Compact cars are an endangered species in the American market. There is no more Fit; no more regular Golf; and maybe no more standard Veloster, while cars like the Cruze, Fiesta, and Focus are long gone. And yet the Volkswagen Jetta is still here.
(Full disclosure: Last week, Volkswagen flew me to Romulus, Michigan, and gave me an Atlas to drive to Birmingham, Michigan, where we had a pleasant dinner and I stayed for the night before VW presented the newish Jetta at a site in Farmington Hills, Michigan, the following morning. It was more time than I’d ever thought I’d spend in the suburbs of Detroit.)
Ask yourself: If you were in the market today for a new car that starts at less than $20,000, what would you buy? The most obvious answer is something Japanese or Korean, something like a Mitsubishi Mirage, a Hyundai Elantra, or, most obviously, a Toyota Corolla.
And then there is the Volkswagen Jetta, now in its seventh-generation, a German car built in Mexico and part of a VW sedan line that VW says still accounts for 29 percent of its volume. Jetta sales were down 18 percent last year in the U.S., but up 5 percent globally; demand for the Jetta is still strong, if not here.
Yet, the Jetta is still here, with long-term plans to be decided, a non-electrified car with a non-electrified performance variant in the GLI, both of which feel like the best kinds of dinosaurs. The 2022 Jetta has a new rear bumper, different styling on the front, a new font for the badge, LED headlights standard, updated interiors, and three new colors, which are blue, red, and white, but no green. On the GLI there is a dual-outlet sport exhaust. Optional on the regular Jetta and standard on the GLI for 2022 are heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and a 10-inch screen, two inches bigger than before.
The regular Jetta is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder which makes 158 horsepower, which you can get either with a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic, which is an improvement over the 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower in the 2021 model. The 2022 GLI has the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 228-horsepower as the 2021 version, also with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic; VW said that about half of GLI buyers go manual.
Here is a slide on the improvements VW’s made to the base engine, which engineers will understand:
Safety is also a theme with the new Jetta, with blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, and front traffic assist with pedestrian monitoring now standard, and lane and light assistance and other tech standard on the GLI and optional on the regular Jetta.
Gone for 2022 on the GLI is the base S trim, with just the Autobahn on offer, in addition to a black package, because, that’s the trim that most buyers bought anyway. VW did not release pricing, but said that for both models we can expect modest increases for 2022; the regular 2021 Jetta starts at $18,995, while the 2021 GLI Autobahn starts at $30,745.
Jetta is its own sub-brand now in China, while in Europe it doesn’t exist anymore; the GLI is basically only for the U.S., as Europe prefers GTI. And while I don’t know what Volkswagen is doing in the U.S., exactly — it doesn’t make money here — that is a happy circumstance for consumers, as Volkswagen is the second-biggest carmaker in the world and, on the other hand, it’s unlikely to give up on the US anytime soon.
Consider the Jetta, for, like the Mirage, it seems like an afterthought within its own company. That’s what you want, though, something under the radar. I asked VW what was next for the Jetta, was it just ID.3? That’s up in the air, they said, but this one does feel like one of the last of its kind.