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car review

The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

In a world where most drivers are choosing SUVs over sedans, Volkswagen has recommitted to the Jetta. The compact sedan has been updated for 2022, with new styling, and a fresh engine for the three TSI models.

Although the company cut production of its basic Golf hatchback, essentially replacing it with the Taos compact SUV, the Jetta remains. The comfortable, fuel-efficient long-haul cruiser has been a popular model since it was introduced in Canada in 1980, VW says.

The Golf was also popular, so why is one gone and the other refreshed? It’s a matter of economics, said VW Canada’s director of product planning Patrick Danielson. Jetta sales were up 19 per cent in 2021. The car held a seven per cent share of the 172,000 compact sedans sold in Canada last year, but was outsold by competitors including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte.

“We’re not giving up on cars,” said Thomas Tetzlaff, VW Canada’s manager of public relations. “The public told us the Golfs they wanted were the GTI and R, so that’s what they are getting.”

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The Jetta has a long history, with 40 years in Canada. It was introduced after the original Golf became popular. Danielson said it was “a Golf with a trunk”, and the sporty GLI version was based on the Golf GTI.

The Jetta has long been something of a sleeper. With its staid styling and austere interiors, it didn’t look like much, but enthusiasts have long known it is the most affordable German sedan on the market. Indeed, with a starting price of $22,895, it is less expensive than many of its Japanese competitors.

Now in its seventh generation – Mk7 in VW-speak – the Jetta is available in four trims, Trendline, Comfortline, Highline and the GLI and with a manual transmission option, in all but the Highline. “We still believe in cars…and we believe in manual transmissions,” Tetzlaff said.

The refresh gives the Jetta a sleeker, cleaner look and adds new technology. The new 1.5-litre engine in the lower trims is the same one used in the Taos, and replaces a 1.4 litre unit. The new one delivers 158 horsepower, 11 more than before. VW also added an optional sport package on the mid-level Comfortline, with bigger wheels, sport suspension and unique trim elements.

The car is aimed at affluent suburban couples in their early 40s, with no kids and a “sedate” lifestyle, VW said. They are interested in the car for its performance, the fun-factor in driving it, handling and ride.

They should be happy with what they find. Both the GLI and Trendline models we tested were easy and comfortable to drive. Controls are in the right places, connectivity is simple, visibility is great and both have excellent braking and safety features.

In the GLI, the larger two-litre engine delivers a satisfying throttle response, and smooth handling through corners. It’s definitely got the stealth sport sedan vibe that old-school Jetta fans will appreciate.

The less-powerful Highline is a comfortable highway cruiser or grocery getter. With not much torque and a bit sluggish off the mark, it is the quiet, plain sibling.

But Tetzlaff pointed out that the demographic looking to buy a Jetta likes the quieter vibe that the1.5-litre-engine models offer. The sporty looks of the GLI are “too flashy” for some, he said, making the plain-Jane Jetta a perfect fit.

The smaller engine also delivers better fuel economy, something that is on buyers’ minds lately. Plus, the good news in this market is there are a few Jettas available on dealers’ lots across the country.

For anyone – sedate lifestyle or not – looking for an affordable, comfortable and well-built sedan with German engineering and a stealth cachet, the Jetta is worth a test drive.

The Jetta's smaller engine also delivers better fuel economy, which has been on a lot of consumers' minds with high gas prices.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $22,895/ Highline $29,895; GLI $31,895
  • Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder Turbo/two-litre four-cylinder Turbo
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic/Six-speed manual
  • Fuel economy: (litres per 100 kilometres; combined): 6.9/7.9
  • Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Kia Forte

Looks

The refresh has brought a sportier look to the GLI, and updated details on the other models. It has come a long way from the indistinct, style-free Jetta of old. It might even gather a few appreciative looks from passersby.

Interior

Still low-key, but the Jetta interior punches above its price point. Details like colour-contrasted pin-point leather in the GLI and two-tone seats in the Trendline lend the car a sophistication that befits a German sedan. Seating is comfortable and the back is spacious with heated rear seats.

Performance

The sporty GLI has a nice amount of grunt and is the way to go if you are looking for a peppy cruiser. If you want a quiet, compliant ride, then one of the other three trims is the way to go.

The larger two-litre engine delivers a satisfying throttle response, and smooth handling through corners.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Technology

The Jetta comes equipped with wireless Android and Apple connectivity. This update also added the digital instrument cluster, which allows the driver to customize their view of critical functions like speed, navigation, fuel economy, media and more.

Cargo

The Jetta’s trunk is cavernous for a car its size. With the seats folded down that space expands to allow easy transport of bulky items or even flat-packed furniture.

The Jetta's rear seats fold down for more cargo space.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

The verdict

Still a stealth Euro sedan, the Jetta remains a testament to Volkswagen’s ability to build practical, understated, quality cars. And that the Jetta is actually a car that VW remains committed to producing may be the most remarkable thing about it.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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