2023 Volkswagen Jetta Review – Getting the Basics Right

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Fast Facts

2023 Volkswagen Jetta SE Fast Facts

1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (158 horsepower @ 5,500 RPM, 184 lb-ft @ 1,750 RPM)
Transmission/Drive Wheel Layout
Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Fuel Economy, MPG
29 city / 40 highway / 33 combined (EPA Rating)
Fuel Economy, L/100km
7.7 city / 5.7 highway / 6.8 combined (NRCan Rating)
Base Price
$24,385 (U.S.) / $28,775 (Canada)
As-Tested Price
$26,725 (U.S.) / $30,175 (Canada)
Prices include $1,095 destination charge in the United States and $1,950 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
2023 volkswagen jetta review getting the basics right

We love to salivate over sports cars around here. But sometimes, an automobile is truly unpretentious and does the basics well without any fluff.

That can be a very good thing – just ask us about the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta.

Not much changes for 2023 following a 2022 refresh of the Jetta – just some minor cosmetic touch-ups and the availability of a remote start for the SE trim I tested.

The SE is the second-highest trim in the lineup (we’re separating the sporty Jetta GLI here) but my test car felt a bit more Spartan than that. Not necessarily in a bad way – nothing felt cheap. It’s just that there’s not much extraneous fluff.

The standard-feature list is actually pretty comprehensive. Nothing luxurious, but stuff that you’d want for a daily driver. Seventeen-inch wheels, LED lights all around, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Bluetooth.

A sunroof and dark-painted wheels were the only options. The as-tested price seemed a bargain at $26K.

This car is more than just a decently equipped commuter. Its ride is agreeable, neither too soft nor stiff, and the handling, while not overtly sporty, is engaging enough to entertain. If you want true fun with Jetta duds, VW will happily sell you a GLI.

As is often the case with Volkswagens, the steering offers a weird mix. Sometimes it feels a bit too light, sometimes it feels appropriately heavy, but it almost always feels too artificial. It is, at least, precise and accurate.

The function-over-form theme continues to the interior. Another theme that features across most of the VW lineup involves the controls – they are easy to use and laid out in a simple, logical manner. Meanwhile, the cabin styling is blandly inoffensive.

Just like the exterior.

Back to driving dynamics – the 1.5-liter turbo four makes 158 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque and while it has decent punch down low, it seems to run out of steam a little in the upper range. It can be a little noisy and thrashy when pushed, too. Overall, it could use a few more beans. It pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

At least the promised fuel economy is on the high side – EPA numbers are 29/40/33.

Comfort is part of the appeal here – the cabin feels large and spacious, with room aplenty for larger adults. The trunk space is quite ample, too.

That’s the thing about the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta. It might be a tad on the boring side, and the performance of non-GLI models is a mixed bag, but as a daily driver, it just works. A roomy cabin, spacious trunk, agreeable ride, useful controls, good fuel economy, and a decent amount of features for $26 grand make for an appealing mix for those who focus more on needs as opposed to wants like high performance and coddling luxury.

We love sports cars and luxury cars around these parts. We’re enthusiasts, it makes sense. But sometimes you just need a car that will get you from point A to point B with no complications. Sometimes you can’t afford better performance or more luxury, so you do the best you can.

The Jetta strikes a nice balance – it’s affordable but still decently equipped, a tad boring but has a bit of a fun streak. In a world where the average transaction price of a new automobile is nearly $50K and additional dealer markups are all too common, it’s nice to know that value propositions still exist.

[Images: Volkswagen]

*Ed. note -- the 2022 model is shown here, VW has no press shots for the 2023, which is unchanged except for minor bits. I shot no pics of my own this time for reasons I don't recall.

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4 of 40 comments
  • Zerofoo Zerofoo on Aug 14, 2023

    Do VW owners still have to remove their intake manifolds every 50,000 miles and walnut blast their intake valves to remove carbon crud or has VW actually figured out how to make a direct injected engine that doesn't choke on its own PCV system?

  • Chiefmonkey Chiefmonkey on Aug 17, 2023

    This is a confounding vehicle. Either they are bulletproof or the most unreliable cars ever depending on who I ask. I really don't know who to believe...

    • See 1 previous
    • Chiefmonkey Chiefmonkey on Aug 18, 2023

      Kind of like Ford GM and Chrysler I guess😄

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.