2017 VW Jetta 1.4T SE Manual – HD Road Test Review

The Jetta has been the target of scorn for many years here at Car-Revs-Daily.  We quietly laughed at each redesign on the Jetta’s descent into bland hell over the last decade.

All the while, longing for the cool little sedan of our memories.  The one from the clever “Synchronicity” ads with the windshield wipers/world timed to the beat.  The one almost as big and nice-driving as a base BMW.  The one with an unpretentious exterior and surprisingly high-quality cabin.

The 2017 Jetta is well on its way back to greatness.  Three levels of turbo gasoline power are available, and we’re delighted to report that the smallest 1.4T in the SE trim level is perky and delightful.  Just 150 ponies but a strong and smooth power curve make this the best-driving base VW in ages.

And frankly, far better than any other 40-mpg sedan costing $21k.  Quality and value are the key themes of the 2017 Jetta’s appeal.

Let’s head into the standard section-headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing.  A nice HD drive video shows off the zingy engine note as we row the cogs of the five-speed manual transmission.

HD Drive Video


The Jetta’s exterior is surprisingly new from up front.  A new LED daytime running light forms a crisp and classy white line of light around the lower edge of its halogen lights.  This little addition does wonders for the car’s appeal in traffic.  It is nicely executed and super bright — looking a bit like an Audi you’ve never seen.  The Jetta wears minimalist grille and a new bumper down below.

The new bumper has a series of full-width horizontal lines painted in body-color.  The lowest one is a true chin splitter that extends forward to cut a smooth path through the air.  The emphasis on all those stacked lines is to make the car seem wider and lower to the eye.  This does the trick from most angles, even if the intakes and performance indicators are mellow.

Similar chill-ness as you move into the side profile.  Small-ish wheels are real alloys and have a nice machine-polished face with dark inner spokes.  Small wheels and eco tires are on-trend and keep the ride super smooth.  Roadholding is class-best, as shown in video above and described in the performance section below.

In profile with these small wheels, the Jetta does somewhat disappear and lose impact.  Just so, so familiar with these door shapes.  The chrome line along the side windows somehow makes this new Jetta look like an old Ford Fusion?  Who copied who, and when, is a moot point. But the similarity is real.

Around back, fresh brake lights are not LED-lit but have a interesting graphic.  More linearity in the body shapes, with less inflated curves.  Not quite back to Jetta haydays, looks-wise, but certainly inoffensive.  And clearly a rock-star in the wind tunnel.  Integrated rear spoiler helps on this front.

The Jetta makes its case beyond simple style points.  Even so, with a lowered suspension and/or big wheels… any Jetta owner can upgrade up its timeless, blocky style nicely.

Final exterior note!  VW is badging its gasoline-powered cars with a TSI emblem these days.  The first time you see it you might do a double-take, thinking it says something else..


While the Jetta was in its doldrums for the mid-2000s, the cabin started to feel far lower-quality than any Golf.  Its plastics were brittle and the whole machine felt hollow over bumps or around corners.

Pleased to report that the 2017 Jetta has none of those isses.  This is a car that feels intensely high-quality from your initial door-slam onwards.  Startup via the push-button on the console starts its motor humming.  You hear the engine but barely feel it — that is how smooth this German-made motor idles.

Strong sense of solidity as you snick into first and take your first few feet.  This tester’s fivespeed stick is a throwback in the best ways. A super light clutch is fast and fun to engage, while the shift linkage and throttle are perfectly tuned, and in tune.

You almost know after a block and a few upshifts that the new Jetta is both high-quality, comfy and pretty fun.

Leatherette seating will fool most people, while the Jetta SE’s moonroof and gloss-black, leather-wrapped wheel are quite fetching versus alternatives like the Ford Fiesta sedan, Chevy Sonic sedan, Kia something and many other cars vying for buyers spending $19-22k on a car — tops.

The 2017 Jetta SE runs a 6.3-inch touchscreen with XM, CarPlay and Android Auto via VW’s App-Connect integration.  It really works — and we started to enjoy CarPlay’s one-touch access to your Pandora and maps.  Bluetooth and media inputs are fully covered and proven.  The four-speaker stereo sounds decent but gets better with more speakers and more clarity in the Jetta 1.8T or the GLI.

Overall, a big salute to Volkswagen for getting their cars from no-USB-inputs just a few years ago to where they are now.  Bravo VW!!

This Jetta SE, even while having Apple CarPlay etc, is simplified perfectly for its target market. Examples?  Just on-off for the headlight knob, simple settings for the mid-cluster screen and backup camera. One-touch windows all around and seatback fold levers in the trunk are good surprise/delight elements.  As is the big trunk!

Large Breed Puppy food bag for scale. =]


What does the Jetta 1.4T drive like with a five-speed manual?

Like a large-breed puppy.

It pulls as hard as it can all the time.  It is playful and ready to go-fetch in any passing scenario.  The motor is hummy and great the rev out to its redline.  150 horsepower has its limits, though, and pace is perhaps 9.2-seconds to 60-mph.  Not rapid, but certanly as quick as any Corolla.  And feels like it enjoys full throttle – which no Corolla or Sentra can sincerely say.

Five cogs seems light versus the normal six these days, but you’re never short of gears and the turbo makes its torque all the time.

We drove the doors off this Jetta to discover it handles playfully, brakes strongly and has terrific directional stability from the steering.  Very trusty helm, especially on the highway.  Jetta is even a bit quieter than Golf on Carolina’s open-pore concrete expressways, too.  A bit of wind noise but little tire roar, a la Honda Civic.

And here is the best part!  No matter how we drove this Jetta, we could not average less than 30 mpg!  Its official numbers are 28-city/40-highway for a 33 average.  VERY doable and very believable 500-mile ranges per tank.  That’s regular fuel, too.  Premium helps make more power but is not required.

Score one for Jetta!  Very frugal fun.



Pricing on this car is the really amazing tidbit to share. It is so nicely equipped as the Jetta 1.4T SE with a sticker price of $20,895 before $820 destination fee.  $21,715 is shockingly good value for these drive manners and big backseat/trunk.


We admit on video above to “loving this Jetta as much as we hated the Tiguan..”

It is true.  Where Tiguan felt quirky-old and bouncy, this 2017 Jetta feels smooth and quirky-cool.

Handsdown best element of the redesign has to be the sharp LEDs up front.  They are just enough to rediscover the amazingly good value and quality the Jetta represents for 2017.