2023 VW Jetta Sport Feels More Expensive Than It Is


You start the Volkswagen Jetta Sport with a key. Do you remember that? Ignition keys are for cars that are snail mail to email: so last century. That key also says a lot about what to expect from this version of VW’s compact sedan. It is a simple, basic and straightforward car. Nothing fancy here. But since this Jetta also has a six-speed manual transmission, a Sport badge attached to its B-pillars, and a surprisingly low MSRP, we felt compelled to find out if this is a budget GLI—a sports sedan we have. more than a little love for.

The Sport fits into the Jetta lineup one from the base S, a modest $900 charge to a very reasonable $22,650 starting price, about $10,030 less than a GLI. In the Sport’s case, though, basically doesn’t mean completely robbed. The Sport comes with a decent amount of equipment. Its standard 17-inch alloy wheels and the LED headlights and taillights on all Jettas keep it from looking like a penny pincher from the outside.

2023 volkswagen jetta sport 15t manual

Andy Hedrick|Car and Driver

HEIGHT: velvety engine note, composed handling, roomy rear seat.

There’s no doubt that the Sport’s spacious interior comes at a price, however. It’s well put together and there are some goodies to hand, such as the 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, a pair of USB ports up front and attractive cloth seats. But hard plastics abound, the standard HVAC system is manually controlled, the front seats lack toaster warmers, and the tiny 6.5-inch infotainment screen is a throwback in time. However, not being VW’s latest touchscreen system, it at least has a simple user interface and volume and tuning buttons. Our test car had just one option, the $955 Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise, rain-sensing windshield wipers, various driver assistance features and a satisfyingly thick-framed, flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

That steering wheel is almost as nice as the one in the GLI, and it’s the sportiest thing about the Sport. No worries. 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 springs to life with a quiet hum that barely rises above a whisper, is smooth across the full swing of the tach and makes the Sport feel more expensive than it is. It’s no surprise that our six-speed manual’s straight-line sprints—60 mph in 7.0 seconds and a quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 92 mph—are no match for the 228-hp GLI’s six-speed—60 mph in 6.1 seconds and the quarter in 92 mph. 14.6 seconds at 100 mph. 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 peppy GLI in normal urban driving. Although the specs say the Sport makes 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 snoozing from boost; drop the revs below 2000rpm and it’s as if gerbils have replaced the horses under the hood. Flooring the accelerator has minimal effect. That lack of ready torque showed graphically in our top-gear acceleration test where the Sport took an interminable 28.7 seconds to go from 30 to 50 mph; the GLI did it in 12.3 seconds. The Sport fares 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. It’s fun to keep the engine in its perky zone thanks to the easy-to-shift six-speed manual gearbox. The clutch action is also light, so it’s a pleasant car to drive, even at lower speeds.

The Sport proves adept in the rest of the driving experience, if not intoxicating. A supple ride and confident steering give it a surprisingly refined personality that complements the engine’s quiet manners. Volkswagen even made minor efforts to make it more engaging to drive than the base S model by lowering its suspension 15 millimeters and fitting it with a larger front anti-roll bar. While it’s not a car that begs you to slam it down a two-lane, it remains calm when you lean into it. And while it can’t match the sharper responses of the GLI, the Sport’s 0.87-g skidpad grip is 0.01-g 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 Hedrick|Car and Driver

On the open road, the 1.5T proves impressively stingy with fuel, 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 last Jetta automatic we tested and opens up the possibility of 580 miles of highway range.

LOW: The interior’s abundance of plastic, antediluvian touchscreen, this is not a cheap GLI.

No, the Jetta Sport can’t quite pull off the moves or the performance needed to be considered a discount GLI. But with a spacious back seat, a velvety engine and respectable road manners, it’s much more than a cheap 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 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 head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 91 inches31498 cm3
Power: 158 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm

6-speed manual transmission

Suspension, F/R: struts/torsion beam
Brakes, F/R: 11.3-inch ventilated disc/10.7-in disc
Tires: 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, L/H: 51/43 ft3
Hull volume: 14 feet3
Curb weight: 2937 lb

60 mph: 7.0 sec
1/4-mile: 15.5 sec @ 92 mph
100 mph: 18.6 sec

Results above leave 1 foot deployment of 0.4 sec. away.
Acceleration, 5–60 mph: 8.0 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 28.7 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 13.6 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 128 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft
Road holding capacity, 300-foot skid road: 0.87 g

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

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


Head shot by Rich Ceppos

Director, Buyers Guide

Rich Ceppos evaluated cars and automotive technology during a career that spanned 10 years at General Motors, twice at General Motors. Car and Driver a total of 19 years, and thousands of kilometers 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 two C/D posts of which he served as executive editor Car Magazine; was an executive vice president at Campbell Marketing & Communications; worked in GM’s product development area; and became publisher of Car week. He has raced continuously since college, holding SCCA and IMSA pro racing licenses and competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He currently services a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet uttered “Ok, Boomer” when he tells one of his stories about the crazy old days at C/D.