Introduced for 2019, this seventh-generation Volkswagen Jetta benefitted from a mid-cycle refresh just last year, getting a fresh grille, updated front and rear bumpers, some interior tweaks, and a new 1.5L engine.
In the hierarchy of compact sedans, the Jetta trails big players like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra; as they say in show business, tough room. Nonetheless, its recent upgrades make it a true contender. Tested here is the top Highline trim that comes comprehensively equipped at $31,295 – plus a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,750 – the 2023 Volkswagen Jetta is an intriguing alternative to the other players in the compact sedan segment.
In a time of classy Civics, angular Elantras, and daring Corollas, the Jetta’s staid, upright styling stands out for, well, not standing out. While the tall tires that surround the Jetta’s 17-inch wheels might not help its stance, they pay dividends with ride quality. Similarly, the sedan’s sensible proportions make for a roomy cabin with good outward visibility. We’re talking function over form here.
The Jetta Highline comes with a long list of safety features – blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keeping system, and low-speed semi-autonomous driving function. Also standard are LED headlights with automatic high-beam control.
The Jetta is spacious for its class, offering generous head-, shoulder-, and legroom both front and rear. Its upright architecture and tall greenhouse make for an airy cabin, and the 510-L trunk is massive for this compact class, even trumping many midsize sedans. On the downside, the 60/40 rear seat does not fold completely flat, making it difficult to slide in longer items.
Up front, we find plenty of useful storage: door pockets with bottle holders, a storage/phone charge cubby ahead of the gear selector, dual cup holders, and a covered bin between the seats.
The 2023 Jetta gets high marks for its logical ergonomics and easy familiarity. The centre console is angled toward the driver, and two-zone climate control gets two large rotary knobs for temperature along with a row of hard buttons for seat heat and other HVAC functions. The central eight-inch touchscreen sports both volume and tuning dials, and its menu structure is clear and intuitive. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto function work well, and pairing a phone is a breeze.
Similarly, the navigation graphics are sharp and it’s easy to program in a destination. We like the configurable 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster ahead of the driver with its clear graphics and plethora of available information, including nav display.
Volkswagen has not been shy with the feature count in this Highline trim. The seats are cloaked in perforated leather, here in a rich-looking Volcano Brown with black inserts. Standard are a heated steering wheel and rear seats, as well as heat and ventilation for the front buckets – although the latter were absent from this tester due to a “temporary production constraint,” with a $300 discount granted in their stead. The driver gets six-way power while the passenger makes do with two-way power; rake adjustment is done using a lever. Brightening up the cabin is a large sunroof, and at night occupants are treated to some pleasing ambient lighting on the dash and door panels. The six-speaker Beats stereo is good, but it doesn’t quite have the clarity of the Fender-badged systems Volkswagen has used in the past.
The interior is generally built to a high standard, with all the major touchpoints and controls having a premium feel. This model gets a stitched dashtop, and the multi-function steering wheel is particularly nice. However, the plastics get harder and cheaper-feeling the lower down you get in this cabin.
A mixed bag here. This fresh 158-hp 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder that replaced the 1.4L of old provides more urgency and is suitably peppy in most circumstances. Put your foot into it and the Jetta scoots. The problem is that sometimes the engine isn’t on the same page as the eight-speed automatic transmission. Turbo lag can conspire with hesitant gear changes to create lurching and uneven progress, mostly at lower speeds.
The Jetta scores well here. The seats are firm and supportive in that Volkswagen way, and the sedan’s upright architecture translates to easy ingress and egress, along with good outward visibility. Occupants enjoy a smooth and generally quiet ride, and on the highway the Jetta lasers along with the serene confidence befitting of a German-engineered car.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
The Jetta Highline favours comfort over outright athleticism; however, this conservative four-door will play along if you’re feeling frisky. Its overall limits are hampered by body roll (and winter tires during this test), but there’s a solid, planted, and highly engineered feel to the Jetta that separates it from many others in this segment. Handling is accurate and progressive with no surprises, and when pressed the Jetta will carve a sinuous road with typical VW poise.
There are no paddle shifters with this model, but tap the shifter to the right and it responds instantly to manual operation (forward for upshifts, back for downshifts). It’s quite satisfying, actually. The Highline gets four driving modes: eco, normal, sport, and custom.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The Jetta is a slippery thing, bragging a drag coefficient of 0.27, helped along by active low front grille shutters and a sculpted underbody panel. The official fuel economy numbers are 8.1 L/100 km in the city, 5.8 on the highway, and 7.1 combined, and that’s exactly where this week-long test ended up.
The 2023 Volkswagen Jetta Highline lists at $31,295 before freight and tax, and refreshingly, buyers can’t really spend any more than that unless opting for a few dealer-added accessories. There’s no uptick for paint colours or this tester’s two-tone tan and black interior. The top-trim 2023 Honda Civic Touring will run about $3,000 more, while the Toyota Corolla, which recently dethroned the Honda Civic as Canada’s best-selling car, tops out at just over $29,000.
Volkswagen wants to make new Jetta ownership as easy as possible. Service intervals of 15,000 km and a four-year bumper-to-bumper warranty are incentives, yet arguably the Jetta Highline’s biggest draws are its comfort, fine road manners, fuel economy, and feature count. The Jetta is no runway model, cruising through the automotive landscape essentially unnoticed, but if that’s not an issue, its German sensibilities make for an intriguing alternative to the other players in the compact sedan segment.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||158 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||184 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.1 / 5.8 / 7.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||510 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Volkswagen Jetta Highline|
|Price as Tested||$32,845|
-$300 – Ventilated seats delete (temporary production constraint), -$300