Review: Is the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport a Total Bore, or a Solid $23K Buy?

Happy to have a 6-speed manual — but that means nothing if the rest of the car sucks

2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport (Photo: TFL Studios | Zach Butler)
(Images: TFL Studios | Zach Butler)
More powerful, quicker than the old Jetta Basic, basic, basic interior (with hard plastic for days)
6-speed manual by default (with an
8-speed automatic option)
Numb, joyless handling
Spacious cabin Sports “comfort” seats lack lumbar adjustment
Fuel efficient Few noteworthy features at this price point
Affordable price tag

2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport review: More than just an affordable commuter?

The compact sedan segment used to be the bread-and-butter for every automaker in the game. Keep in mind, this part of the market has iconic (and popular) names like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, and it’s still important to attract buyers looking for more affordable options against more expensive crossovers. There are still plenty of options out there, and the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta arrives with some mid-cycle changes to try and make its case, including the new “Sport” trim we’re testing out here.

Sport-specific styling and comfort touches include 17-inch alloy wheels, blacked out mirror caps and grille trim, stainless steel pedal caps and different cloth seats up front.

At just $23,215, this car aims to split the difference between value and an enticing driver experience. It’s a bit better equipped than the $21,760 Jetta S, but not so loaded that you’re suddenly staring down the SEL’s $29,480 price tag. Short of spending another ten grand for the top-dog $33,075 Jetta GLI, could this be the compact sedan to buy if you’re looking to save some scratch?

Short answer? It’s definitely an uncontroversial choice…but that cuts both ways, as I’ll cover in more detail below.

Performance: The 2022 Volkswagen Jetta does get a (slightly) larger engine

We can go over the “first glance” changes, but they’re so subtle that your casual observer won’t even notice. So, let’s go over the meatier details for this year. Namely, that comes down to the 1.5-liter engine shared with the new Taos. It’s larger and more powerful than the old 1.4-liter version of VW’s EA211, putting out 158 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. In the real world, that on-paper doesn’t really mean too much, since we’re only talking about a 11-horsepower uplift.

Where the extra displacement does come in handy, though, is in the wider torque band. You’ll get a bit more shove in the lower RPM range, making the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta more manageable in city driving. A 6-speed manual is still the default option — and that’s what I tested here — but you can get an 8-speed automatic for another $800. I’d recommend sticking with the third pedal, though, not just because it’s a manual (and one of the few cars remaining where you can get one at all), but because it’s actually more efficient than the auto ‘box. Per EPA figures, you can get 29 City / 43 Highway / 34 Combined mpg. I managed 35 mpg in mixed driving, and that’s pretty good short of buying a hybrid. The automatic is still efficient, but you’ll lose between 2 and 3 mpg in the process.

2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport (Photo: TFL Studios | Zach Butler)

When you’re actually in the sweet spot of this engine’s rev band, the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport is decently quick for what it is.

The Jetta feels remarkably zippy in a straight line, but this car has two big problems for spirited driving.

One is a common downside of small, turbocharged engines: Fall off the boost, and you’re done. Set off in the wrong gear at the wrong time, and you’re not going anywhere. The other is the relatively numb feel to, well, pretty much everything. For an A-to-B car, the Jetta’s ride is comfortable and compliant, but not communicative. The torsion beam rear suspension and 205/55/R17 Kumho Solus TA31 all-season tires don’t help its handling case, either. The steering lacks any useful feedback, as does the throttle — but mash the pedal in a low gear and you can break the front tires loose…often when you’re not actually trying to.

On this Sport model, you do get VW’s XDS Cross Differential System that’s meant to improve front-end traction. The system does help in fast cornering by braking the inside wheel, though you don’t feel it as profoundly as, say, a GTI, mainly because of the soft suspension and eco-minded rubber.

One major benefit this manual Jetta brings to the party, though, is just how easy it is to drive. If you’re a parent buying your kid’s first car and insistent on getting a stick (like my folks did), this is one of the most forgiving cars in which they can learn the fundamentals. Fortunately, if you’re leaning more toward an enthusiast option, things get much better with the Jetta GLI, if you can stretch your budget to one.

Comfort and Features: Standard VW that’s light on features at this price point

Let’s say you spend a shade over $23,000 on your new Volkswagen Jetta Sport. What do you actually get for the money? In short, you get the standard (but old) Volkswagen fare — certainly not the new layout, infotainment screen or interior materials in the Mk8 Golf. You do still get an 8-inch Digital Cockpit display as standard equipment across the whole range, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen (as you would in the base Jetta S).

Other than Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, the notable feature worth talking about comes with the $955 Driver Assistance package. That gives you adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist. Opting for the feature adds in the no-cost “Convenience Package”, which includes the leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. That all helps the Sport feel a bit less barren, but you still don’t get push-button start. You also get manual air conditioning and cloth seats, not to mention a sea of hard black and silver plastics.

One additional upgrade over the base Jetta S is the addition of “sports comfort seats” for the front passengers. Sure, they look a bit better with contrast piping and they’re soft enough with decent thigh support. But — and I know this is an extremely first-world complaint — they lack any lumbar adjustment. It’s one of those features you may not realize you want until you have to go without it, but because of that omission I ended up with major backache after a couple hours’ driving. So, for those keeping score, they’re not exceptionally comfortable and they’re not particularly sporty either, as they aren’t heavily bolstered to hold you in place through the corners.

Overall, the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport brings a functional and spacious interior, if not as exciting as its rivals. Its 14.1-cubic-foot trunk also swallows up most of your everyday gear, but it’s not class-leading (that would be the Kia Forte, at 15.3 cubic feet).

Verdict: A perfectly capable car that just doesn’t stand out

If you’re shopping for a compact sedan in the low-$20,000 range, judging whether the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta Sport is worth your time depends on your wants and goals. As a first car or an everyday driver, VW’s compact offering won’t ruffle any feathers. Thing is, so many other cars in the class get the basics down pat and offer a much better drive.

Want something that looks a bit daring? There’s the Hyundai Elantra. Want the best driving experience for the money? That’ll be the Mazda 3. The Honda Civic is also a great option, but keep in mind the base LX trim is gone, so the Jetta does now have a value advantage on the entry-level end of the $20K price bracket. And if you want a car that aims to cover all the bases like the Jetta, there’s also the more powerful Kia Forte GT. There’s still tons of competition in this segment, and VW’s compact sedan is fine, but not exceptional in any one area.

If you have a serious hankering to get your VDub on, the Jetta GLI is a far, far better driver’s car, even with the premium you’ll pay to score one. In the long run, it’s worth the extra cash.