Expert Reviews

2022 Volkswagen Jetta First Drive Review

Nobody loves sedans anymore, or so the thinking goes.

Well, not so fast. Last year the compact sedan segment saw more than 170,000 units wind up in Canadian driveways. And while the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are still the first names in the segment, the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta has earned itself an update to keep up with the fresh-faced competitors.

Subtle Styling Updates

The seventh-generation Jetta arrived in North America for the 2019 model year, technically making this the Mk7.5 variant. The new grille is the most obvious styling tweak, with a more defined chrome bar through the centre, segmented by the updated VW badge. It’ll take a keen-eyed observer to notice the modified lower fascia and rear bumper treatment, plus new, more-appealing wheel offerings for 2022. The performance-oriented Jetta GLI also gets more honeycomb-pattern trim front and rear and larger exhaust openings.

The Jetta’s profile remains conservative, especially in a class with some very overtly styled competitors, but it should age well over time and stays true to VW’s history of evolutionary styling updates rather than reinventing the design language every few years.

Little Details for the Interior

Inside, it’s much the same, but with some small-yet-important updates. For one, in base trim Jettas, the cheap-feeling plastic steering wheel from last year has been replaced with a heated leather-wrapped one as standard equipment. The shift knob also gets a nicer-feeling leatherette wrap, while the centre console is spiffed up with contrasting stitching. They’re little, sure, but they’re noticeable touch points for a driver on every trip and they add up to a more premium-feeling car, even at the cheapest price point.

The standard heated front seats (ventilated in Highline trim), remain comfortable, though not overly firm, and the rear seat is spacious enough to scoff at this car’s compact designation, with ample – though not quite class-leading – head- and legroom. Similarly, the 399-L trunk will swallow a surprising amount of stuff, has a wide opening, and easy-folding rear seats to open up more cargo space.

More Features

Perhaps the most noticeable change to the cockpit is the addition of a standard digital gauge display even in the lowest trim cars. It presents vibrant digital dials and a wealth of driver information in a slick display, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Commendably, Volkswagen has also added front sensors with automatic emergency braking to the basic Jettas.

The volume-selling Comfortline trim gets a larger eight-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone connectivity and charging, and keyless entry, and now VW’s automated safety suite with adaptive cruise control, rear automatic braking, and lane-keeping assist is standard equipment.

The top-trim Highline adds a larger 10-inch digital display, premium sound system, funky ambient lighting with ten different colours, and a power sunroof. GLI buyers will get all the tech and features from the Highline, plus the sportier drivetrain.

Under the Hood and on the Road

That drivetrain in the GLI carries on with the Golf GTI’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder. It gets a sportier multi-link rear suspension and adaptive damping with driver selectable modes and the larger brakes from last year’s Golf R. It’s a sporty-ish sedan, with decent power, but doesn’t have the snarling personality (nor sticky summer tires) of some of its competitors. Just as it was last year, this remains a competent and refined machine, if not a hair-raising one.

The rest of the Jettas receive a heart transplant this year, with the 1.4L turbo from last year being replaced by the 1.5L turbo four-cylinder from the subcompact Taos SUV. The engine receives a slightly longer stroke than the 1.4L and the result is a modest 11-hp bump to 158 hp, while the torque remains at 184 lb-ft as before, but needs a few more revs to reach it.

Driving a Jetta with a 1.4L back-to-back with the new 1.5L bore no discernable difference in the performance nor personality. The new engine remains surprisingly torquey giving the Jetta plenty of poke around town, and adequate power for passing at highway speeds. More impressive is that despite its diminutive size, it has the character (and sound) of a larger engine, going about its business effortlessly.

The Jetta offers drivers a solid feel and precise steering, even if there’s modest feedback, but it’s not a sport sedan. The low rolling resistance tires give up their grip without much fight and the torsion beam rear suspension means that when really hustled in the corners, pavement imperfections can cause the back end to wander around somewhat.

As a daily driver, and more so as a highway cruiser, the Jetta is exceptional. It’s decently quiet and offers the ride quality of a much larger, costlier machine. At speed, the Jetta is stable and seems happy to cruise at legal speeds all day long.

To its credit, Volkswagen still offers the Jetta in both Trendline and Comfortline trims with a six-speed manual transmission, but the vast majority of buyers will opt for the very good eight-speed automatic that delivers smooth and swift gear changes, and is very well-matched to the 1.5L.

Still Thrifty with Fuel

Despite having two more cogs, the automatic Jetta actually delivers slightly inferior highway efficiency than its stick-shift counterpart at 5.7 L/100 km versus 5.5. To beat the stick shift’s efficiency, a buyer is going to need to look at hybrid alternatives, but they surely won’t get the driving engagement the Jetta offers.

The city and combined figures for the automatic Jetta are better than the manual version, and in either configuration, they are very competitive with the thriftiest of competitors in the segment. The 1.5L also represents modest improvements in efficiency over the 1.4L Jetta – a car we have seen easily better its published consumption rates by a decent margin in daily suburban driving.

Still a Great Value

With a starting price of $22,895 before freight and taxes, the six-speed Trendline checks in higher than basic Corolla and Elantra models, but notably lower than the Civic. A mid-level Comfortline with an automatic rings in at $27,295 and offers a very impressive amount of technology and features for the money. A top-trim Highline at $29,895 provides the sort of luxury and refinement that reminds us how impressive these compact sedans have become, and what a tremendous value they are.

For 2022, a Sports package option for the Comfortline adds a stiffer suspension, sunroof, different wheels and the fancy interior lighting of the Highline for $1,400. A stick-shift GLI is $31,895, while the DSG transmission adds $1,400 to the sticker price and otherwise comes fully loaded.

Final Thoughts

Consumers continue to flock toward SUVs for their perceived practicality and all-weather capabilities, but with rapidly rising fuel and living costs, it might be time to take another look at compact sedans with their impressive value and efficiency. Volkswagen’s Jetta has lost some of the small, sporty character it was once known for, but has matured into a refined, well-equipped and remarkably frugal competitor within the compact sedan class. It’s well worth a buyer’s consideration.