Used Car Reviews

Used Vehicle Review: Volkswagen Jetta, 2011-2016

Vehicle Type: Sedan

Many owners say the Jetta’s perceivable feeling of solid quality helped make their purchase decision easy.

Model year 2011 saw an all-new Jetta hit the Canadian market with new looks, new features, new technology, and an attractive new price point. Designed to give competitors from Toyota, Honda, Ford and others a run for their money on both driving dynamics and pricing, the latest Jetta offered up plenty of selection and model variants.

Feature content included a Fender audio system, heated leather, sunroof, push-button start, automatic climate control, heated mirrors and wiper nozzles, and plenty more. Look for a generous trunk, an upscale cabin, and a comfortable, pleasant all-around driving experience. Some models offered a Connectivity Package, which adds a multifunction steering wheel with a range of controls, right at the driver’s fingertips, to manipulate the Bluetooth phone interface and Media Device Interface with iPod connectivity.

Engines / Trim: All Jetta models were four-door, four-cylinder, front-drive five-seaters, with a range of powertrains and model variants on offer. Depending on the year and model, powerplant options included a turbocharged hybrid, and no less than three different gasoline engine options. Look for manual, automatic or lightning-fast DSG transmission technology, depending on the model selected, too.

Earlier models from this generation were old-school under the hood, offering VW’s age-old 2.0L gas four-cylinder engine as standard, and a 2.5L five-cylinder as an up-level option. A new 1.8L turbo four-cylinder replaced the 2.5 straight-five from 2013, and the old 2.0L engine was replaced by a new 1.4L turbo unit in newer used models. The Jetta TDI offered a 2.0L turbodiesel four-cylinder, and the GLI borrowed the spunky 2.0L turbo gas engine from the GTI.

What Owners Like: Owners typically report pleasing performance and fuel economy on most models, a refined and quiet powertrain, generous trunk space, and a comfortable and athletic driving feel. The xenon lighting system and Fender stereo are feature-content favourites. Notably, many owners say the Jetta’s perceivable feeling of solid quality helped make their purchase decision easy.

What Owners Dislike: Gripes are few and far between, though they typically centre around some low-budget interior trimmings, and the lack of a proper arm-rest on certain models.

Here’s a look at some owner reviews.

The Test Drive: Engine problems seem fairly infrequent, with the majority of those reported online being sensor-related and relatively easy to diagnose and fix. Regardless, finding a model with full service records to prove its maintenance is up to date is a good idea. Earlier issues with timing gear and sensors on the 2.5L powerplant seem to have been addressed by time this generation came around, and maximum confidence seems largely a function of staying on top of maintenance.

On a TDI-powered model, ensure performance is smooth and seamless, and that on-time oil changes have been carried out throughout the vehicle’s life. Note that white, oily-smelling smoke shortly after startup of a cold engine could be a sign of a worn-out turbocharger, which is more likely (but still fairly unlikely) on a higher-mileage unit. Also ask a mechanic to check the fuel lines and fuel delivery system for possible signs of leaking. Here’s some more information on the Jetta TDI.

Key info: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta – 9 Things You Need to Know

In other applications, the 2.0T engine that powers the sportier Jetta GLI has been noted for issues ranging from valve gunk and carbon buildup (on all engine variants) to issues with timing system components and engine failure before revised valvetrain parts were applied as a fix. As a bare minimum, if you’re considering a Jetta GLI, be sure to have the ECU scanned for a misfire code (which can indicate valve gunk buildup), and opt for any extended warranty coverage that might be available, especially on an older unit. Here’s some more reading.

The late-availability 1.4 and 1.8 TSI engines are too new to glean any reliability information from, and the vast majority will be covered by warranty anyways.

Issues with the available DSG transmission are typically sensor-related and not mechanical in nature, so start with transmission software if the dual-clutch transmission in the Jetta you’re considering is behaving strangely, perhaps shifting hard or slipping. Note that issues with the Jetta’s other available transmissions were too infrequent to warrant concern.

Inspect the wheels for signs of excessive pitting, flaking finishes or corrosion, noting that owners have reported premature wear of their wheel finishes, and that Volkswagen does offer a warranty on wheel finishes which may still apply, depending on the year of the unit in question.

Check the Jetta’s pricier-to-repair systems for proper operation, including the Bluetooth phone system, xenon lighting, automatic climate control, power windows, and motorized seat adjusters, just to be on the safe side. Further, note that a slow sunroof, or one that operates with unwelcome grinding or crunching sounds, may require lubrication in its tracks. Failure to keep the sunroof assembly properly lubricated can cause a small plastic clip to break off and interfere with sunroof operation.

Unusually, shoppers are advised to confirm that the windshield wipers work, several times, on the course of their test drive. Numerous owners have reported wiper-related issues, possibly caused by bad wiring, though the cause is not entirely clear.

Check for proper operation of all steering-wheel-mounted buttons and controls, noting that non-functionality may be the result of a bad clock spring, which is a type of electrical connector within the steering wheel assembly. An accompanying grinding or winding sound may confirm this rare but notable problem.

Does the Jetta you’re considering have the up-level stereo and touchscreen system? If so, you may need to visit this thread at some point, to see how to hard-reset the unit to fix problems with dead screens, failure to play audio, and other annoying issues.
Finally, note that the Jetta was subjected to a fairly lengthy list of recalls, issued to correct safety-related defects and problems, free of charge. With the VIN number of the used Jetta you’re considering in hand, your local dealer should be able to determine what, if any, recall work is outstanding on the model you’re considering.

The Verdict: With many strengths, few weaknesses, and solid-looking overall reliability on most models, a used Jetta should make a worthy option for your used-car dollar. Make the checks listed above, be extra careful on a GLI model with the 2.0T engine, and shop with confidence.

Crash Test Scores:
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2014 and up)