You start the Volkswagen Jetta Sport with a key. Do you remember them? Ignition keys are to cars what snail mail is to email: so last century. That key says a lot about what to expect from this version of VW’s compact sedan. It is a simple, basic and straightforward automobile. Nothing too fancy here. But given that this Jetta comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, a sport badge attached to its B-pillars, and a surprisingly low MSRP, we were compelled to find out if this budget -Price is GLI – a little more affection for a sports sedan than we have.
The Sport fits one above the base S in the Jetta lineup, ranging from a modest $900 upcharge to a very reasonable $22,650 starting price, some $10,030 less than the GLI. In the case of the Sport, basic doesn’t mean completely carefree. The Sport comes with a decent amount of equipment. Its standard 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights and taillights on all Jets keep it from looking like a penny-pincher on the outside.
There’s no denying that the Sport’s spacious interiors are well worth the price. It’s well assembled and there are some niceties at hand, such as an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, a pair of front USB ports and attractive cloth seats. But hard plastics are abundant, the standard HVAC system is manually controlled, the front seats lack bun warmers, and the tiny 6.5-inch infotainment screen is a look back at the times. Because this isn’t VW’s latest touchscreen system, though, it at least features a simple user interface and both volume and tuning knobs. Our test car had only one option, the $955 Driver Assistance Package, which adds adaptive cruise, rain-sensing wipers, several driver-assistance features, and a satisfyingly thick-rimmed, flat-bottom, leather-covered steering wheel.
That steering wheel is almost as good as the GLI’s, and it’s the sportiest thing about the Sport. No worries though. It’s a friendly, pleasantly refined car. It starts literally and figuratively with the Sport’s engine, a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that develops 158 horsepower at 5500 rpm. It keys to life with a quiet hum that barely rises above a whisper, smooths into the full sweep of the tach, and makes the Sport feel more expensive than it is. It should come as no surprise that our six-speed manual car’s straight-line sprints—60 mph in 7.0 seconds and a quarter mile at 92 mph in 15.5 seconds—were no match for the 228-hp GLI six-speed. Can’t compete – 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and the quarter to 100 mph in 14.6 seconds. Still, not a bad performance for the Sport, as it matches the performance of the last Jetta automatic we tested, with a 1-mph higher trap speed in the quarter-mile.
Unfortunately, the Sport’s performance falls to its knees relative to the GLI in normal urban driving. Although the specs say the Sport makes its full 184 pound-feet of torque at 1750 rpm, our right leg said otherwise. It’s easy to catch the engine napping in city traffic; Let the revs drop below 2000 rpm and it sounds like gerbils have taken the place of horses under the hood. The floor of the accelerator has the least effect. The lack of ready torque showed up graphically in our top-gear acceleration test, where the Sport took 28.7 seconds to accelerate from 30 to 50 mph; The GLI did it in 12.3 seconds. The Sport does much better at higher engine and road speeds, posting a 13.6-second 50-to-70-mph time to the GLI’s 8.4 seconds. Keeping the engine in its danger zone is fun thanks to the easy-shifting six-speed manual. The clutch action is also light, so it’s pleasantly involved to pilot the car even at low speeds.
The rest of the Sport’s driving experience proves to be adept, if not addictive. A supple ride and confident steering combined with it’s surprisingly refined personality complements the engine’s quiet ways. Volkswagen also made some modest efforts to make it more pleasant to drive than the base S model by lowering its suspension by 15 millimeters and fitting it with a larger front anti-roll bar. While this isn’t the kind of car that begs you to fog it into two-lanes, it remains quiet when cornered. And though it can’t match the GLI’s quicker responses, the Sport’s 0.87-g skidpad grip is 0.01-g better, while its 176-foot stop from 70 mph is only two feet longer. The limiting factor here is that both cars are fitted with all-season tyres; A sports sedan like the GLI should have more sticky rubber.
On the open road, the 1.5T proves itself to be impressively frugal in fuel consumption, with the Jetta averaging 44 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. That’s 2-mpg better than both its EPA highway figure and the previous Jetta automatic we tested and opens up the possibility of 580 miles of highway range.
No, the Jetta Sport may not trickle enough or perform the required performance to be considered a discounted GLI. But with a roomy rear seat, a velvety engine and dignified road manners, it’s much more than a budget-priced people carrier. Ignition key aside, of course.
2023 Volkswagen Jetta Sport
Vehicle Type: Front-Engine, Front-Wheel-Drive, 5-Passenger, 4-Door Sedan
Base/as tested: $22,650/$23,605
Option: Driver Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping system, blind-spot warning, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel), $955
Turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 91 in31498 cm3
Power: 158 HP @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Suspension, F/R: Struts/Torsion Beam
Brakes, F/R: 11.3-in Vented Disc/10.7-in Disc
Tyres: Nexen N Ferra AU7
205/55R-17 91h M+S
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 186.5 inches
Width: 70.8 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Passenger Volume, F/R: 51/43 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight: 2937 lb
CD Exam Results
60 mph: 7.0 sec
1/4-mile: 15.5 seconds @ 92 mph
100 mph: 18.6 sec
The above results leave a 1-ft rollout of 0.4 seconds.
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 8.0 seconds
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 28.7 seconds
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 13.6 seconds
Top speed (Government Limited): 128 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft skidpad: 0.87 g
CD fuel economy
Seen: 26 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 44 mpg
75-mph Highway Range: 580 Miles
EPA Fuel Economy
Combined/City/Highway: 34/29/42 mpg
CD test explained
Director, Buyer’s Guide
Rich Cepos has evaluated automobiles and automotive technology during his career, which includes 10 years, two terms at General Motors. car and driver A total of 19 years, and thousands of miles logged in racing cars. He was in music school when he realized what he really wanted to do in life and somehow, it worked out. between his CD posting he did as executive editor of automobile magazine, Campbell was Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications; worked in GM’s product-development area; and became the publisher of autoweek, He has raced consistently since college, holds SCCA and IMSA Pro Racing licenses, and has competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He currently miniscules a 1999 Miata and 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet said “Ok, Boomer” when he tells a story of his own about the crazy old days . CD.