2023 Volkswagen Jetta 1.5T SE Review

Sensible, fun, and very affordable


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Good driving manners, attractively styled, roomy in both rows, easy infotainment operation, capacious trunk.
Negatives: Engine could use a power bump, unwilling transmission, overly plasticky climate controls, can't get the SE with a manual transmission.
Bottom Line: The Jetta will work for most people. It's easy to drive, seriously roomy, and has tech that's very user-friendly. It might not be a head-turner, but it will still look good in ten years.
When the average price of a new car is about fifty grand, the notion of getting a solid family sedan for just about half that price is almost shocking, but that's what makes the Jetta 1.5T SE so attractive. It's well-designed, roomy, fun to drive, and efficient. What's more, the Jetta is literally the only affordable German compact sedan for sale today.The Passat is long gone, and Audi, BMW, and Mercedes start in the mid-$30s. It's actually better to drive than most of the competition including the Toyota Corolla and the Nissan Sentra, but it can't hold a candle to the new Civic and the Mazda3. Not much has changed for the 2023 model year after 2022's mild visual tweaks. We got to drive the mid-pack 1.5T SE for a week. Read our full review below.
 

Driving Experience

7

 

The Jetta isn't what we would call sporty, but it rides smoothly and is more than just competent daily transportation with good braking and respectable steering. The car reveals its limitations when pushed, however.

Ride Quality: The Jetta feels downright refined over road imperfections. It feels more solid than much of the competition.

Acceleration: 0 to 60 comes in a decent 7.6 seconds, but the automatic transmission is slow to downshift. This needs a DCT or a manual transmission, neither of which is available on the Jetta SE.

Braking: The brakes feel progressive and stopping distances are about average. We had no trouble modulating the pedal or coming to a stop without drama. Take note, however, that braking distances are a bit worse than the previous model.

Steering: While it's not as sharp as the Jetta GLI or the Golf GTI, the steering in the Jetta is pretty is precise, accurate, and on center.

Handling: The Jetta's body roll is noticeable, but it's easy to keep in check. There was no significant oversteer that we noticed when we pushed it in the turns.

Technology

7.3

 

We wish VW hadn't gone so far out into left field with its new infotainment system in models like the ID.4 and the Golf GTI/R. The basic one in the Jetta might not look as fancy, but it's easier to use and navigate.

Infotainment System: The 8" color touchscreen isn't exactly big or vivid, but it works very well with decent physical controls that flank the screen.

Controls: There's nothing wrong with conventional, and the Jetta's shift knob, steering wheel controls, and infotainment controls all work easily. The climate control knobs are fine, but they do feel a bit on the cheap side.

Styling

7.7

 

The Jetta looks great with blue paint and black wheels, making its conservative styling stand out a bit more. The styling of the Jetta isn't as noticeable as the Elantra or the Sentra, but we find it attractive in a low-key kind of way. The interior is pretty dark, but it's at least a cleanly styled environment.

Front: The front end looks a lot like the old Passat, which means it's handsome but not especially dramatic. The lower fascia has quite a bit of black plastic, which looks a little cheap.

Rear: The little lip spoiler is a nice touch, and the inwardly tapering taillights look good. There's more cheap black plastic on the lower portion, and the exhaust outlets aren't visible like the last model. That's too bad.

Profile: The Jetta is a truly handsome car from this view. Its lack of chrome makes it more sporty looking, and the five double-spoke wheels look great. It's also well-proportioned, and the single crease along the body is nicely done.

Cabin: There's a lot of dark plastic and upholstery, but the layout is very well done. We especially like the way the center stack is canted toward the driver.

Comfort

8.2

 

The Jetta is one of the best in the segment when it comes to space. It feels like an early-generation Passat in the back. It actually has more legroom than that car. Ergonomically, it's also pretty easy to operate, although some of the controls could be larger and easier to operate while driving.

Front Seats: The front seats have a nice balance of cushioning and bolstering. The seating position is also very good.

Rear Seats: 37.4 inches of rear legroom is almost as good as the Hyundai Elantra. The outboard seats are flat but comfortable.

Visibility: Visibility all around is quite good with manageable pillar size and large windows.

Climate: We had no trouble cooling off or getting warm with the Jetta's system. It's no nonsense and airflow is good.

Safety

6.9

 

The Jetta actually does very well in crash tests, and its standard safety tech set is pretty impressive. It does, however, get dinged in non-crash test related areas, which brings its score down.

IIHS Rating: It nailed all the crash test in exemplary fashion, but it failed to get any awards due to poor and marginal headlights (based on trim).

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: Our tester came with an Intelligent Crash Response System, Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, Rearview Camera System, Hill Hold Control, Travel Assist semi-automated driving assistance, Adaptive Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go, Lane Assist, Emergency Assist, Front Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Monitoring, Active Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Traffic Alert.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8.1

 

There's a ton of cargo room in the Jetta, and the interior storage spaces are pretty good. Buyers will have no problem finding a space for small daily items in the front row.

Storage Space: The cabin has a medium-sized armrest, a grippy open cubby in front of the shifter, and good door pockets that are plenty long and deep.

Cargo Room: There's 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space, which is at the top of the heap. Only the Elantra is bigger, and only by a smidge. The opening is wide and low enough for easy loading.

Fuel Economy

8

 

We drove the Jetta pretty hard and used the Tiptronic feature often. In light of that, the fuel economy numbers were surprisingly good. The fact that you can squeeze out 40 mpg highway for a gas engine is impressive. Keep in mind, however, that the last model was able to get 30 city/40 highway/34 combined, while the new one with the updated engine loses 1 mpg in both city and combined efficiency.

Observed: 27.9 mpg

Distance Driven: 134 miles

Audio

6.7

 

The stock audio system isn't something to write home about, but it at least is without distortion at higher volumes and has decent clarity. There's distinct lack of solid bass, however.



Final Thoughts

For daily transportation, the Jetta does very well, indeed. Those who aren't keen on sharp handling or blistering acceleration won't notice the Jetta's performance deficits. It rides very comfortably, and there's a ton of interior space. Tech is easy to use, and the trunk has ample cargo capacity. While it might not be a stunner like the Mazda3, its more practical for cargo and passenger space.
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