost of a clutch replacement.

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Nope– It’s on the Dart, too. I don’t love it, but I do love having a warranty :D

      • 0 avatar
        syncro87

        I also noticed the weird clutch on a Golf hatch I drove. There is some kind of driveline lash or soft engine mounts or something in the Golf that doesn’t exist on the Jetta. You can hop in the Jetta and feel like you’ve driven stick your whole life. The Golf, you get this weird lashy rubber vagueness that makes it hard to get acclimated to. Driving in a parking lot in first gear, for instance. Jetta, no problem. Golf, you get this odd lash or drive line play. Hard to describe. My dad had a Sidekick, not like that. More like my old Contour SVT. That car had the same lashy or vague clutch / driveline slop weirdness. I can’t articulate it better than that.

        I had a manual 2009 Elantra that had the clutch delay valve thingy. I removed it. It improved the car. The Golf does not feel like the Elantra did with the valve installed. I don’t know what causes the Golf’s behavior. I do know that I’ve driven VWs, manual, my whole life in all “Mark” variations 1-7. The current Golf is the only car I’ve experienced the poor clutch/throttle/shift interplay thing in. Was awkward to drive in city traffic (manual Golf). Jetta, a breeze.

        Black Forest Industries noticed the weird clutch engagement on one of the project cars they had. Their opinion was that it was overly soft engine mounts. Who knows how true this is, or whether they were just trying to sell their own stiffer mounts. But I found it interesting that they mentioned the same odd behavior that I did.

        The Contour reference is the best I can come up with in my experience. That car was hard to drive well from a stop, the engagement felt weird and made me feel like a stick shift newb every time I drove it. Golf = similar. For whatever reason, the Jetta is totally devoid of this weirdness. Feels very natural where the Golf feels synthetic. I wish I could articulate it better.

        Someone smarter than me needs to drive a Golf (non GTI) and Jetta, both manual, in some city traffic and report back on whether they notice a distinct difference in the clutches or clutch engagement feel.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Agreed on the Golf manual making you feel like a manual transmission newb. When I tried it after owning a MkV Jetta wagon for 5 years at that point, the odd clutch takeup on the new Golf was very evident. The MkV had a predictable, progressive engagement point about midway along the pedal travel that made it very easy to be smooth. The new Golf engaged abruptly much closer to the floor and made it very easy to buck and over-rev.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Interesting, Syncro, I sat in both the Golf and Jetta and noticed no difference in the seating. They both felt exactly the same to me.

      Maybe you’re comparing one with the fake leather to the cloth?

      Or maybe my back is just less intuitive?

      Also, concur with the dash squeak. Yep, mine has it too. Did the dealer ever tell you what the problem was?

      And also +1 on the manual Golf. I actually preferred the automatic. And the automatic on the Jetta wasn’t bad either. But the Jetta’s manual is first rate in this class, for sure.

      • 0 avatar
        syncro87

        Yep, FreedMike, the Golf is the rare case where I actually prefer the auto to the manual. Jetta, the other way around. People like to praise the holy grail that is the MQB Golf, but as far as shift/clutch feel, the old Jetta wins.

        The seats in the Jetta are not bad at all in my opinion. The Golf’s felt 10% more bolstered to me, but by no means are the Jetta’s bad. I’ve owned the leatherette and cloth seat Jettas. I much prefer the cloth. It is tough, wears well. The people that say the leatherette is like leather are nuts IMHO. The black stuff is hotter than hades in summer, sticky, and doesn’t breathe. In winter it is hard as a rock and cold. The seat heaters do work well in the Jetta, though. There have been a number of reports on Vortex and other forums of the leatherette cracking prematurely. It would take a lot for me to go that route again. Cloth all the way. Leatherette in the Jetta and Golf feels like good quality vinyl.

        The dealer never came up with anything on my dash and console rattles. I did try some things on my own with varying levels of success. You can buy some dry Teflon spray for RV sliders and such. I sprayed some of that stuff in the various crevices, which would help for a while. Also, I took the shift boot off and put some really thin adhesive teflon strips I found on Amazon on some contact points. Also some little felt tape I found online. These measures would quell the demons for a while, but the creaking always came back.

        If you feel in the gap between the center console and where it meets the dash, you can feel play in there when you’re driving. The console moves slightly in relation to the dash. I think this is where some squeak comes from. I shoved a business card in there one day and it helped. Some felt tape in this area helps. Most of my noise came from the shifter area, and taking that boot off and lubing stuff in there helped.

        My car also had a creak from behind the head unit I could never get resolved.

        I will admit that I am a real stickler for rattles and squeaks. They drive me nuts. Most people are probably not as anal about this kind of thing as I am. It’s my personal hang up. One of the reasons I traded the Jetta when the chance came along to get out of it without getting destroyed was the incessant creaky dash. It ruined the car for me in large part. I traded the Jetta in when my wife got a new car, and I inherited her old car, a 2014 Civic. She got a ’16 Civic turbo.

        The Jetta was light years punchier than my old style Civic is. The VW engine is far superior to that in the Honda. But the Honda with 40k miles on it is tight as a drum and has no weird cyclic resonance on the highway. If you could get a car built by Honda with a VW engine and transmission, you’d have the ideal car. I miss the VW in certain ways, but the Honda gives the impression of a car that will last, where the Jetta felt cheap inside and rattled like my 150k mile ’93 GMC Sierra. In VW’s defense, the MK6 1.8T manual Jetta I had from a couple years earlier was much tighter, did not rattle, and had better assembly quality. This seems to be the issue, as a long time VW owner. It is spotty, hit or miss with VW. You get a good one or you don’t. Honda in my experience is a lot more consistent quality wise.

        One more observation that I forgot to make in my original post. The 1.8T manual Jetta I had seemed quieter and more substantial than the 1.4T car. It felt “heavier” on the road. Something changed with the 1.4T cars. Maybe minor spring rate changes due to weight differences in the engine bay. The 1.4 car sounded more gruff and coarse, whereas the 1.8 car had less engine noise and sounded more refined when pushed. I’m probably splitting hairs here, but it was noticeable, having owned both cars that were identical aside from engine.

        All in all, though, you have to keep the $16k price point in mind. Not much you can get, new, for that budget. It is easy to get side tracked and start comparing the Jetta to a new style Civic turbo, which is far superior in my experience. BUT…if you force yourself to shop at that mid-teens price point, the Jetta starts to look really good. You cannot buy a Civic EX-T for $16-17k new. The VW drives generally like a more expensive car than $16k (what you can really buy one for). For sixteen grand, you get a car with some warts, but by and large you also get a lot for your money where it counts. You get a very good engine that provides a really good compromise between power and MPG. The steering feel is better than average in class. The suspension balance between ride and handling is better than average in class. Interior room is good, and back seat room excels if you have kids…a clear win versus, say, a Mazda3 or Focus. The Jetta drives a lot better than a Sentra for example. The trunk is big. Visibility out of the car is good, as VW has yet to cave in to the ridiculously high belt line syndrome.

        Jack Baruth did a write up of a rental Jetta SE on TTAC a while back, and owning the same car at the time in manual form, I thought his impressions were pretty much accurate.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    This is a great looking car – the simple, elegant lines will age well. Nice color.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      This may be the best color for this car. I agree it looks really good.

      I’d spec out an S trim, manual Jetta and add the insanely cheap alloy wheel package. The stock hub caps are not that bad for base caps, but the alloys are only something like $300 from the factory.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Audi & VW do gauges best.

      I’m often, repeatedly seduced by VW, as I’ve been with the new Golf that is essentially an Audi (same architecture), and SOLID, substantial-feeling, space efficient, conservatively (i.e. mature) styled exterior compact vehicles like the Golf & Jetta have always appealed to me, and I don’t want every option on my vehicles – BUT – VW’s reliability issues AND cost to repair (out of warranty, when full price of zee German branded parts hits full bore) scare the living sh*t out of me.

      Jack did a really, really good review of the MKV Jetta with the 2.5 liter 5 cylinder that’s a must read (as he compared it to and differentiates it from all the other Japanese, American and Korean compacts):

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/bye-bye-miss-emm-kay-five/

  • avatar
    mechaman

    Volkswagen makes a Corolla …

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      Yeah, but with an engine that actually adds a bit of interest to the car. The Jetta feels light years spunkier than a Corolla. I’ve driven a current style base Corolla with a stick shift, and there is no comparison. The Toyota also has probably the worst EPS I’ve ever experienced outside of a Hyundai of ten years ago.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    As somebody who owns a VW (’72 Super Beetle) I would not touch anything watercooled VW ever made. I’ve been in enough Jettas and Golfs to realize that I’d rather drive a Hyundai or bicycle than have one of these. Maybe newer cars are somewhat better but knowing VW “engineering” I’m still not even going to consider it. But then again I find vast majority of modern German cars to be overcomplicated, overpriced trash so perhaps my opinion is a bit biased. I’ll stick to Subarus.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Love that Cardinal Red colour. It’s very similar to the Tornado red on my wife’s old 2000 Jetta TDI. They also have Opera red on the Passat. Not sure why they won’t offer a Golf in anything but the current crazy bright Tornado red.

    My wife loves her 2014 Jetta SE, which is very base. She wanted the SE because it had a radio with actual buttons instead of the touch screen. But it does have heated seats, A/C and an automatic, which is good enough for her. I always get a big grin when I drive it, that TSI is a fun engine.

  • avatar

    Great writeup Mike, I enjoyed reading it.

    Sorry to hear about your divorce man, but take it from me, it gets better.

    Car-wise, I’m kind of the the same boat as you…I want something cheap, practical, and fun to drive. I really don’t want a sedan, but I rather enjoyed the rental Jetta that I had in August. The engine had more low-end power than I had expected. Granted, the VW has its quirks, but I feel like I can get accustomed to them in time.

    Also, last weekend I drove a Beetle S. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the Jetta. I’ll need to take a look at the Golf next.

    I hope that your Jetta works out for you.

  • avatar
    jvossman

    I got through about 100 comments then gave up. What was the lease finally at? $199? Lower? Thx
    jv

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’m still enamored with the Golf TSI rental I had a while back. VW somehow figured out a way to combine the solidity of a W123 with the assertive surge of a jet during takeoff. Such an effortless and relaxing drive, while still being responsive and precise. I would still like something with more bite, but man that thing had me hooked.

    I couldn’t get something like this with a manual though.

  • avatar

    Got my wife one last January (Sport). She liked hers so much I wound up getting myself the exact car you have – an S in manual. It has everything I want and nothing I don’t want – and is cheap enough to allow me to play with my other toys and not feel guilty.

  • avatar
    5280thinair

    I’m a few days late seeing the article, but wanted to say thanks to Mike for taking the time to write it. Articles like this, where we find out why someone decided to spend their own money on a particular vehicle, are really useful. More like this, please.

    I’ve also mostly overlooked the current Jetta in my current car search, partly due to the very bland looks and partly because the interior felt like a real step down from my 2010 Jetta TDI (now forlornly sitting in one of VW’s massive buy-back lots.). I have wanted to test drive a Jetta GLI but unfortunately my local VW dealer is worthless.

    For those claiming one would have to be an idiot to buy a VW, well, they do have a feel to them that really appeals to some people (me included). Yes you’re rolling the dice on reliability compared to a Toyota, but for some the difference in driving dynamics is worth it. Including me, 4 out of 5 people I know who’ve purchased new VWs in the past 15 years have had great ownership experiences. Of course, #5 had enough trouble to make up for the rest of us (mk 4 TDI that blew its turbo three times in 120k miles, among other issues.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      I’ve owned a lot of VWs, and I’ve never had a major catastrophic deal-breaker of a failure. One of my close friends did when his DSG bit the dust a human hair out of warranty to the tune of over four grand.

      For me, it was always the niggly little things. Cars that pulled slightly to one side or another and could never be aligned quite right. Poor wheel balance (numerous VWs) that could never quite be eradicated. Rattly dashes. Doors that weren’t quite aligned properly from new. Driveline vibrations, shimmy, etc. When the issues arose, the dealers have been universally uninterested in addressing them. VW service departments have a weird knack for blaming you for doing something wrong, not the car failing.

      The Japanese-branded cars I’ve had have definitely been less hassle to own. They just work, and work properly for the most part. They have been pretty consistent. The Volkswagens…I feel like I’m about 50% likely to get a good one, and 50% likely to get one that wasn’t quite screwed together 100%.

      If you’re willing to deal with relatively minor but somewhat annoying issues in trade for a torquey and fuel efficient engine, a VW is often a decent choice (Golf, Jetta, Passat). If you want a device that just works, holds value better but is somewhat less satisfying to drive, go Toyota or Honda.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Nice write-up, FreedMike. I’ve driven a manual TDI of the same generation and it seemed fine other than the traction control that apparently can’t be turned off; at least that’s what my buddy said, though it seems too ridiculous to be true.

    I actually like the conservative styling on a practical vehicle like this. A car has to be pretty impressive for me to want it to stand out. You can’t fake what a vehicle is by making it flashy. That just makes any compromises more obvious.

  • avatar
    tomrubin

    I didn’t see anyone post this about your 2017 Jetta S, so forgive me if I missed it. When I bought mine the one thing that it had that I hated were the wheel covers. I shopped online and found awesome looking rims at discount tire’s website. Total cost of the rims was about $400.00 – so keep that in mind if the wheel covers turn you off. My car looks 1000 times better with rims.

  • avatar
    highlander2000

    Regards to the Jetta in this article…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh9ZZgDqzAg

    (also describes my first long-term relationship, she might have had plain-jane looks, but man could she offer up some good cookin’ and lovin’ most days of the week… “harlot’s heart” was right!)

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