View the Volkswagen Jetta this week

If there were more cars like Volkswagen’s Jetta, there would probably be more cars (as opposed to crossovers) for sale.

Because more people would want to buy them.

What makes the Jetta stand out is what has made most other cars fade away. It isn’t like them. It comes standard with a manual transmission — something that’s harder to find in a new sedan than a cigarette lighter, these having been replaced by “power points” just as automatic transmissions have all but replaced manuals, especially in sedans.

It is also easy on gas — 42 mpg on the highway. And on the wallet, too.

Other car manufacturers might take a clue, as opposed to building more (of the same).

What It Is

The Jetta is an in-between sedan, a bit larger than the typical compact-size sedan like the Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra, and a bit smaller than a typical midsize sedan such as a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. It’s also the only German-brand car that isn’t also a luxury-price car, even though VW is closely related to Audi (and vice versa).

But the thing that makes the Jetta stand out is that it is the last new sedan you can buy that not only offers a manual transmission but comes standard with one, and so comes standard with more driving engagement than other sedans.

The Jetta is also very affordable. Base price for the S trim (with manual) is just $20,655.

The high-performance GLI doesn’t go quite that far. But it does go faster.  It comes standard with a larger and much stronger 2.0-liter engine (versus the regular Jetta’s 1.5-liter engine) and a host of high-performance upgrades, including a limited-slip differential, larger brakes and an adaptive/sport-tuned suspension.

Base price is $31,585 with the standard six-speed manual transmission; with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, the MSRP is $32,385.

What’s New For 2023

The Jetta (and GLI) carry over unchanged. Also almost unchanged is the price. The ’23 GLI is only about $300 more than the ’22 ($31,295), which means it costs about the same, given inflation.

What’s Good

A car that makes you remember what it was like to drive, and why it can be so much fun.

Pay less for the manual and get better mileage than the automatic.

Not a too-small car or a too-big car.

What’s Not So Good

You have to use the touch screen to change stations/audio sources.

No manual emergency brake.

One-size-fits-all cupholders.

Under The Hood

The Jetta comes standard with a 1.5-liter, lightly turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower.

What makes it unusual is that it’s paired with a six-speed manual transmission (eight-speed automatic is optional). There are no other sedans in this price range that still come standard with a manual anymore. And not many even offer one, either.

Another perk is something you might not expect.

The manual-equipped Jetta with the 1.5-liter engine gets the best mileage: 29 city, 42 highway — better mileage than the 29 city, 40 highway you get with the optional eight-speed automatic.

The high-performance Jetta GLI comes standard with a 2.0-liter engine that’s larger — and fed more boost — that makes 228 horsepower. This engine is also paired with a six-speed manual. The optional automatic — if you want it — is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that offers very quick, very precise shifts. With the manual six-speed, the GLI rates 26 city, 37 highway, the latter number only 5 mpg off the pace of the Jetta with the 1.5-liter engine (and with 70 fewer horsepower).

On The Road

The GLI is quick (0-60 in about 5.9 seconds). But what counts is that it’s more fun, this being very much a function of having something to do other than push down on the accelerator pedal.

Automatic-only sporty cars are kind of like amusement park rides in that you don’t have much say over the ride. In the GLI — even the standard Jetta with the 1.5-liter engine — you are in charge of the drive.

And that’s the difference here.

There are other things to admire about the Jetta, too — GLI and standard. You have better all-around visibility (especially to the rear) than you would in a typical crossover. And being lower to the ground greatly prevents the weight from shifting to the outside of the curve as you corner.

At The Curb

The Jetta is unusual in another respect. It falls in between compact-size sedans like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra, and midsize sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

It is 186.5 inches long, as opposed to 184 inches for the Civic and 184.1 inches for the Elantra.

Yet it has about the same space inside (and in its trunk) as a larger, midsize car like the Camry, which is 192.1 inches long and has 42.1 inches of front-seat legroom, 38 inches of rear-seat legroom and a 15.1 cubic foot trunk. The Jetta has 41.1 inches of front seat legroom, 37.4 inches of rear seat legroom and a 14.1 cubic foot trunk.

The point being you can have more room in your garage without having appreciably less room in your car.

The Rest

Like most new cars, the Jetta comes standard with a suite of “driver assistance” systems, including Lane Keep Assist and automatic emergency braking. But all of these can be fully turned off if you do not wish to be “assisted.” Manual-equipped models do not have engine stop-start “technology,” either.

The engine stays on until you shut it off.

The Bottom Line

The Jetta is one of the last new cars you can still buy that you might want to buy.

Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong!” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at