Volkswagen Jetta essentials: A manual makes everything better


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.

Key Competitors: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra

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.

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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

Graham Kozak

– 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

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