Car of the Year

Volkswagen Jetta: 2016 Motor Trend Car of the Year Contender

The X Factor

The X Factor

We Like: A base engine no longer the butt of jokes, its ride/handling balance.

We Don’t Like: The craptastic base interior, #Dieselgate.

A mild face-lift brings Volkswagen’s compact sedan across the line into this century. The Jetta now features an all-turbo lineup, as the outgoing model’s 1993-vintage 2.0-liter, eight-valve, 115-hp lump is finally sent out to pasture. In its place is a new, thoroughly modern 1.4-liter, 16-valve turbo making 150 hp.

Stay tuned to MotorTrend.com as the 2016 Motor Trend Car of the Year contenders and finalists are revealed in advance of the official winner announcement on the evening of November 16. Learn about other Car of the Year contenders at the links below. Check out the Car of the Year introduction HERE, and discover how our Of The Year awards have evolved HERE.

The new base Jetta tromps the old one’s EPA highway mileage by 15 percent, and it’s noticeably quicker. Mind you, at 9.4 seconds to 60, it isn’t a rocket—and the new aluminum-four isn’t as refined as the optional iron-block 1.8T and 2.0T engines (the Jetta GLI is shown above in red). Or the 2.0-liter diesel, which remains a dirty word for the moment.

The Jetta gains a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the rest is mostly carryover. That means a large back seat, a good ride, an enormous trunk, a feeling of Germanic solidity, and explosive snap-oversteer on trailing throttle. You can’t fully defeat the stability control—something we’d normally bemoan—but given this car’s handling, we’re just fine with it.

The base car’s shockingly down-market cabin materials, however, are a big issue. The SE’s plastic steering wheel might be the cheapest-feeling in the entire industry—Christian Seabaugh was so grossed out that he wanted to wipe his hands after touching it. After driving the base models, almost everyone commented that the Jetta is just missing that X factor.

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

The 2.0-liter GLI receives vastly upgraded interior materials, some unique styling elements, and a Soundaktor that mimics, inexplicably, a five-cylinder engine. But ultimately, this Jetta is no Golf, and the GLI is no GTI. If this Jetta had switched to the MQB platform that underpins last year’s Golf, it’d be the clear winner this year, but alas it didn’t. Chris Walton wondered, “Why, when the Jetta outsells Golf by a ton, has it been left to wither on the vine like this?” But it’s Angus MacKenzie who appropriately sums the VW‘s biggest problem, calling the Jetta “one of VW’s most cynical cars. It’s mostly a concoction of old components to create a car deemed good enough by German engineers to fool an uncritical consumer.” That doesn’t bode well for a Car of the Year trophy.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta SE SEL GLI
Base Price $19,815 $24,470 $27,740
Price As Tested $20,915 $26,415 $27,740
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
Engine 1.4L/150-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 1.8L/170-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 2.0L/210-hp/207-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic 6-speed manual
Length x Width x Height 182.2 x 70.0 x 56.6 182.2 x 70.0 x 56.6 182.2 x 70.0 x 56.6
Wheelbase 104.4 in 104.4 in 104.4 in
Curb Weight (F/R Dist) 3,024 lb (59/41%) 3,216 lb (60/40%) 3,210 lb (59/41%)
Acceleration, 0-60 mph 9.4 sec 7.8 sec 6.3 sec
Quarter Mile 16.9 sec @ 82.8 mph 15.9 sec @ 89.2 mph 14.9 sec @ 96.3 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 124 ft 119 ft 111 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.82 g (avg) 0.81 g (avg) 0.90 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.6 sec @ 0.61 g (avg) 27.4 sec @ 0.63 g (avg) 26.3 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 28/39/32 mpg 25/36/29 mpg 23/33/27 mpg
Energy Consumption, City/Hwy 120/86 kW-hrs/100 miles 135/94 kW-hrs/100 miles 147/102 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 Emissions 0.60 lb/mile 0.67 lb/mile 0.73 lb/mile

2016 Motor Trend Car of the Year Contenders: