NIAGARA ON THE LAKE, ONTARIO – With increasing demands for crossovers and electrification (though not mutually exclusive), it’s almost refreshing to see a perennial favourite get a freshening. Volkswagen’s Jetta has been one of our most strongly recommended compact sedans for quite some time now, and about halfway through this model’s cycle, it has been given some upgrades. We were invited to Niagara-on-the-Lake to sample the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta lineup and see for ourselves just what’s what.
Visually, the new Jetta gets new fasciae front and rear, new wheel designs, and paint options. It’s still a decent looking car, if not a little bit frumpy-looking, but remains one of the sharper contenders in its class. The Comfortline now gets an optional “Sport” package, which adds 17-inch wheels and black accents all around. As expected, the GLI gets sportier bits all around, and 18-inch wheels. The Jetta remains on the same MQB underpinnings as before.
Inside, the most obvious update is the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, the official name for the 10.25-inch electronic instrument cluster. It’s standard across all trims, including the base Trendline. All models but the Trendline get an 8.0-inch display featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and one of the better native infotainment systems around. Base models get a 6.5-inch setup with fewer features. Thanks to its larger size, the Jetta also boasts better-than-average interior space for the segment, with ample headroom in the rear for taller passengers. It’s worth mentioning that on the GLI, physical buttons on the steering wheel are gone, replaced with touch-sensitive sliders for things like volume control.
A powertrain update puts a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood, replacing the outgoing 1.4-liter unit. The keen will observe that this is the same engine that powers the Taos subcompact crossover. Output here is 158 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque. It’s more than adequate for most compact sedan buyers, and the Jetta manages to feel livelier and more confident in a line than rivals like the Corolla and Elantra. The new engine is more than compliant, and eager off the line. Put your foot down off the line and the front wheels will let out a chirp as it gets going. Things smooth out as the Jetta approaches cruising speed, and highway passing power isn’t exactly the little sedan’s forte.
What really works to the little German compact’s advantage is the eight-speed automatic, rather than the drone-heavy CVTs found in nearly every other competitor on the market. The Mazda3 still retains a conventional automatic, however the six-speed unit lags behind the VW’s more refined setup. Those still wanting three pedals can rejoice at the standard six-speed manual available on Trendline, Comfortline, and GLI models.
The Jetta GLI is the dark horse competitor to the Honda Civic Si, living in the shadow of the much more popular GTI hatchback. The familiar Volkswagen EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged four remains under the hood, outputting 228 horsepower at 6,500RPM and 258 lb-ft. at 4,000. A six-speed manual is still offered, though a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG is optional. The DSG completely transforms the personality of this hot sedan, and features like an electronically controlled limited slip differential, adaptive dampers, and performance exhaust really step things up.
A trait not limited to the GLI model, the 2022 Jetta handles competently, with a good amount of driver feedback through the chassis. The GLI obviously pops in this regard, but even the regular model is responsive with sharp reflexes and body control that’s not typical for the compact sedan segment. Where the Corolla, Elantra, Forte and Sentra feel very bargain-basement in how they carry themselves, the Jetta offers a very obviously upscale, German feel that’s reminiscent of more premium models from the automaker. The steering is nicely weighted, and ride quality is also on the comfortable side.
The Jetta remains one of the more efficient compacts too, thanks to excellent gearing and a frugal powertrain. Combined consumption is between 6.8L/100km and 6.9L/100km for the 1.5-liter model, depending on which transmission you pick. We observed numbers of close to 5.1L/100km in steady highway driving, handily surpassing the suggested 5.5L/100km. The GLI is rated at 7.9L/100km combined, regardless of gearbox.
Pricing for the 2022 Jetta comes in at $22,895 for the entry-level Trendline with the manual transmission. It still comes extremely well equipped including LED lighting all around, heated seats and steering wheel, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the basic driver assistance suite. The $25,895 Comfortline ($27,295 with an automatic) is the way to go, adding most things buyers want. The GLI stickers for $31,895 with the stick and $33,295 with the DSG gearbox.
The current Jetta was already very competitive within its class, but these updates have given it a well-deserved catch-up to put it right at the top. It provides a more comfortable and smooth driving experience when compared to its rivals, and the real-world interior volume is more usable as well. While crisply styled models like the Mazda3 and Honda Civic seem to get all the publicity, the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta is an underdog that really does deserve more praise than it gets. What a wonderful, honest little car.