Volkswagen Jetta Generations

The Volkswagen Jetta is the German automaker's long-standing compact sedan that it's been building for seven generations in the U.S. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze Nissan Sentra, Kia Rio and Hyundai Elantra.

2019 – Present (Seventh Generation)

Volkswagen introduced the seventh-generation Jetta at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. The four-door sedan, which uses the MQB platform of the VW Golf compact hatchback and Atlas large crossover, is being produced at the German automaker’s Puebla plant in Mexico.

Owing to the new platform, the seventh-generation Jetta is larger and has more interior room than the Jetta of the previous generation. It also includes new interior features such as heated front seats, ten-color customizable ambient lighting, and the optional new Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. A touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity comes as standard equipment.

Volkswagen offers this Jetta in five trim levels — S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium—all powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine carried over from the previous generation. The 148-horsepower engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission across the line. An optional six-speed manual transmission is available for the S trim.

Fuel economy ratings for all trims are 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 miles per gallon in highway driving. Standard safety features include a tire pressure monitoring system, a post-collision braking system, and a safety cage, which protects occupants in the event of a rollover.

2011 – 2018 (Sixth Generation)

The sixth-generation VW Jetta used the A5 platform of the previous generation. However, enhancements gave it a longer wheelbase and made it larger than the previous iteration.

For this generation, Volkswagen dropped the wagon and took away some of the features that made the sedan a premium compact car. Among other cost-cutting downgrades, the sixth-generation models got lower-quality trim material in their interiors and lost the multi-link suspension introduced in the previous generation. Leather was no longer available; the only optional seating upholstery was leatherette. Only higher trims—such as the SEL Premium—retained multi-link suspension.

A GLI trim level had featured fully independent suspension and red interior stitching. Volkswagen also offered the Jetta GLI Edition 30 in 2014 and a limited-edition Jetta Sport in 2015.

The Sport trim featured a sport suspension, two-tone heatable seats, and a rear spoiler. The base S model came with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 115 horsepower. Engine options for other versions included a 2.5-liter five-cylinder rated 170 horsepower and a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine rated 140 horsepower.

Starting 2013, a Turbo Hybrid that paired a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with a 27-horsepower electric motor for a combined rating of 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. In 2016, a standard 1.4-liter turbocharged engine rated 148 horsepower replaced the Hybrid model.

Sixth-generation models were paired with a five- or six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission.

2006 – 2010 (Fifth Generation)

The redesigned fifth-generation Jetta featured sleeker styling, part of which was a new chrome front grille.

Production used a new A5 platform that made it 6.7 inches longer and 1.2 inches wider than the previous generation. Interior room increased by four cubic feet and rear legroom grew by 2.6 inches.

When it debuted at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Jetta was available as a four-door sedan or five-door wagon. Volkswagen unveiled the Jetta SportWagen, a variant of the VW Golf, at the 2007 New York International Auto Show. The SportWagen had a cargo capacity of up to 66.9 cubic feet with the rear seats down (up from the 16 cubic feet of the Jetta sedan) and featured an optional panoramic sunroof.

Other innovations that fifth-generation models came with included dual-zone automatic climate control and power steering. Multi-link independent rear suspension, which improved handling and ride quality, was standard for the GLI performance model and optional in other models.

A 2.5-liter, inline five-cylinder engine was standard while a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine came on the 2.0T and the GLI models. The diesel engine of the previous generation was still available: a 1.9-liter engine that made 100 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on most models, with a six-speed automatic offered as an option. On the higher-end 2.0T and GLI models, a six-speed manual transmission was offered and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission was optional.

New safety features for this generation included active head restraints, seat-mounted rear-side airbags, and emergency brake assist.

1999 – 2005 (Fourth Generation)

Volkswagen softened the traditional boxy shape of the previous generations to give the fourth-generation a more modern and curvy style. An arched roofline became the Jetta’s new design trademark.

The fourth-generation Jetta carried over the standard 115-horsepower, four-cylinder gas engine of the previous generation. Other power options included a 2.8-liter VR6 engine that produced 174 horsepower and a more powerful 3.2-liter VR6 engine. Volkswagen also carried over the 1.9-liter diesel engines of the previous generation. Buyers could also choose from five- and six-speed manual transmissions or four- and five-speed automatic transmissions. A six-speed automatic transmission became available with a mid-2005 refresh.

Beginning in 2001, Volkswagen introduced a five-door wagon to join the sedan. Side curtain airbags, which came with the wagon, became standard for sedans of the 2001 and subsequent model years.

The New Car Assessment Program of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Jetta 5/5 stars for driver and passenger frontal-impact protection.

1993 – 1998 (Third Generation)

The third-generation used a new Volkswagen platform that made it more aerodynamic.

This Jetta retained some of the boxy design elements from the previous generation but softened a bit to be more contemporary. Volkswagen dropped the two-door model for 1993 and subsequent model years.

The power options in the U.S. were highlighted by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower; a 2.8-liter V6 was optional and produced 172 horsepower. A five-speed manual is standard while a four-speed automatic is optional.

1985 – 1992 (Second Generation)

The second-generation Jetta used the new A2 platform that underpinned the second-generation VW Golf. The new Jetta was heavier and larger than the previous iteration: length and width grew by 3.9 and 2.1 inches respectively, and interior space grew by 14 percent.

The subcompact Jetta of the previous generation turned into a compact sedan that could accommodate five instead of four people. Cargo capacity also grew to 16.6 cubic feet. For a minor exterior redesign, Volkswagen eliminated the front-quarter windows of the previous generation and added lower side skirts.

Volkswagen continued to offer the Jetta in the two-door and four-door configurations of the previous generation. The powertrain got some minor upgrades, but the engine choices offered remained mostly unchanged.

The base powertrain was an 85-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission; the performance-oriented GLI model bumped that horsepower rating up to 100 and a three-speed automatic transmission was optional.

1980 – 1984 (First Generation)

Volkswagen first unveiled the Jetta at the 1979 Frankfurt Auto Show. The Jetta was a modified version of the first-generation VW Golf hatchback.

Designers created the notchback sedan by attaching a new trunk to the tail of the Golf. Both models shared the same wheelbase, but the Jetta was longer by 15 inches. The two Jetta versions—a two-door coupe and a four-door sedan—had a traditional three-box design.

Both versions featured velour-upholstered seats, front-quarter windows, and rectangular sealed beam lamps. Luggage capacity was 13.3 cubic feet.

Volkswagen offered the first-generation Jetta with multiple engine choices globally. In the U.S., a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine made 74 horsepower; an optional diesel engine produced 50 horsepower.

The engines were paired with a four-speed manual, five-speed manual, or a three-speed automatic transmission.

  • Car Review
Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
By David Undercoffler | April 13, 2018

Autolist rating: 5/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $19,395 - $27,795

Key takeaways

  • The Jetta was redesigned for the 2019 model year.
  • Powered by a smooth, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
  • Offers European refinement to a segment that rarely has any.
  • Excellent value, especially on mid-level trims.

What is it?

The Jetta is Volkswagen’s five-passenger, compact sedan, the one that’s been kicking around the U.S. market since 1979. One of VW’s most popular models, it’s larger than the Golf hatchback and smaller than the Passat midsize sedan.

The Jetta competes with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Nissan Sentra.

VW completely redesigned the Jetta for the 2019 model year, giving it a sleeker exterior design, additional safety features and a slightly larger footprint and interior space.

The Jetta comes in five different trim levels: base S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium.

All are front-wheel drive and powered by a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on all trim levels except the base S, where it’s an $800 option over the standard six-speed manual transmission.

What’s good:

TLDR: Euro refinement and styling mixed with everyday value.

Refinement. It’s been a calling card of VW for decades: a level of European flair that most of its mainstream competitors can’t match. It’s alive and well in this new Jetta. When you ride or drive in it, everything you see or touch feels a bit nicer and more upscale.

Value. VW packed a lot of content for the money into the 2019 Jetta. It starts at $20,195 for the base S model with the automatic transmission (cheaper if you want the manual transmission), but it’s the SE version that really hits a home run here. For $23,005 you get a panoramic sunroof, faux leather seats that are heated up front, pre-collision braking and climate control. That’s awesome.

The rear end. It’s harder to tell in pictures, but the rear end of the Jetta has a great dash of style to it. You’d almost think it was from VW’s upscale cousin, Audi. Not bad for a car that starts at under $20,000.

What’s bad:

TLDR: Front-end styling, lame R-Line, needs more useful folding seats.

The rest of the styling. Aside from the handsome back end, the rest of the Jetta is bland and generic. Yes, boring is better than ugly, but we wish the front styling had the same amount of style and character as the rear.

The R-Line. For the first time, VW is making its sporty R-Line trim available on the Jetta. But it falls flat. Rather than offering any meaningful performance or handling upgrades, it’s mostly an appearance package and a weak one at that. Skip it.

Folding seats. Yes, the rear seats fold to allow you to carry larger items in the trunk, but this usefulness is limited. The opening between the rear seats and the trunk is smaller than it should be, and the trunk floor is lower than the folded seatback itself, creating an awkward shelf that limits what you can put back there.

5 stars of execution:

Safety? Yes

  • Nearly all Jetta models come with pre-collision alerts and braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert. The base S doesn’t, but these features are just a $450 option. And every model comes with a post-collision braking system designed to prevent a secondary crash.
  • The SEL and SEL Premium models have standard adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning -- the only versions of the Jetta that offer it. This is a nice touch, but many of Jetta’s competitors offer this as standard, or at least optional, across all trim lines. Jetta should too.
  • The 2019 Jetta has not yet been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Value? Yes

  • The Jetta starts at $19,395 for the S with a manual transmission and $20,195 for the S with an automatic. From there, every trim line offers a nice amount of stuff for the money.
  • The sweet spot is the SE model -- which VW expects to be the best-seller in the Jetta line. For $23,005, you get everything you need and nothing you don’t.
  • Added bonus: all trim lines come with a level of refinement rare in this segment.

Efficiency? Yes

  • The 2019 Jetta is rated by the EPA at 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined -- good numbers for a car of this size and power.
  • Those figures put it near the top of the segment for efficiency -- but not as good as Honda’s Civic or Hyundai’s Elantra.

Driving experience? Yes

  • The Jetta is powered by a turbocharged, 147-horsepower four-cylinder engine that’s plenty powerful, smooth and composed even when you push it hard.
  • It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that does its job without drama or calling attention to itself.
  • The handling is comfortable and direct, and the car gives you just enough feedback so as to not be boring like some of its competitors.

Execution? Yes

  • From upscale materials and build quality to a roomy rear seat and trunk, VW did its homework on what consumers need and want in their compact sedans.
  • Volkswagen’s Jetta is an excellent combination of straightforward competence, Euro-inspired panache, style and value.
  • It proves VW still has the ability to inject otherwise mainstream vehicles with something unique.

Total Rating: 5 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

As mentioned, the base S model is $19,395 with a manual transmission and $20,195 with an automatic. That trim comes with LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights, comfy cloth seats, a backup camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and a 6.5-inch infotainment system. While that’s definitely a bargain, we found the interior of the S model comfy but too austere.

Our favorite Jetta is the SE. $23,005 gets you fake-leather seats that are heated up front, a large moonroof, push-button start, pre-collision alerts and braking, climate control and blind spot monitoring.

The aforementioned R-Line is $23,845 and adds unique 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and other minor trim changes inside and out, a unique steering wheel and brake-induced torque vectoring (a fancy system to help handling in a turn).

We also drove the SEL. For $25,265 you get fancier LED headlights, four driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport and Custom), a trick 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a Beats Audio stereo system, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and satellite radio. We definitely recommend this trim level too if it’s within your budget, but our favorite is still the SE.

Finally there’s the loaded SEL Premium. For $27,795 you get fog lights, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, real leather seats and fancier 17-inch alloy wheels. Nice stuff, but you can save your money and live without it.

Also consider

The Jetta is in one of the biggest segments in the auto industry in terms of volume, so you have a lot of choices. Our favorites are the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 and the Subaru Impreza. But the Jetta easily competes with all three of those.

Kia has a new Forte due soon, but we haven’t driven it. Toyota’s Corolla, Chevy’s Cruze and Hyundai’s Elantra are perfectly fine but uninspired. Ford’s Focus and Nissan’s Sentra are getting old at this point.