2021 Volkswagen Jetta

By January 18, 2021

The compact Volkswagen Jetta is a mainstay of the brand’s lineup, and for good reason: it is affordable, roomy, and in the right trim can be more fun than it has any right to be. The latest 2021 model keeps on with this tradition.

The Jetta’s last full redesign was only two years ago, so the 2021 model is entirely a carryover. Again the lineup is divided into five trim levels, all of which come exclusively with front-wheel drive.

Most models use a 1.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 147 horsepower and gets a standard 6-speed manual transmission to go with it. Of course, the far more popular gearbox is the available 8-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 30 mpg city, 40 highway, 34 combined with either transmission.

The sporty GLI gets a more potent 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4. The additional power means 60 mph can be reached in about six seconds. A 6-speed manual remains the standard-issue transmission, but buyers can opt for a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy falls to 25/32/28 mpg with an automatic or 25/31/28 mpg with the manual.

The base Jetta S doesn’t get any active-safety features, but all other trims come with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors. Top trims get adaptive cruise control and active-lane control as well.

The IIHS and NHTSA were both impressed with the Jetta. The former gave it top marks in crash testing but found the headlights subpar; the latter awarded it a five-star overall rating.

Model Lineup

Opening the lineup is the S, which costs $19,990 to start after destination. For that sub-$20,000 price, buyers get cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, and single-zone manual climate control.

Next up is the $23,565 SE, which gets keyless start, automatic emergency braking, and a panoramic sunroof.

The $23,615 R-Line brings some sporty accoutrements like a more aggressive front bumper and a rear bumper with exhaust cutouts. Other than 17-inch wheels, it’s equipped similarly to the SE.

The $26,415 SEL is where things really step up a notch. Standard features include 10-color ambient lighting, a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and wireless smartphone charging.

The $27,165 GLI sits atop the heap with its larger engine and sporty demeanor. It is equipped similarly to the SEL but without the power driver’s seat and digital cockpit. The $30,865 GLI Autobahn reinstates those two features and also mixes in adaptive dampers.

The $28,865 SEL Premium pulls out all the stops with leather upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, heated rear seats, and cooled front seats.


Leave it to VW to pen a classy shape. Approach it from most angles and the Jetta is handsome and well-proportioned, especially for models with the larger 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels. The 16-inch wheels look small; going with the GLI, which rides 0.6 inches lower and gets bigger wheels, improves the look all the way around but especially from the rear.


The Jetta doesn’t pull any punches with its interior. The design is simple, straightforward, and logical. All controls cant toward the driver for ideal ergonomics. Material quality isn’t fancy but is appropriate for the segment.

Most Jettas use a 6.5-inch touchscreen, which is a bit behind the times in terms of screen size—most competitors are now using 8.0-inch screens on all but maybe their base models – but nevertheless it works well and is easy to use. All models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

As is the case with most VW products these days, the Jetta runs big for its size. The resulting interior space means five adults can sit comfortably even for longer trips. Rear leg room measures out to 37 inches.

The trunk is good for 14.1 cubic feet of cargo, which isn’t bad for a small sedan. All but the base versions of the Jetta get a 60/40 split-folding rear seat to increase cargo capacity.

Driving Impressions

We’ll start off with the more popular Jetta that gets the 1.4-liter turbo-4. Its 147 horsepower doesn’t sound like much, but the 184 pound-feet of torque compensates for this around town. The decent torque comes in handy when pulling away from stop lights or conducting other around-town maneuvers, but out on the highway the low-horsepower Jetta can find itself breathless. All that torque won’t help it make an uphill pass at 65 mph.

The GLI eliminates such concerns with 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The power is silky and comes on with gusto. Running the standard 6-speed manual through the gears is our favorite way to disperse this power to the wheels, but those not trying to row their own will enjoy the slick-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The GLI also gets a multilink rear suspension and a limited-slip front differential, hardware not found on the standard model. These two upgrades go a long way in improving handling and grip; compared to a base Jetta, the GLI is more stable and balanced when cornering or driving over uneven pavement. Base models are more prone to getting antsy during more spirited maneuvers.

Adaptive dampers on the GLI Autobahn help make the ride more comfortable during daily driving and also firm things up nicely while flinging around corners. It alone is a tempting reason to upgrade to the priciest Jetta.

Final Word

For the price, the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta is hard to beat. Despite being a bit light on features, it has a handsome style and delivers a pleasant driving experience behind the wheel. Upgrade to the GLI and you’ll quickly wonder why people have become so infatuated with crossovers. If we were buying, it would have to be a GLI, though the R-Line is a great option for someone not interested in performance.


—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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