The Jetta sedan has curves that are subtle and sweet. The door handles are body color and there is very little chrome trim, in the traditional belief that clean is beautiful. We love VW for that. Although chrome trim has been added to the grille on some models for 2013. Others have black horizontal bars, as well as a tray-shaped front spoiler under the front bumper that suggests the splitter on a race car.
The sedan is not over styled or over sculpted, unlike so many, especially BMW. The lines are crisp and precise, with strong wheel arches, a smooth roofline and attractive C pillars. The nose and shoulders, viewed from the side of the car looking forward, give the front end an attractive roundness. At the rear, there's a neat aerodynamic lip at the trailing edge of the remote-opening trunk, and powerful taillights. It's about the same wheelbase as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic, but a few inches longer, and just feels bigger all around, more like a midsize car. That's because it's so solid.
Jetta GLI gets a crosshatch treatment for the front grille and lower air intake, sportier front and rear fascias and side sills, a unique design for the fog lights, and larger wheels. The total effect is a stronger, sportier stance.
The Sportwagen features the same front end treatment, adding a character crease along the beltline, and comes standard with roof rails. It's about three inches shorter in both length and wheelbase, so some of the proportions are different. Of course the roof line is longer, and seems to slant down toward the rear. The Sportwagen is quite handsome, and looks stylishly bigger than it is.
Even with some hard plastics, the Jetta cabin is still better than that of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, although the interiors of the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra feel a bit richer. Whatever, the Jetta is clean, stylish, comfortable, accommodating and functional. The instruments, with clean white-on-black numbering, are handsome, and that goes a long way. You don't always pay attention to the trim, but you have to look at the gauges all the time.
There are nice small creature comforts. Comfortable driver armrests, convenient cupholders, good door pockets and grab handles: check, check, check, check. Between the center seats there's an emergency brake handle, two cupholders, and a smallish console with an armrest.
There's good headroom front and rear. Rear-seat legroom is first in class at 38.1 inches; compare that to the 38.4 inches in a BMW 7 Series and it's clear that the Jetta makes great use of space. The optional rear seat pass-through, a pair of cupholders in a fold-down armrest, it makes the large 15.5-cubic-foot trunk even more useful.
The Hybrid trunk is way smaller, 27 percent, at 11.3 cubic feet versus the regular Jetta's 15.5 cubic feet. The water-cooled electric battery takes up space.
We found the navigation system to be a nightmare on a 5-inch screen. It took us five minutes to find the simple word Address, and still don't know what we pressed to make it appear; we suspect it just missed the first few times. We entered the address, got the confirmation, and as soon as we got going, the system indicated we were going the opposite direction: the closer we got to Castle Rock, the farther away it went. Twice we used navigation to get us out of San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge, and it gave us different routes, neither the quickest nor most direct.
The optional Fender audio system is crystal clear and manages high volume, but the radio in our Hybrid must have been one with a self-regulating volume, because it kept going up and down. Backwards. Roll down the window and the volume would drop; roll it up and the volume increased. Keeping it tuned to any one satellite station, without having that station preset, is difficult. If you leave a station without presetting it, it won't take you back without going through a bunch of touch-screen steps.
The driver information display is good. It's big and easy to read, located neatly between the tachometer and speedometer. It tells you fuel mileage, range, odo, and thermometer. You can get more detailed information on the touch screen. The climate controls are also clean and easy to use.
The Sportwagen features a higher quality interior than does the sedan, but with less space. Impressive, solid, soft-touch materials abound, worthy of cars costing thousands more. The Sportwagen's rear seat is tighter than the sedan's by 2.6 inches in legroom and an inch in headroom. It's still fairly useful, but the sedan is more passenger friendly. The Sportwagen, on the other hand, is far more cargo friendly. It has 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and an SUV-like 66.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.