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2022 Volkswagen Jetta first drive review: Little updates add up

Mild tweaks make up the Jetta's midcycle refresh.

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Andrew Krok
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Andrew Krok

Reviews Editor / Cars

Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.

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2022 Volkswagen Jetta

MSRP

The Jetta remains very important to Volkswagen. Sure, the company may credit many of its newfound successes to the expansion of its SUV offerings, but its mass-market sedan is still one of the most popular ways for people to join the VW family. As the third best-selling vehicle in VW's lineup, the automaker handed down some very mild changes as part of a midcycle refresh, and the result is a sedan that's still quite good, whether you want it sporty or not.

What's new for both cars?

Aesthetic updates for the 2022 Jetta are pretty limited, be it the mass-market trims (S, SE, SEL, Sport) or the peppy GLI. There are some revised bumpers, as well as new alloy wheels for each individual trim level, but on the whole the sedan looks just about the same as it did before.

The interior is pretty much the same, too, barring some new contrast stitching on the SEL and GLI, a new steering wheel and a digital instrument cluster that's now standard on every trim. The GLI's steering wheel gets the same touch-sensitive buttons as other new VWs like the ID 4, but I may prefer the less expensive variant, which uses traditional buttons that I think are a little easier to commit to muscle memory.

2022 VW Jetta
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2022 VW Jetta

One thing that didn't change for 2022 is the Jetta's trunk, which is more than sufficiently capacious.

Volkswagen

Speaking of tech, the Jetta S, Sport and SE models get VW's older MIB 2 infotainment system, while SEL and GLI variants move up to the newer, flashier MIB 3. All trims get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and two USB-C ports under the climate controls, but only the MIB 3 models get access to wireless smartphone mirroring and wireless device charging.

People who really want to have some fun in their Jetta will likely opt for the GLI, but there is also a new Sport trim that adds a more aggressive look without going whole hog on performance, focusing mainly on black trim, new seats and sharper wheels. That said, brake-based torque vectoring does get thrown into the mix on the Jetta Sport for a little extra backroad capability.

On the safety front, VW now bundles its active and passive safety systems into the IQ Drive suite, which includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automated highway lane-holding. This is optional on S and Sport trims with an automatic transmission, while it's standard on all other variants, although the manual GLI loses some functionality.

2022 VW Jetta is a chill family sedan

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Jetta 1.5T: Chill as can be

Before the midcycle refresh, the Jetta found power from a 1.4-liter EA211 turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine. Now, it shares a revised 1.5-liter EA211 with the subcompact Taos SUV. This new four-pot produces 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the same as in the Taos, and it can be attached to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Torque arrives very low in the rev range, making around-town driving surprisingly fun, and the eight-speed automatic is content to shift at points that keeps the vehicle in the Twist Zone as much as possible. This melds very well with steering that's on the lighter side and pedals that are easy to modulate, making the Jetta quite the comfortable suburban crawler. The new EA211 is pretty efficient in the 2022 Jetta, as well, with models receiving EPA estimates between 29 and 31 mpg in the city and between 40 and 43 mpg on the highway, depending on trim and transmission.

Otherwise, the Jetta remains the same as the most recent model we tested. The back seat is spacious, the trunk is huge and, while it's not the newest system on the block, MIB does its job commendably, providing fewer points of frustration than the infotainment system on the new Golf.

2022 VW Jetta GLI is an oldie but a goodie

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Jetta GLI: Day-old bread that still tastes great

On paper, the 2022 VW Jetta GLI sounds like kind of a raw deal. It's a sport sedan based on the outgoing GTI that commands an MSRP pretty darn close to the brand spankin' new GTI. That might not sound like the right kind of bargain, but after some time behind the wheel alongside the new GTI and Golf R, I think there's still plenty of room for this sprightly sedan in VW's lineup.

While the Golf GTI and Golf R have moved onto a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the 2022 GLI soldiers on with the outgoing GTI's EA288, which produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft, mated to the buyer's choice of a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The current GLI and outgoing GTI felt pretty darn similar, in part because they used the same inline-4, but there's now a slightly larger gulf between the two following the eighth-gen GTI's introduction. After tackling a few mountain passes in both cars, I find the modern GTI feeling a little more toned-down and adult, like it's following in the Golf R's business-suit footsteps. The GLI, by comparison, feels a little more rough and tumble, like it's able to let loose and have a little more fun, thanks in part to more motion in the body.

2022 VW Jetta GLI
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2022 VW Jetta GLI

Having fun in the Jetta GLI is not a hard thing to do.

Volkswagen

Some of that comes down to packaging. The GLI's standard adaptive dampers are only available on the highest GTI trim, which takes away everybody's favorite plaid seats and requires thousands more on the price tag. It's a great setup that adds the right amount of firmness, allowing me to enjoy a stiff ride on curvy roads in Sport mode before throwing it back to Comfort mode for a cushier highway drive home.

The GLI's brakes have a little more initial bite than the GTI's stoppers, as they're sourced from the seventh-gen Golf R. My tester's six-speed manual feels great, too, with a predictable clutch bite point and a shifter that, while a little long in the throw, has just enough notchiness to its action. The steering firms or softens depending on the mode, but both feel nice when driving at any speed, so it's more about personal preference. If the GLI is left in Sport mode, the exhaust note's synthetic portion can settle into an annoying drone at steady speeds but changing vehicle modes does away with that.

2022 VW Jetta GLI
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2022 VW Jetta GLI

The GLI's controls might be on the older side, but they're dead simple to use and require minimal distraction.

Volkswagen

Down to brass tacks

The 2022 VW Jetta starts at $21,190 (including $995 for destination) for a base Jetta S with a manual transmission, while the Jetta Sport rises slightly to $22,090; automatic variants add another $800 on top of that. The Jetta SE and SEL are only available with an automatic, and they'll run you $24,790 and $28,790, respectively. The GLI is only offered in a single trim, Autobahn, with manual cars going for $31,990 and automatics for $32,790.

There's a good reason VW didn't need to do much with the 2022 Jetta. The performance-oriented GLI has also found new footing despite not changing, thanks to its sibling growing up a bit. Whether you're looking for sport or not, the automaker's compact sedan has always been a solid value play, offering up plenty of room for both people and cargo while also providing a good ride, oodles of fuel economy and tech that doesn't frustrate. 


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.