2023 VW Jetta Sport Feels More Expensive Than It Is

You start the Volkswagen Jetta Sport with a key. do you remember them Ignition keys are to cars what snail mail is to e-mail: last century. This key says a lot about what to expect from this version of VW’s compact sedan as well. It’s a simple, basic and uncomplicated car. Nothing special here. But since this Jetta also comes with a six-speed manual, Sport badging on the B-pillars and a surprisingly low MSRP, we felt compelled to find out if this was a budget GLI – a sport sedan we have more than a little affection for.

The Sport fits into the Jetta lineup from the base S, a modest $900 upcharge to a very reasonable starting price of $22,650, about $10,030 less than a GLI. However, in the case of sports, basic doesn’t mean totally sans. The Sport comes with a decent amount of equipment. Its standard 17-inch alloy wheels and the LED headlights and taillights on all Jettas don’t make it look like a bargain hunter from the outside.

2023 volkswagen jetta sport 15t manual

Andy Hedrik|car and driver

HEIGHT: Velvety engine sound, confident handling, spacious rear seat.

However, there’s no doubt that the Sport’s spacious interior comes with a price tag. It’s well assembled and there are a few niceties, like the 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, dual front USB ports and attractive cloth seats. But hard plastic abounds, the standard HVAC system is manually controlled, the front seats lack bun warmers, and the tiny 6.5-inch infotainment screen is a throwback to the past. However, since it’s not VW’s latest touchscreen system, it at least has a simple user interface and volume and tuning knobs. Our test car had only one option, the $955 driver-assist package, which adds adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, multiple driver-assist features, and a satisfyingly thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed, leather-trimmed steering wheel.

This steering wheel is almost as beautiful as the one in the GLI, and it’s the sportiest thing about the sport. But no worry. This is a friendly, pleasantly refined car. It literally and figuratively starts with the Sport’s engine, a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that develops 158 hp at 5500 rpm. It bursts into life with a low hum that barely rises above a whisper, is smooth across the rev range and makes the Sport seem more expensive than it is. It’s no surprise that our six-speed manual car’s straight-line sprints — 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and a quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 92 mph — don’t match the 228-hp GLI six-speed sprints can keep up – 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and the quarter in 14.6 seconds at 100 mph. Still, not a bad performance for the Sport as it rivals the performance of the last Jetta automatic we tested with a 1 mph higher trap speed on the quarter mile.

Unfortunately, the Sport’s performance falls to its knees in normal city traffic compared to the lively GLI. Although the specs say the Sport hits its full 184 pound-feet of torque at 1750 rpm, our right foot said otherwise. In city traffic, it’s easy to catch the engine napping off-boost; Drop the revs below 2000 rpm and it’s like gerbils have replaced the horses under the hood. Putting the accelerator on has minimal effect. This lack of torque was shown graphically in our top gear acceleration test, where the Sport took an endless 28.7 seconds to go from 30 to 50 mph; the GLI did it in 12.3 seconds. The Sport performs much better at higher engine and road speeds, putting a 50-70mph time of 13.6 seconds to the GLI’s 8.4 seconds. Keeping the engine in its perky zone is fun thanks to the easy-to-shift six-speed manual transmission. Clutch action is also light, making this a pleasant car to steer, even at lower speeds.

The Sport proves adept, if underwhelming, in the rest of the driving experience. A smooth ride and confident steering give it a surprisingly refined personality that complements the engine’s smooth ways. Volkswagen even made some small efforts to make it more responsive to drive than the base S model, lowering its suspension by 15 millimeters and outfitting it with a larger front anti-roll bar. While it’s not a car that begs you to pound it down a dual carriageway, it remains composed when leaning. And while it can’t match the GLI’s sharper responses, the Sport’s 0.87g skidpad grip is 0.01g better, while its 176-foot stop from 70 mph is just two feet longer. The limiting factor here is that both cars are shod with all-season tires; a sports sedan like the GLI deserves stickier rubber.

2023 volkswagen jetta sport 15t manual

Andy Hedrik|car and driver

Out on the open road, the 1.5T proves impressively tight on fuel, with the Jetta averaging 44mpg in our 75mph highway fuel economy test. That’s 2 mpg better than both its EPA highway number and the last Jetta automatic we tested, and opens up the possibility of 580 miles of highway range.

LOWS: The interior’s abundance of plastic, the antediluvian touchscreen, it’s no bargain GLI.

No, the Jetta Sport can’t quite muster the motion or performance necessary to be considered a discounted GLI. But with a roomy rear seat, a velvety engine and respectable road manners, it’s far more than a budget people carrier. Ignition key aside, of course.

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2023 Volkswagen Jetta Sport
Vehicle Type: Front engine, front wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Base/as tested: $22,650/$23,605
Options: Driver Assist Package (adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system, blind spot warning, rain-sensing wipers, leather steering wheel), $955

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline four-cylinder, aluminum block and head, direct injection
Displacement: 91 inches31498 cm3
Power: 158 hp at 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft at 1750 rpm

6-speed manual transmission

Suspension F/R: struts/torsion beam
Brakes, F / R: 11.3″ ventilated disc / 10.7″ disc
Tyres: Nexen N FERA 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: 2937lbs

60mph: 7.0sec
1/4 mile: 15.5 sec at 92 mph
100mph: 18.6s
The above results leave out a 0.4 second 1 foot rollout.
Rolling Start, 5-60 mph: 8.0 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 28.7 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 13.6 sec
Top speed (Government Ltd): 128 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 176 ft
Road holding, 300 ft skidpad: 0.87 g

Observed: 26 mpg
75-mile highway driving: 44 mpg
75 mph highway range: 580 miles

Combined/City/Highway: 34/29/42 mpg


Headshot by Rich Ceppos

Director, Purchasing Guide

Rich Ceppos has evaluated automobiles and automotive technology during his 10-year career at General Motors, including two stints at General Motors car and driver driven a total of 19 years and thousands of miles in racing cars. It was in music school when he realized what he really wanted to do in life and somehow it worked out. between his two CD Postings where he served as Executive Editor Automobile Magazine; was executive vice president at Campbell Marketing & Communications; worked in product development at GM; and became the editor of car week. He has raced nonstop since college, held SCCA and IMSA pro racing licenses and competed in the Daytona 24 Hours. He currently operates a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette Convertible, and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet said, “Okay, Boomer” when telling one of his stories about the crazy old days CD.

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