2018 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE new car reviews

The 2018 Volkswagen Jetta that we drove is a bit of a lame duck as an all-new Jetta will be here for the 2019 model year. So call our time with the sixth-generation Jetta a bit of a benchmark for the new one.

We sampled the Jetta 1.4T SE fitted with a five-speed manual transmission–yep, just five gears. This model carries an MSRP of $21,245, and ours didn’t have any options. With delivery and destination, the final tally was $22,095. (If the photos show a more upmarket version, well, we didn’t get to drive it.)

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J.G. Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

The Jetta 1.4 is a powerful reminder that cars can be appliances, and they can do so with no shame or regret. On paper, there’s little thrilling about the car. Power is modest, it’s got an old-school five-speed manual transmission, and it’s pretty much a rectangular box that holds people and moves around.

But not everything needs a hook. Not every movie needs a twist ending where nothing is as it seems. Not every Super Bowl needs to end with an impossible Tom Brady comeback. Some things can just be what they are.

Especially when what they are is comfortable, capable, user-friendly and insanely frugal. You can get the sticker price of a well-equipped Jetta under $20,000, and we saw well over the manufacturer’s claim of 40 mpg on an extended highway trip with our loaner.

Okay, maybe the Jetta isn’t much in the thrills department–the wide (very wide, if we’re being specific) transmission ratios do a lot to hurt the zippiness of what is otherwise a capable engine–but it’s hard to argue with 45+mpg on the highway.

The real thrills of the base Jetta come from its competence and sensibility, and that’s a perfectly fine thing to appreciate a driving appliance for.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin

This Jetta surprised me a bit, and not always in the right ways.

On the positive side, the engine is punchy and provides more oomph than I expected in a car as inexpensive as this one is. Although I didn't take it to Bonneville for any top-speed runs, it felt lively and quick around town, and the availability of a manual transmission is appreciated.

What wasn't appreciated was the feel of shifting. Seriously VW, you are a huge automaker with all the technological expertise available to mankind and you still can't figure out how to make a decent-feeling shifter? This brand new Jetta's shifter was rubbery, vague and imprecise. Honestly, I'd rather have their excellent DSG transmission, as this stick was no fun to row. VW should learn from Honda and Mazda and develop a good-feeling front-wheel-drive shifter.

Other than the horrid shifting action, this VW neither made me giggle nor shout obscenities. It was just kind of there. The seats are great, but adjusting the rear-view mirror caused an audible cracking noise and it felt as cheap as plastic gets. Actually most of the interior materials were a let-down, as this Jetta doesn't try to convince you it's anything but a cheap transportation device. It's not a terrible car, but for the money I'd head on down to my Mazda dealer and buy a much more satisfying Mazda 6 or Mazda 3. I'd also rather have a new Civic than this VW, despite the Honda's polarizing looks.

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Carsandbikes New Reader
5/10/18 3:50 p.m.

Interesting comment about the Jetta's manual transmission shifter, as there was a time (not all that long ago) when Honda AND VW were touted as having the best manual shifting feel.  Perhaps this car was a "one off" as so many cars are now equipped with automatic transmissions?

Trackmouse UltraDork
5/10/18 5:16 p.m.

 Sounds like the VW’s pocketbook has ran low and now they are forced to use crap materials to make their vehicles and offer them at a lower price in order to compete with everyone else and get business back to where it was. IMO. 

Suprf1y PowerDork
5/10/18 5:20 p.m.

We drove one when car shopping for Mrs. F1y.

It was just so vanilla.

dxman92 Reader
5/10/18 6:09 p.m.

I think the shifters on newer VW's aren't terrible. The 16 Golf Sport Wagen I test drove last night had a nice shifter. Much better than the Forester manual transmission I test drove last week angry...

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