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2016 Volkswagen Jetta SE review:

Forget the diesel, get ready for Jetta's 1.4-liter turbo

Starting at $17,680
  • Engine Turbocharged, 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG 33 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Sedans

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 6
  • Design 6
  • Media & Connectivity 8

The Good Plenty of power on tap from the 1.4-liter turbo. EPA fuel rating of 39 mpg on the highway is excellent. Great use of interior space.

The Bad A fairly sparse cabin when it comes to features. Bland exterior styling.

The Bottom Line The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta is a fun little runabout at an affordable price.

With its diesel emissions cheating, Volkswagen lost the trust of the American people, which is a shame because its gasoline-engine cars are still quite good.

Take the 2016 Jetta SE. Powered by a peppy, gasoline-burning engine, it's one of the most affordable compact sedans available. It's a blast to drive, has more interior space than its competitors, and it's got a fair amount of tech in the cabin.

The spry little 1.4-liter turbo engine.

Josh Miller/CNET

Small but mighty

A 1.4-liter turbocharged engine powers the Jetta SE, with available upgrades to a 1.8-liter turbo and a hybrid. The Jetta GLI, the most powerful in the model range, comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, producing 210 horsepower.

Don't discount the base engine, however, as this zippy little four-cylinder puts out 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A standard five-speed manual transmission gets the power to the front wheels, although our test vehicle arrived with the six-speed automatic, offered with no extra charge.

The turbocharger helps that tiny engine put out more power by forcing more air into the cylinders, but turbos notoriously take a little time to spool up, causing turbo lag, or a dead spot when you hit the gas.

Fortunately, the Jetta's turbo spools up quickly and there is not much noticeable lag.

The engine runs up to the redline with ease, making it a spry little four-cylinder indeed. The six-speed automatic can be shifted manually from the stick, but honestly the transmission does a fine job on its own. It's nice to have a manual mode at certain times, like powering up or down a mountain pass, but 95 percent of the time folks will find themselves ceding control to the computer.

The Jetta does a nice job of smoothing out the rough city streets, and the speed-sensitive electric power steering offers quick inputs and a nice weight at speed. The Jetta SE rides on 16-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, which should do most buyers just fine.

At the end of my week with the Jetta, I averaged 27.5 miles per gallon over a combined route of city traffic and highway stretches, much less than the expected EPA fuel rating of 32 miles per gallon combined (28 city/39 highway). However, my heavy right foot may have had something to do with that.

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