If you want a manual gearbox in a compact car these days, it seems you either have to get a stripped-down base model or an optioned-up sport-tuned model. That isn’t the case with the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE. Like the base Jetta S, the SE trim level comes standard with a manual transmission and efficient engine, but it also adds in a long list of standard features. Bottom line, it’s the perfect middle ground for buyers looking to balance cost and amenities, and we got to spend a week in a shift-your-own 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE to see where fun and affordability meet.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta Exterior
Compared to some of the newer compacts out there such as the Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze, the styling of the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is a bit basic. Far from an insult, the current Volkswagen design language is contemporary and ages extremely well considering the current, sixth-gen Jetta was launched for the 2011 model year. What it lacks in flashiness, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta makes up with clean, simple lines that have proven to bring longer-lasting appeal—just look at the Honda Civic, which has gone through three generations (including an “emergency refresh” in 2013) since the current Jetta debuted.
Proving that the Jetta S is no base model, this car already comes standard with features like power heated door mirrors, LED daytime running lights and a backup camera. The Jetta SE adds even more premium-minded content including the stylish 16-inch, V-spoke alloy wheels and integrated LED turn signal indicators in the mirrors. Aside from the wheels and grille, there really isn’t too much to break up the monochromatic look of the exterior, which looks pretty good in this tester’s Silk Blue Metallic paint job.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta Interior
The premium content doesn’t stop on the inside as the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE has added new standard features like leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, sunroof, keyless access with push-button start, V-Tex leatherette seats, heated front seats and the Volkswagen Car-Net App-Connect connectivity and connected services. With all of the content offered in the SE, it’s a surprise that this is only one step up from the base Jetta.
Like the exterior, the aging cabin design still looks great in the 2017 Jetta with a smooth instrument panel, a dual-pod gauge cluster with central digital display and an easy-to-use, touch screen infotainment display. In an age where modern cars are making the controls more difficult with buttonless center stacks, the infotainment and HVAC controls on the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta are intuitive and well laid out. Speaking of the layout, the five-passenger Jetta has no problem accommodating five adult passengers comfortable with plenty of headroom and legroom, and the trunk can accommodate 15.7 cubic feet of cargo. Making cargo matters even easier, the SE has split folding rear seats with standard pass-through functionality for longer items.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta Powertrain
The best reason to opt for the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE over the more luxurious and powerful SEL trim levels is the fact that you can still get a manual gearbox. The base 1.4-liter turbocharged and direct-injected engine packs 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, but don’t let those numbers fool you; this car is no slouch. What this engine lacks in perceived power, though, it more than makes up for in economy with EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 28 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway**. Breaking the ever-important 40-mpg highway rating gives the 2017 Jetta a competitive advantage.
Last year, I got to drive the SE with the optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic, and while that is a smooth, advanced transmission, there is no replacement for a true manual gearbox. In this case, it’s a five-speed manual, which might be the most dated aspect of the 2017 Jetta. Despite the fact that there are newer manuals out there with more gears, the Jetta makes great use of this transmission with its fuel economy and driving enjoyment. You’re not going to mistake the Jetta SE for a Jetta GLI, but for a car priced in the low-$20,000 range it’s plenty of fun!
2017 Volkswagen Jetta Safety
For the new model year, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE now adds the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert as standard equipment, which makes this compact sedan an even safer car overall. The Jetta carries a five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2017 Volkswagen Jetta Overall
Not too long ago, knowing how to shift a manual transmission was a rite of passage for enthusiasts, but that seems to have gone out the door as more modern drivers are placing an increasing focus on tech rather than driving pleasure. What’s more, some of today’s automatics can actually shift faster than a manual and get better fuel economy. Be that as it may, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE proves that some automakers aren’t willing to give up on manuals just yet… especially models like this SE that are affordable yet offer plenty of content.
Stepping up from a base $17,895* Jetta S, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE is priced starting at $20,895* with this manual transmission. Perhaps the only downside of the added content for 2017 is that it also increased the SE’s price by almost $2,000. Still, with an as-tested price of $21,715, this manual-equipped Jetta SE is a great deal when compared to the competition.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Volkswagen dealership and test drive the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2017 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.