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What is it: The 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE is a step up from the base S trim, and ours is equipped with a five-speed manual. This is one of the last of the sixth generation Jettas: a new Jetta comes for 2019.
Base Price: $21,715 As-Tested: $21,715
Highlights: For 2017, the midline SE adds Volkswagen App-Connect connectivity, a sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, keyless entry and start and leatherette seats with a rear-seat pass-through for longer cargo.
Our Opinion: How many Jetta shoppers will take theirs with a manual transmission? Not many, I’d venture, but this is a perfect example of how a stick can liven up what is fundamentally sound-but-basic transportation. It’s simple and slow, sure, but it’s fun!
At first glance, this is a risky powertrain setup: A teeny, downsized inline-four turbo and a five-speed (a five-speed!) manual transmission. But the most surprising part about this combo is how un-stressed it feels. This isn’t a rubber band about to snap, even at expressway speeds. I’m curious about fuel economy, but even after a weekend of semi-spirited driving I used less than a quarter of a tank — not even enough to merit a top-off.
There are plenty of offerings at this segment of the market, some new (the Honda Civic) and some getting up there in the years (the Ford Focus). With its light-but-precise steering and good road manners, the Jetta is a little more tossable than a Corolla or a Forte.
At under $22,000, this configuration feels just about right. The SE trim gets you niceties like a push-button starter, heated front seats, blind spot detection and the VW Car-Net system, which fills in some feature gaps (like navigation) with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s still requires you to manually turn on the headlights (no auto-on feature here), though.
No incarnation of the current Jetta is a revolution, but the low cost of entry and honest presentation of this 1.4T SE appeals to me. I’d add this to the “basic transportation, done right” file.
–Graham Kozak, features editor
– Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too.
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On Sale: Now
Base Price: $21,715
Powertrain: 1.4-liter DOHC turbocharged I4, FWD five-speed manual
Output: 150 hp @ 5,000 rpm; 184 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,939 lb
Fuel Economy: 28/40/33 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Super efficient, not bad to drive
Cons: Manual headlights, this generation is getting on in years