We test the last generation used Volkswagen Jetta sedan against its brand new counterpart to find out if the extra cash is money well spent.
When the Volkswagen Jetta was released more than 40 years ago, it was a scrappy small sedan that took a real bite out of rival companies’ sales. Today, it’s evolved and is now in its 7th generation. Through those generations it’s shifted from a simple and straightforward economy car to a more upscale and, dare we say, handsome sedan with sporting aspirations. In 2021, it’s larger than it’s ever been and Volkswagen has simplified the lineup to use a single drivetrain throughout. We wonder though if this bigger Jetta is truly better than the final version of its 6th generation, the 2018 Jetta GLI. Today we compare the two to find out which is the better buy, a new or used Volkswagen Jetta.
Regardless of the new 2021 Volkswagen Jetta buyers choose, they’ll get the same 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that makes 147 horsepower and about 180 lb-ft of torque. That power is then routed to the front wheels only through a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic depending on configuration. With a combined rating of 34 miles per gallon, the new Jetta is very competitive against its current rivals when it comes to fuel economy. While a new Jetta S can be had for around $20,000, the one most will want, the SEL Premium will cost somewhere around $28,000 depending on the market.
The used Volkswagen Jetta GLI from 2018 comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 210 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. Of course, with more power, fuel economy takes a dip down to a combined rating of just 27 mpg. Much like its newer counterpart, power is fed to the front wheels only, this time through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic only. Other powertrain options available for lower trim levels are available, but we’ll get into that later on. Pricing for a used 2018 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is around $21,500 and on average has about 40,000 miles on the clock.
The Volkswagen Jetta isn’t a driver’s car, and it was never meant to be. It’s intended to be a comfortable and somewhat upscale sedan. For everyday driving, these cars are incredibly similar. The used Volkswagen Jetta is far more fun to drive in a straight line though. The additional horsepower makes it feel far more different than just a single generational change. For those that haven’t experienced a dual-clutch transmission, this one will make it clear what all the hype is about. It’s very fast, very communicative, and nearly as engaging and satisfying as a three-pedal manual transmission.
Still, the new Volkswagen Jetta isn’t bad. It’s just slower. The torque number is nearly the same as the older more powerful Jetta making a big difference. Merging on the highway is nearly identical in practice and, though the transmission is less engaging, the steering and braking of the 2021 model does a better job of involving the driver with more communicative feedback. While the braking feel is nearly identical in both models, and frankly better than many rival brands, the new car is much better to steer. The used Jetta is almost comically numb in hard turns to the point that questions get raised about whether or not it’s working properly.
Body roll is sadly present in both generations, but if you’re not driving the Jetta towards the edge of its comfort zone, it’s far less noticeable and annoying. In fact, if all you want to do is drive either Jetta to and from places in comfort, they’ll start to shine regardless of the year.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Jetta is just how much space you’ll find inside. The used Volkswagen Jetta is great and offers more than enough headroom and legroom for tall individuals, but the new 2021 Volkswagen Jetta goes even further by providing even more space. There’s easily enough for four full-sized adults to fit in. Both cars are road-trip-worthy with solid overall comfort regardless of the road quality. While both are quiet on the road, we expected a more marked difference between the two.
The seating quality in these two different sedans is dramatically different though. In the older 2018, they’re firmer and more substantial with less potential for sliding around in harder turns. For 2021, things are more cushioned. Still, both are Jetta models are comfortable vehicles. We would like to see more adjustments available for the front seats though. For 2018, the used Jetta GLI features a six-way power-adjustable seat, while the new model bumps that to eight-way. It’s also noteworthy that the new Jetta offers front-seat ventilation on higher-end trims.
The new Volkswagen Jetta comes in 5 different trims that cost anywhere from the low $20,000 range up to nearly $30,000 before options. As mentioned previously, all come with the same engine and the buyer’s choice of an automatic or manual transmission. The base model is well equipped with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, LED headlights, and more. The SE model above it offers power seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power sunroof, and heated front seats. The mid-range R-Line is intended to be the sporty model and it gets a special electronic differential to aid in traction and handling. Additionally, it gets a bevy of exterior trim bits like black badging. Above that is the SEL which adds sport seats, ambient lighting, projector headlights, and safety features like adaptive cruise, lane keep assist and auto high beams.
The used Volkswagen Jetta was available in 6 trims. The entry S model is by far the most sparse of the options with features like a 5-inch touchscreen, 16-inch wheels, a four-speaker sound system, and a CD player. Bump up from there and you get to the Wolfsburg Edition that adds leather and simulated leather surfaces in addition to fog lights and heated seats to the standard S package. The SE trim level adds a 6.3-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, keyless ignition, and blind-spot monitoring. At the SE Sport level, buyers get a larger and more powerful 1.8-liter engine as well as 17-inch wheels, a trunk spoiler, and black trim. The SEL model adds more automatic luxury features like headlights and wipers as well as a premium Fender sound system, heated seats, a cooled glovebox, and more. At the top of the line GLI trim, 18-inch wheels, bigger brakes, unique trim, and the aforementioned drivetrain are all standard.
It’s no secret to say that the new Volkswagen Jetta is the best-looking and the most comfortable one ever. It has more interior space, more trunk space, and the best tech ever inside of a Jetta. Still, we’d be hard-pressed to drop the additional seven to ten thousand dollars for a new Jetta over a used Volkswagen Jetta in SEL or GLI guise.