Is a Volkswagen Jetta a Good First Car? (7 Aspects Explained)

The Volkswagen Jetta is a solid first car and a well-rounded sedan with strong fuel economy, good driving dynamics, and a roomy interior.

That said, it has some minuses you should note.

volkswagen jetta good first car

7 Considerations Before Getting the VW Jetta as a First Car

#1 Segment-Competitive Fuel Economy

The Volkswagen Jetta is frugal on fuel yet competitive in terms of performance.

Newer Jettas (2016 and onwards) return an average of low-30s to mid-30s mpg in mixed driving.

It is not the most fuel-efficient small car, but it’s close:

 Fuel Economy
Hyundai Elantra37 mpg combined
Kia Forte35 mpg combined
Honda Civic33 mpg combined
Toyota Corolla33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Jetta33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Golf32 mpg combined
Nissan Sentra32 mpg combined
Mazda Mazda 331 mpg combined
MINI Cooper31 mpg combined
Volkswagen Beetle29 mpg combined
Range Rover18 mpg combined
VW Jetta vs. other cars in fuel consumption.

Fuel consumption varies between model years and trims; opt for a newer Jetta if you want the best fuel efficiency.

Although the Hyundai Elantra boasts highly impressive fuel economy, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are popular models as thrifty as the Jetta.

#2 Solid Crash Safety for Newer Jettas

Safety is essential for any vehicle.

But it is crucial, especially for first cars, because the risk of crashes and collisions are higher among teen drivers aged 16 to 19.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Volkswagen Jetta 5 out of 5 stars overall – a consistent achievement for the Jetta since its 2014 model.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen Jetta’s IIHS safety ratings have improved in recent years.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the 2019 VW Jetta and newer ‘Good’ – the highest rating – in their various crashworthiness tests.

#3 Above-Average Maintenance Cost

The running cost of a Jetta is generally in line with other VW cars – more expensive than the average compact car.

It costs approximately $609 per year to maintain; the figure is higher than compact cars’ average of $526 annually.

If you’re considering a used Jetta for your first car, the year-on-year increase in annual maintenance costs info (below) is useful.

The Honda Civic and BMW 3-Series are excellent benchmarks because the former is one of the cheapest to run while the latter is an expensive luxury compact sedan.

YearAnnual Costs (VW Jetta)Annual Costs (Honda Civic)Annual Costs (BMW 3-Series)
Jetta vs. Civic vs. 3-Series annual upkeep costs (CarEdge)

Just as importantly, the probability of significant repairs is pretty low for the Volkswagen Jetta (not far off the Civic’s):

  • 1.74% in year 1,
  • 8.19$ in year 5,
  • 16.86% in year 10, and
  • 32.49% in year 12.

A used vehicle’s condition varies depending on its care and service history, so it’s best to check and verify before buying.

#4 Second-Rate Reliability

Volkswagen generally does not make cars as reliable as the Japanese equivalents.

Consumer Reports ranked Volkswagen #24 out of 28 automotive brands – only better than Genesis, Jeep, Tesla, and Lincoln.

JD Power consistently rated the VW Jetta between 75-81 out of 100, which is middling considering 80 out of 100 is the average reliability.

Meanwhile, RepairPal ranked the VW Jetta #21 out of 36 compact cars in reliability.

These data suggest that owning a Jetta will be costlier than other small sedans.

(See the small cars comparison below for viable alternatives)

#5 Affordable Full Coverage Insurance

A compact sedan like the Jetta isn’t as cheap to insure as larger sedans, but it is segment-competitive.

See the table below on the average full coverage cost for the various age groups (assuming good driver and credit and brand-new vehicle):

Honda Accord$4,687/year$2,116/year
Honda Civic$5,070/year$2,289/year
VW Jetta$5,416/year$2,445/year
Toyota Corolla$5,570/year$2,516/year
BMW 3 Series$6,019/year$2,717/year
VW Jetta vs. other cars insurance costs (CarEdge)

16-year-old male teens can expect higher insurance costs.

The newer Jettas have excellent safety ratings, which help keep the premium affordable.

#6 Good Visibility Aids Easy Driving and Parking

Outward views in the Jetta are excellent and are among the best among small sedans.

The four roof pillars are relatively slim, and the side windows are generously-sized, aiding the view out in all directions.

The upright styling maintained from earlier model years means any used Jetta will be easy to drive for new drivers.

Further, the Jetta is a small vehicle that makes it agile to drive around town and straightforward to park in tight spaces.

#7 Reasonably Strong Value Retention

VW Jettas retain value well, depreciating 43% after five years and 70% at the full-decade mark.

The table below assumes a brand-new Volkswagen Jetta that retails for approx. $22,000.

Vehicle AgeDepreciationValue LostResale Value
VW Jetta 10-year depreciation.

The VW Jetta comes with:

  • 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty.
  • 3-year/36,000-mile roadside warranty.
  • 4-year/50,000-mile drivetrain warranty.

If you’re getting a used Jetta out of warranty, buying extended coverage is necessary to buffer expensive out-of-pocket repairs.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla hold value better than the Jetta, though not significantly.

 5-yr Depreciation10-yr Depreciation
Honda Civic39%71%
Toyota Corolla38%59%
VW Jetta43%70%
BMW 3-Series55%78%
VW Jetta depreciation compared to other cars (CarEdge)

Best Volkswagen Jetta Year for Your First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base sedan; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
  • Recalls: manufacturer or NHTSA-initiated.
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaintsRecalls
2022 Jetta4/45/531/41/3575/100
2021 Jetta4/45/529/39/33NA3
2020 Jetta4/45/530/40/3481/10063
2019 Jetta4/45/530/40/3475/100647
2018 Jetta3.8/45/528/38/3281/10023
2017 Jetta3.8/45/528/38/3280/100167
2016 Jetta3.8/45/528/39/3281/100245
2015 Jetta3.8/45/523/34/2678/100328
2014 Jetta3.6/45/523/29/25NA665
2013 Jetta3.6/44/523/29/2577/100586
2012 JettaNA4/523/29/25NA708
2011 JettaNA4/523/29/2578/10011110
2010 JettaNANA22/30/25NA1185
2009 JettaNANA20/29/24NA1007
2008 JettaNANA21/29/2481/100416
2007 JettaNANA19/28/2281/100466
2006 JettaNANA19/28/22NA1506
2005 JettaNANA19/28/22NA447
VW Jetta model years comparison.

The 2016 VW Jetta recorded the highest number of owner complaints with interior accessories problems topping the list, followed by engine and transmission issues.

Of the recent models, the 2019 VW Jetta is particularly problematic with transmission issues such as grinding noise and transmission fuel leak.

The 2020 VW Jetta looks to have the best combination of excellent safety ratings and relatively high fuel economy.

The VW Jetta underwent a redesign in 2019 with more safety tech; the limited availability of advanced safety features in the 2018 model and older makes them less desirable for teen drivers.

Still, those 2016 to 2018 models are plenty fuel-efficient and fun to drive.

The pre-2016 Jettas with the standard four-cylinder engine may be inefficient, but you can opt for the turbocharged or diesel engine for better fuel economy.

VW Jetta Compared with Similar Vehicles

Plenty of options is available in the compact car segment.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
VW Jetta29/39/3378/100$6094/45/5Good
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
Kia Forte31/41/3583/100$4514/45/5Good
Nissan Sentra29/37/3283/100$4914/45/5Good
VW Jetta comparison with similar vehicles.

When stacked against rivals, the Volkswagen Jetta falls short in reliability and maintenance costs.

That said, Jetta’s EPA fuel estimate is on par with the class leaders.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla continue to be some of the most dependable first cars on the market.

Their upkeep will be kind to your wallet.

Alternatively, the Mazda 3 comes with a premium interior, sharp handling, and many advanced driver safety features.

Plus, the Mazda 3 is an all-wheel drive, a rarity at this price point.

The Hyundai Elantra returns impressive fuel economy, a roomy and quiet cabin, and a laundry list of safety features.

It’s a sharp-looking ride (particularly after its 2019 refresh) any teenager would be proud to own.

The Kia Forte is another smart choice for a teenager’s first car with its thrifty engine, generous warranty, and a string of standard features at a lower price than rivals.

Kia isn’t a brand that instantly comes to shoppers’ minds, but their cars offer excellent value for money and are worth considering for your first car.