January 2011

Volkswagen Jetta 1.6 TDI SE

Jetta complements the conservative styling of the Passat

January 2011

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

3.5 out of 5 stars


  • Rear seat occupants don't feel cramped
  • Solid build quality
  • Spacious boot boasts easy access
  • Diesel engine performance is impressive


  • Some might perceive the Jetta to be too similar to the Passat
  • Cabin design is modest and ambience is the usual dark VW affair
  • It's still a Volkswagen despite the premium touches
  • Compact saloon format not universally popular

The Jetta might be a bit player in the wider Volkswagen family, but the concept of a compact, well-built saloon is a proven one around the world. Regional tastes dictate that the Jetta has stood for many different things in many different countries. In Western Europe the car has slotted nicely in between the Golf and larger Passat, and appealed to buyers seeking a premium experience for a modest outlay.

In a bid to tempt downsizers out of cars like the Passat and encourage those moving up from a Golf to make that baby step into the world of premium saloons, the Jetta has become something of a halfway house. There's no hint of a compromise, though. This latest car has been styled to ape the Passat for a reason. It delivers a clear message to those sitting on the fence: this is a solid, trustworthy and rewarding car to own.

In deference to VW's decision to promote the Jetta as a 'world car' and bring it into line with the more prosperous North American market, the car you see here is visually the same as what you'll find on the other side of the world. What you don't get is a Golf with a boot. While that has largely been the case in the past, this time the transformation positions the Jetta closer than ever to the only slightly bigger Passat.

Like the Passat, the Jetta shares the larger car's trademark bright and polished grille. The Jetta's cabin also sees influences from the bigger VW - a car now closer to the compact saloon's roots. The interior space is, despite the usual VW dark ambience, a welcoming place thanks largely due to the room available. Compact in name only, the Jetta is a sizeable car and this is also true of its capacious boot. It's practical, too. The rear seats fold almost flat, and access is easy.

On the road, the European Jetta is different from its North American cousin in the way it drives. In the latter, the Jetta is positioned at a lower price point, and does without the more expensive multi link rear suspension of its Euro cousin. Our more challenging roads apparently warrant this extra sophistication, and the end result is a more composed ride than some of the Jetta's lower cost rivals. Factor in a modest but frugal range of engines plus a generous amount of safety and equipment and it's clear that the Jetta is no bit part player.

Our verdict on the Volkswagen Jetta 1.6 TDI SE

With comfort and refinement now a higher priority for many motorists, this Jetta offers conservative prospective buyers a rounded package of attributes. Certainly, anyone downsizing from a larger premium saloon won't feel cheated. And, likewise, anyone moving up from a family hatch will be impressed.


The Jetta is well built and should boast good resale values. Reliability is another VW strong point, ensuring maintenance is of the scheduled kind. Opt for a diesel variant and further savings can be made.

Space and practicality

Feeling very much like a smaller Passat from the inside, the Jetta boasts enough room for four adults. Oddment space is also good; door bins are a good size as is the glovebox, while the centre console can also store a few small items. The Jetta's boot opens wide with little effort, and reveals a deep loadspace. An added bonus is the ability to fold (almost) flat the rear seats.

Controls and display

All the major controls are clear, intuitive and placed where you'd expect them to be. The car's main dials are large and bright. The manual gearshift is short and precise, while the handbrake requires little effort.


The general absence of road and wind noise make the Jetta's cabin a relaxing environment, as do the car's supportive seats. Granted, the diesel engines can make their presence felt at high revs, but that's the only real criticism. Cabin room up front is good while those in the back will rarely feel the squeeze either.

Car security

There are no surprises here. Remote central locking is standard on the Jetta, along with an immobiliser package. A visible deterrent such as a steering lock is a sensible addition.

Car safety

Predictably the safety provision in the Jetta mirrors that of the larger, more upmarket Passat. Twin front, side and curtain airbags are all present, along with the predictable bundle of anti-lock brakes and electronic stability aids.

Driver appeal

There is a slight aloof feel to the Jetta, be it through the steering or throttle response. There's no questioning the car's ability to isolate road imperfections, while the diesel engines are both frugal and willing. Keen drivers will need to look elsewhere, however.

Family car appeal

For many a Touran compact people carrier might be a better bet, but the Jetta is not completely out of its depth. Its boot is a good size and rear cabin room is acceptable, although loading and retrieving pushchairs from the former might sometimes prove a little tricky.

First car appeal

The Jetta should prove easy to drive, while it boasts good forward visibility and can be had with modestly powerful engines to keep running and insurance costs down to sensible levels.

Quality and image

Now more Audi-like in construction, modern Volkswagens are exceptionally well built - and the Jetta is no exception. Image-wise the brand is a popular one, a factor that's been helped by upmarket and sophisticated advertising campaigns, although compact saloons have never been as popular as hatchbacks in the UK.


The Jetta's front doors open wide, its roof is not too low and the seats can be adjusted so you slide across not down into them. For a so-called compact saloon, rear seat passengers benefit from decent access. The doors don't open quite as wide but entry and exit is a largely dignified affair.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

Sound quality is good from the standard unit, and its location - high in the central fascia - is also welcome. Upgrades include MP3 music storage and satellite navigation. The latter boasts a large colour screen and clear map graphics.

Colours and trim

Subtle metallic exterior colours work the best. Such a choice will also do no harm to future residual values, while lighter shades better compliment the car's grille. Inside the Jetta is a typical VW - by default there's lots of dark plastic in the cabin.


The saloon format means that reverse parking requires extra care as you can't quite see where the boot ends. Thankfully, the speed related steering increases its assistance considerably at low speeds. Parking sensors are model dependent but worth it.

Spare wheel

Tyre mobility kit fitted as standard.

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.4-litre (122bhp, 160bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (140bhp). Transmission options: Five and six-speed manual gearboxes plus seven-speed DSG transmission depending on model. Trim levels: S, SE, Sport.

Alternative cars

Volvo S40 Compact S40's cabin is small and ambience is a little stark

Honda Accord Polished performer is bigger and boasts impeccable build quality

Lexus IS Premium IS is well built and equipped premium alternative

Skoda Octavia It's a hatchback but a very high quality one of a similar size to the Jetta

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