By Derek Price
People talk about the Volkswagen Jetta as if it’s one car, but I’m convinced it’s a whole, wide-ranging lineup that happens to share a name.
When you shop for a Jetta, it’s almost like shopping for ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, with a motley selection of different flavors to pick from. Every time I drive a Jetta I’m amazed at how different each one can look and feel.
There’s the Jetta TDI with its torquey diesel engine; the fuel-sipping Jetta Hybrid; and the value-oriented 1.4T and sportier 1.8T with small, turbocharged four-cylinder engines.
The version I drove this time, though, is the powerful GLI with a 210-horsepower, 2.0-liter boosted engine. I loved the fact that it came with a six-speed manual transmission — VW’s impressive DSG automatic would add over $1,000 to the price — and has a sporty personality along with a generous list of equipment for $26,920.
Granted, that’s a big price premium over the stripped-down 1.4T Base model, which is only available as a special order from the factory for $16,215, but it also feels like a performance bargain for a German car. A similar sized and powered Audi or Mercedes would set you back a lot more than $27 grand.
The GLI has a suspension that rides about a half-inch lower than other Jetta models and is turned for a sportier response, keeping body roll to a minimum in corners without being overly harsh on the highway.
New this year are a few safety and driver assistance features that are becoming de rigueur options across the car industry: blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic sensors and forward collision warning. These features are either standard or optional on the Jetta, depending on the trim you choose.
Across the line, the Jetta tries to offer a lot of car for the money. For a compact sedan, it offers a reasonably roomy cabin and bigger-than-average trunk space, enough that I didn’t hesitate to take three adult passengers on a five-hour trip down the Interstate in the Jetta. Our luggage and knees fit fine.
Unfortunately, my iPhone wasn’t able to use the Jetta’s cord to stay charged. Unlike most car manufacturers these days, Volkswagen doesn’t use a universal USB plug that works with any type of phone. You have to buy a special connector from Volkswagen instead, and the one installed in the test car wouldn’t work with the latest iPhone model.
The lack of standard USB port is one of those modern-day Volkswagen quirks, just like the weird A/C controls of yesteryear. Whether you see them as cute or annoying, they’re part of what makes a VW so unique.
And ultimately, that’s what the Jetta is all about. There are plenty of different sedans on the road, but none have the distinct personality — and deep level of customization — that you get from a Jetta.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI ($26,920). Options: None. Price as tested (including $820 destination charge): $27,740
Wheelbase: 104.4 in.
Length: 183.3 in.
Width: 70 in.
Height: 57.2 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder (210 hp, 207 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Estimated Mileage: 23 city, 33 highway
2015 Volkswagen Jetta
Why buy it?
From a basic commuter to a luxurious hybrid, the Jetta covers a huge range of territory. With 210 horsepower, a sporty suspension and high level of equipment, the GLI seems like a German performance bargain.