A red 2021 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line is shown driving down a wooded road after leaving a VW Jetta dealer.

How the VW Jetta Stands Out Against Top-Selling Compacts

In a world where sedans now need to add a lot of exciting equipment to stay relevant, low-priced compact sedans with quality features are hard to find. Few sedans have pricing that starts below $20,000, and even fewer have conveniences in those lower-priced trim levels that make the purchase worthwhile. While Toyota and Honda hold top-selling positions in sales for their compact sedans, the Volkswagen Jetta sits on the sidelines despite having features to match and even out-gun the two big brands, and it even comes with a lower price tag. Let’s take a look at some of the features of these three compact sedans, and then there’s a good chance you’re going to want to visit a VW Jetta dealer to find one for yourself.

Setting the Stage

Most buyers go straight for the second trim level in a vehicle lineup since this trim level offers a few more conveniences than the bare-bones entry-level, and it’s still affordable. In the case of the Jetta, the SE trim is what will be compared to the Toyota Corolla XSE and the Honda Civic Sport. All three compact sedans seat five and have similar fuel efficiency. Corolla XSE gets 31/38 MPG, the Civic Sport is a little thirstier at 29/37 MPG, and the Jetta SE sips fuel at 30/41 MPG.

When these compacts say they seat five, some of them are not really talking about adults. The Corolla has questionable space in the rear, with only 34.8 inches of legroom. At least the front seat is comfortable at 42 inches. Honda and Jetta are just about evenly matched with the exact same 37.4 inches of legroom in the rear, though Honda ekes out an extra inch of room in the front at 42.3 inches to the Jetta’s 41.1 inches.

A silver 2021 Honda Civic is driving through a city at night.

Pretty on the Outside

LED lights are all the rage these days, and every buyer wants the cool look of those bright daytime-running lights, at the very least. Having LED headlights is icing on the cake, but a lot of brands don’t want to give those out to every trim. Enter the Jetta, with LED lights all around. Yes, even headlights. And the headlights on the Jetta have a cool feature that keeps the headlights and approach lights on after you turn off the car so that they light the way to your door. When you hit the remote unlock, the lights will come on for your approach. The Corolla has LED lights, including headlights, but no handy approach feature. Civic buyers are stuck with halogen headlights, and the only LED light feature is a brake bar in the rear.

If you live in cold weather or deal with a lot of foggy days, heated exterior mirrors are worth their weight in gold. No hacking away ice in winter or having to roll down the windows to wipe the mirrors with… whatever you have lying around in the front seat. Toyota gives this feature to the Corolla XSE and ups the ante with a powered moonroof. Very nice for a low-end trim level. Shuffle over to the Honda, and discover that, sadly, there is no heat in the exterior mirrors. No moonroof. They do throw in fog lights, so that’s helpful for those foggy mornings. Over in the Jetta’s corner, the heated mirrors, fog lights, and a powered panoramic sunroof would be enough to outrun the competition, but then Jetta adds rain-sensing wipers. Yes, please.

Get Comfortable

Seats really matter for people who drive long distances, and anyone buying a compact car probably buys a gas-sipping vehicle for long commutes or lots of driving at work. Nothing is worse than spending hours in a vehicle with seats that don’t support your back, especially as you age. Toyota and VW actually care about your back, thankfully, and give buyers powered lumbar support. Honda offers none in the Sport. Anyone with back trouble also knows the blessed comfort of heated seats for back relief, a feature which Toyota and VW both provide. Once again, Honda does not.

After you’ve had the delight of dual-zone automatic climate control, you really hate living without it. Being able to blast yourself with heat or AC while your passenger in the front seat does the opposite is a great feature in a vehicle. In the Jetta, you can have your climate bubbles, which you can enjoy after you hit the push-button ignition and steer yourself to your happy place with the leather-wrapped steering wheel. How does the competition match up with these features? Each of them has the push-button start and sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel, but neither Corolla nor Civic has dual-zone climate control. Creature-comforts can make or break a car for some buyers.

A blue 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE is shown driving past a guard rail with its headlights on.

Safety First

When you drive a small car surrounded by large SUVs and trucks at high speeds, it matters whether or not your vehicle has safety features and a durable structure. Both Toyota and Honda are known for their safety features, including excessively strong vehicle structures that are engineered to withstand impacts. But even if Toyota and Honda make it seem like they have the safest vehicles on the highway, the Jetta scores a five-star overall safety rating with the NHTSA. Rolled into that score are the crash-responsive front end and an engineered safety cage to protect passengers. This is a vehicle that you can count on to protect you and your passengers.

Electronic systems like electronic brake-pressure distribution, electronic stability control, and an electronic parking brake are part of every one of these compact cars. They each offer their own brands of specialized names for traction control and engine brakes, but they all have those, too. Driver-assist safety features are less comprehensive for the Jetta on this trim level in comparison with the Corolla and Civic, but a blind-spot monitor with rear traffic alert and forward collision warning with auto emergency braking are both there. Jetta also has other automated safety features built into the vehicle, like hydraulic brake assist, that work behind the scenes to keep you safe in a less intrusive way.

Final Verdict

This is the moment where the price stickers are ripped off to reveal how much you need to pay for all these conveniences and comforts. The most expensive of the three vehicles is the Toyota Corolla XSE, which starts at $25,925. Next in line is the Honda Civic Sport, which comes in at $23,050. The VW Jetta SE is the lowest price at $22,895. Let’s recall what you get for those prices. In terms of fuel efficiency, interior comfort, and conveniences, the Jetta edged out the competition in each of these categories. While, when it came to technology and safety, all three were evenly matched.

When you consider what you get for the price, the Jetta does an excellent job of offering buyers key comforts and conveniences that make daily driving better. With plenty of luxury features even in the lower trim, combined with German-engineered mechanics and a lower price tag, the Jetta is an outstanding offering. With its price, fuel savings, comfort, and conveniences, the Jetta is a better deal than the bestselling compact models and will make a better daily driver or long-distance commuter car for the long haul.