2016 VW Jetta Review

Since VW can no longer sell a diesel-powered Jetta (or any other diesel-powered car) it looks like hybrids — and high cost — are in our future.

The TDI engine is gone — for good, it looks like.

The Feds have yet to rescind the rules prohibiting VW from selling any 2016 model VWs equipped with the high-mileage but Uncle-offending diesel engine. As it is now almost August — with fall (and the 2017 model year) not far distant — these brand-new 2016s are effectively used cars that VW would have to sell at a loss, even if Uncle ever allowed them to be sold.

Meanwhile, VW has officially thrown in the towel regarding future availability of diesels in its American-market cars: “We have to accept that the high percentage of diesels we had before will not come back again,” said Heinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America.

Really too bad.

And, now more expensive too.

The Jetta TDI — capable of 46 MPG — stickered for $21,640. Its nominal replacement — the Jetta hybrid — capable of 48 MPG — stickers for $31,120.

So, about 2 MPG “gain” for about $10,000.

Really stinks.

Luckily, there are other options, Jetta-wise. Including a new 1.4 liter gas turbo engine that comes close to the mileage the 2.0 liter turbodiesel delivered and at a price point that makes a lot more sense than the interesting but economically insane hybrid.

WHAT IT IS

The Jetta is VW’s almost mid-sized family sedan, one notch below the Passat.

It is not as large on the outside as mid-sized standard-bearers like the Toyota Camry but has about the same interior space as well as a very large trunk (just as large as the Camry’s actually).

The Jetta also has more interior space than a same-size (on the outside) car like the compact-sized Chevy Cruz sedan.

Base price is $17,680 with the new 1.4 liter engine and a five-speed manual transmission.

Three other engines are available, too.

Next up is a 1.8 liter four (starting price $20,895 with a five-speed manual) and then a 2.0 liter four (base price $26,920 with a six-speed manual transmission) and — lastly — the hybrid Jetta previously mentioned. It uses the 1.4 liter engine plus an electric motor/battery pack.

Base price for that one is $31,120.

WHAT’S NEW

The previously optional diesel’s gone, but there’s a new turbocharged four that’s nearly as fuel efficient and it is standard. Though it doesn’t quite match the MPGs of the politically incorrect TDI engine, the 1.4 liter-equipped base trim Jetta costs about $4k less — which makes up for a lot at the pump and down the road.

All trims get an updated touchscreen and suite of apps and — if you want it — there is new addled driver/idiot-proofing technology (automated braking) available, too.

WHAT’S GOOD

No matter which engine you pick, the Jetta appeals. It is as roomy inside as next-up-in-size (outside) cars like the Camry while being much more reasonably priced in base/mid-trim configurations.

New 1.4 liter four doesn’t exactly replace the Uncle-forbidden TDI diesel, but almost makes up for its absence.

Two more engines to choose from — either of them available with a manual transmission, if you roll that way. Most cars in this segment are automatic-only or only offer a manual with their base/low-performance engine.

Plus a hybrid — which out-MPGs the Uncle-forbidden TDI… if you don’ mind paying through the nose for the privilege.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

The jury is still out on the long-term reliability of these very small, very turbocharged gas fours. They make good power and are pretty good on gas, but may cost more money to maintain as the years and miles roll by.

Precarious health of VW; the “cheating” scandal has really hurt the company — and hurt resale values of VWs, whether diesel-powered or not.

Not only is the 2.0 diesel off the menu, we’ll never see the Euro-spec 1.6 liter diesel — which delivers 60-plus MPG on the highway.

UNDER THE HOOD

Though the Jetta has lost its diesel engine, it still offers more engines than its rivals — most of which offer just two (and often, just one transmission — an automatic transmission).

The Jetta’s base engine is a new engine.

Replacing the previously standard 2.0 liter engine — not turbocharged — is a 1.4 liter engine that is turbocharged. And while it’s smaller, it is much stronger: 150 hp (and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque) vs. 115 hp and 125 ft.-lbs. of torque — which was not enough of either in a car the Jetta’s size.

For acceleration — or gas mileage.

The previous 2.0 equipped Jetta took a sluggish 12-ish seconds to make it to 60. Which might have been tolerable if it delivered fantastic mileage. But it didn’t. Just 23 city, 34 highway — and the real world numbers were worse. Last time I had one, I averaged 24-something, which was terrible for a modern (and not huge) family car with a four cylinder engine.

The new 1.4 engine is a huge improvement.

And not just power/acceleration-wise but also mileage-wise. With the standard five-speed manual transmission, the 1.4 liter Jetta gets to 60 in just over 9 seconds — and mileage is an excellent 28 city, 40 highway.

Excellent indeed and note that the mileage of the off the stage diesel was 31 city, 46 highway — which is more excellent than the 1.4 gasser’s — but not by much. Just 3 MPG better in city driving and 6 on the highway. And even that advantage is washed away by the 1.4 Jetta’s $4k cheaper price.

The sad truth is that Uncle’s emissions edicts have not only killed off diesels, they killed their economy advantage. The combination of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and particulate traps and urea injection greatly reduced the mileage delivered by diesels even before Uncle decided to sit on VW for “cheating” on the tailpipe tests.

To understand this, take note of the fact that the Euro-spec Jetta (with a smaller 1.6 liter TDI engine) was — and still is — capable of 60-plus MPG on the highway and 40-plus in city driving (better than the U.S.-spec/Uncle-ized Jetta 2.0 TDI’s highway mileage).

Even if Uncle deigned to give permission to sell the 2.0 liter TDI again, it would be a hard sell vs. the 1.4 liter gasser given the U.S.-spec diesel’s 3-6 MPG advantage and much higher buy-in cost vs. the new 1.4 liter gasser.

It’s just too bad we can’t have the Euro-spec. 1.6 liter diesel.

Be sure to send a thank-you note to Uncle.

Next up is a 1.8 liter engine that makes 170 hp and 184 ft.-lbs. for torque. This version of the Jetta can get to 60 in 7.4 seconds and also gets 25 city, 36 highway — better mileage (and much better performance) than last year’s base 2.0 liter gas engine. You can go manual (five speed) or automatic (six-speed) too.

If you want more power, there’s a third option — a turbocharged 2.0 liter four (not to be confused with the previously standard and not-turbocharged 2.0 liter four). This one makes 210 hp and 207 ft.-lbs. of torque and is basically the same engine used in the Golf GTI. So equipped, the Jetta’s 0-60 run improves by almost 1 full second to about 6.4 seconds.

Mileage is only slightly less than with the 1.8 liter engine, too: 24 city, 33 with the automatic (a manual — a six-speed manual — is still available with this engine and the rated mileage is only 1 MPG less — in city driving — when so ordered).

If you want more mileage, there’s the hybrid Jetta. It pairs the 1.4 liter engine with an electric motor/battery pack — upping the hp ante to 170 (same as the 1.8 liter engine) and the mileage to 42 city, 48 highway — better than the 2.0 liter TDI we can’t buy anymore but not even close to the mileage delivered by the Euro-spec 1.6 liter TDI that we never even had a chance to buy.

The hybrid’s cost-to-buy also pretty much effaces any savings at the pump — vs. the diesel or any of the other still-available gas engines. It (the hybrid) costs $12,700 more than the base 1.4 liter-equipped Jetta. Sure, the hybrid is also a top-trim (SEL Premium) Jetta, but if the object of the exercise is saving money, the 1.4 liter (or even 1.8 liter) Jettas make much more sense.

ON THE ROAD

The Jetta drives like an Audi — which it should, because it is.

VWs are unique in that they are the only mass-market/mid-priced cars that are direct kin of luxury-brand/high-priced cars. Well, ok, there is Lincoln — which re-sells beautified (and heavily marked up) Fords.

But with VW, it’s the reverse.

VWs are rebadged Audis sold at a discount. You get the same “bones” — the underlying chassis, suspension and many other foundational components — including engines. These are the parts that make a given car feel (and drive) a certain way.

Thus, the Jetta drives a lot like an A3 or A4 sedan — both of which are its close kin. The A3’s standard engine, for instance, is the same 1.8 liter engine that’s the optional engine in the Jetta and both the A3 and the A4 offer basically the same 2.0 turbo four that’s available — with ten fewer rated hp — in the Jetta.

They all feel like what they are — German luxury-sport sedans, whether the badge says “VW” or “Audi.”

The Jetta — designed specifically for the U.S. market and larger than the Jetta sold in Europe — is soft-riding for a German car, but (being a German car) still has formidable capabilities in the corners if you like to drive like a German. At first, you may be hesitant, precisely because the ride is so soft. That usually means lots of body roll and tire squeal if driven the way Germans drive. But the Jetta is made by Germans who are excellent engineers, who know that ride and handling are not necessarily mutually exclusive things.

Similarly, the steering feels light, but this does not mean it’s sloppy. Go ahead, dive in.

And now that the base engine has some oomph, you can power out of the corners, too.

If I were buying a Jetta, I’d probably pick the next-up (1.8 liter) engine, however. Because it has bigger oomph — and the price (and MPGs) are both right in the sweet spot. The top-of-the-line 2.0 engine is nice but the way VW structures it, you can only get it in the not-cheap GLI trim. Though to be fair to VW — if you cross shop the Jetta GLI against the V6-powered versions of larger-on-the-outside but not-much-roomier-inside mid-sized sedans like the just-redesigned Toyota Camry (base price $31,370 for a V6-equipped version) the GLI Jetta comes off looking pretty sweet, too.

The just-updated Camry, incidentally, is also automatic-only. With the base four or the optional six. The closer-in-size (outside) Chevy Cruz offers a manual — but just one engine (regardless of trim).

I liked the VW’s straightforward main gauge cluster, dominated by both a large speedometer and tachometer (which by the way has a redline that starts at 6,000 — but the engine will spin to 6,800 before the rev limiter cuts in). This “over-rev” function works like a shot of something 90 proof in a mug of beer.

It enhances the experience.

Similarly (and unlike a lot of new cars) visibility is enhanced by the single sheet of front door glass, which is not broken up by a fixed “wing vent” (with a frame to obscure your view). The pull-up emergency brake is great for emergency stops and steers, if you get my meaning.

The seats are (like the suspension/ride) both supportive and soft — and that’s a happy combination. They also have a wide range of up and down adjustment, such that the Jetta is very comfortable to pilot even for lanky geeks my height (6ft 3) and then some.

AT THE CURB

The Jetta’s beauty is more than skin deep.

Though it is almost exactly the same overall size as other compact sedans like the Chevy Cruz (183.7 inches long overall vs. 183.3 inches for the VW) the Jetta has virtually the same space inside (and in the trunk) as much larger on the outside mid-sized sedans like the Camry (190.9 inches long overall).

Check the specs:

Up front, the Jetta has 41.2 inches of legroom; in the second row, 38.1 inches. The VW’s trunk has 15.4 cubic feet of capacity.

The Camry has just slightly more room up front (41.6 inches of legroom) and in the second row (38.9 inches) and its trunk is exactly the same size (15.4 cubic feet). But the Camry will take up almost a foot more room in your garage — and needs that much more leeway to slot into a space curbside. Arguably, it is wasted space.

You get a bigger shell (and a bigger price) but not more car.

The same-size (outside) Chevy Cruz, meanwhile, has a bit more front seat legroom (42 inches) but its backseat is much tighter (36.1 inches) as is typical of compact-sized (on the outside) sedans.

Getting back to the Audi -VW kinship.

The Jetta looks like what it is — a less flashy A3 or A4. Very similar overall shape, just less adorned. Same inside, where you get a cut above as far as the materials and fitment.

The updated touchscreen is well-designed in that it is designed to be easy to operate while the car is moving. Many are not. They are impressive when the car is not moving, on the showroom floor, and the sales dude is showing you all the Gee Whiz. But what’s trick for an iPad or your flat screen at home is often not the hot ticket in your car.

Something you can’t see but which is nonetheless happy to have is the Jetta’s larger than most fuel tanks. It holds 15.5 gallons — about a gallon more than most same-size sedans (the Cruz’s holds 13.7 gallons) and that extra fuel takes you just that extra bit farther — and makes it seem like a full tank lasts a bit longer.

Which, of course, it does.

THE REST

The cup holders — located in the center console — are too small and not adjustable to accommodate anything larger than a standard-sized coffee cup. This, too, is very typically German. Nicht trinken, bitte!

But the plug-in for the USB and 12V power point are both conveniently located where you can see and get to them — ahead of the gear shifter, on a shelf just below the center stack.

VW still supplies a single-slot CD player, too. And there’s Bluetooth for your iPod/phone as well.

Audi-esque available features include a cooled glovebox (SEL trims), LED exterior and ambient interior lights and heated windshield washer nozzles (SE trims).

But it’s too bad about the diesel.

And not just the 2.0 TDI we were allowed to have for a while. Most Americans don’t even know about the 60-plus MPG 1.6 liter TDI we were never allowed to have at all.

But we do get a $30,000-plus hybrid.

Thanks, Uncle.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The loss of the TDI — both of them — is nothing less than tragic. But the Jetta is more than just a shell for a great engine. And the TDI engine wasn’t the only great engine you could get in a Jetta.

And, still can.

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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