Volkswagen may be rapidly expanding its presence in the utility vehicle market, but it also understands that the compact sedan segment is still hotly contested in the broader sales sphere. The Jetta has certainly gone through its ups and downs, but while the GLI we recently reviewed provides budget enthusiasts with a pinch of GTI-inspired performance flavor, we wanted to see how the Jetta does as a vehicle of the masses and we decided to spend some time with a 2022 Jetta SEL to see how it fares in this role.
Jetta’s Exterior Styling Blends In With The Masses, Almost Too Well
It wasn’t too long ago that the Jetta was once an aspirational vehicle for compact car buyers. This was especially evident in the early 2000s when VW focused on expanding the definition of luxury and gave the car sporty European looks while making the interior a near Audi-like creation. Those days are over, and while the 2022 version is a welcome update over the previous generation model, there’s no denying that this is still a rather boring car to look at.
Without the sporty accents of the GLI, our tester transforms into a chrome-tinged anonymous blob, with the car preferring to blend in with the crowd versus making a bold styling statement. The front fascia embodies many of VW’s corporate traits, but in the process, it does nothing to draw observers in, and as a result, the Jetta has a look that appears indifferent and not laser-focused on setting the design stage on fire. That’s a shame especially when you look at rivals like the Honda Civic and the Hyundai Elantra which have all adopted a more style focused suit of clothes for their respective redesigns and are clearly trying to cater to a younger crowd.
Jetta Interior Is Comfortable, But Lacks Personality
This attitude of indifference also extends to the Jetta’s interior. While SEL models like our example featured Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit system, the screen’s flashy displays and other features can only do so much to distract you from the fact that this is still an interior that feels like it was made by compromise versus being an institution of quality. Poke around and you’ll find cheap plastics, wood trim that was clearly sourced from an artificial tree, and a sea of button delete panels. That last item does make you wonder what the Jetta could’ve had included but we will never know for sure especially since the SEL is supposed to be the fully loaded mainstream model.
The front seats are (to be fair) pretty comfortable places to spend time in but they lack definitive side bolstering and we wished for more mid back support. The rear seats are tight for adults and the accommodations are pretty sparse for those that do find themselves back there. When they are not used for hauling people, the rear seats can be folded down to boost trunk space which allowed our tester to be a good grocery getter when tasked with doing so. Like before, the GLI adds some much needed depth and detail but with the compact segment upping their game recently in interior quality and comfort, the sheer lack of both in the Jetta was a head scratcher for us.
New Turbocharged Engine Helps Right The Performance Ship
With the 2022 Jetta striking out spectacularly in two key categories, imagine our surprise when it turned out that the performance hardware would be the lone diamond in this very long list of rough edges. A big change for 2022 is that the old 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder is gone and in its place is a slightly bigger 1.5 liter turbo four. This new engine adds 10 more hp and retains the 184 lb-ft of torque. This engine also sees duty in the Volkswagen Taos (review pending) and allowed our tester to make the jog to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds which is a slight improvement over the old engine.
A six-speed manual is the standard transmission in the base S model, but buyers who choose to go for the SEL will only have the eight speed automatic to row through the gears. This auto is a very smooth transmission and we were delighted with the shift behavior that it had. When looked a at as a combined package the setup allowed our tester to be in the thick of things with some of its rivals and the power on hand is more than enough for most commuters. Braking is a no nonsense affair too with our tester delivering smooth stable stops.
Pricing for the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta is also in the running with rivals with a base S model starting at $20,415 before various fees. Jetta buyers will need to be patient though when going through dealer inventory and there were instances where some dealers didn’t have any at all in stock. Find one that does and be prepared to pay $22,793 which was the average price we found for an S model
SEL models like our tester are the range-toppers of the Jetta family (GLI excluded) and have a pre-fee price of $28,145. Our example had a base price of $29,880 with some light options helping to push it past the $30,000 barrier. This pricing is within segment norms, but it also reveals a glaring problem that the Jetta has and that’s its ability to draw buyers. As mentioned many of its rivals offer more for either roughly the same price or less, and when you factor that in with the Jetta’s shortcomings it helps create an unenviable selling situation for dealerships with many in our area prioritizing Taos inventory over the Jetta to boost sales chances and profits.
As a result, the Jetta no longer has that aspirational quality that it once embraced in prior years and when you combine that with just how heated the compact car wars have become and the ongoing march of utility sales, it makes it very hard to recommend the 2022 Jetta to buyers. The lone exception of course is the GLI which adds more power and personality for the money.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.