2020 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium: Upscale Compact with European Flair

Jetta SEL Premium brings continental touch to compact class

The Volkswagen Jetta is one of the world’s most successful sedans. Since its introduction in 1979 more than three million Jettas have been sold in the United States alone. More than 17.5 million models have been sold worldwide. As a compact sedan, the Jetta competes with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and more than a dozen other cars in the class, but the Jetta stands apart with its European design, handling, and technology. The Jetta’s exterior and interior offer a continental touch in a segment filled with cookie-cutter designs, and it simply feels more sophisticated the vehicles it competes with. The Jetta features a low drag coefficient of just 0.27, achieved with the help of an active radiator shutter and “Air Curtain” intakes on each side, which allow air to flow smoothly past the front wheel arches. To further optimize airflow, the Jetta features aero-influenced wheel designs and smooth underbody panels.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Jetta is available in five trim levels, including the sports-oriented R-Line and the test vehicle we had — the SEL Premium. With a wheelbase of 105.7 inches, the Jetta offers plenty of passenger room, 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space, and standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats. The base 1.4-liter turbocharged direct-injection TSI engine produces 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. And peak torque arrives at just 1,400 rpm, offering excellent drivability. The engine features an air-to-water heat exchanger in place of an intercooler. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 34 mpg combined regardless of transmission choice. Our SEL Premium version featured the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, a configurable instrument-panel instead of conventional gauges, and it also offers the BeatsAudio 12-speaker infotainment system. Both Jetta SEL and SEL Premium models offer standard wireless charging. All 2020 Jettas are equipped with Volkswagen’s next-generation Car-Net telematics system and have in-car Wi-Fi capability if you subscribe to a data plan.

Multiple Drive Modes

Our SEL Premium test vehicle gave us the opportunity to try out the Drive Mode Selection feature as that includes four modes: “Normal,” “Sport,” “Eco,” and “Custom.” Normal mode offers a good everyday driving experience, while Sport delivers quicker throttle response and tighter steering. For those days you’re feeling frugal, Eco mode optimizes shift points, throttle response and climate control for improved fuel economy. If you’d like to go your own way, Individual mode allows you to tailor the steering, throttle, adaptive cruise control, and climate control settings. The 10-color LED ambient lighting system is coupled with the Drive Modes to provide indirect white light in the Normal profile, red light in the Sport profile, and blue light in the Eco profile. For the Individual mode, you can set your own color, of course.

On the safety front, the Jetta provides both passive and active systems. Six airbags are standard including side curtain airbags for outboard seating positions, plus electronic safety systems like antilock braking and electronic stability control. The Automatic Post-Collision Braking System was designed with the premise that the typical collision usually results in a series of actions, each of which has consequences. It applies the brakes when a collision is detected by the airbag sensors, potentially reducing energy and, in turn, the chance of additional damage in a second collision with another vehicle or a stationary object. The Jetta’s Intelligent Crash Response System shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and turns on the hazard lights if the car is involved in certain types of collisions. The sedan’s driver-assistance technology includes Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping System, and High Beam Control. Our test vehicle had a suggested list price of around $30,000.

See why we named the Hyundai Palisade the Best New Car Buy of 2020