The auto industry has predicted the demise of manual transmissions for decades so when one gets delivered to Latino Traffic Report for a review, I’m thrilled. It’s even more exciting when the manual comes on a trim level that allows for more bells and whistles. That was the case with the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL that I drove.
Manual transmissions just make driving more fun, that’s why most sports cars still offer them. On economy cars, manual transmissions serve a different purpose. Reserved for entry-level models that can’t be upgraded and are basically sold as-is, they help lower the base price. Still, they do add oomph to little four-cylinder engines so it’s unfortunate that they really can’t compete with their siblings and are easily passed over.
Not surprisingly, the base model Jetta comes with a manual transmission, but so does the GLI SEL that sits just below the top-of-the-line Jetta hybrid. As such, it comes with advanced technology, particularly on the safety side, like a blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, parking sensors, and a rearview camera.
Redesigned for 2015, the 2016 model adds a 1.4-liter turbocharged, direct-injection engine four-cylinder. I drove the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched to a six–speed manual transmission. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.9 mpg. A six-speed automatic is also available as well as a 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.
The GLI SEL also gets a bold new look for 2016, highlighted by an aggressive front fascia that incorporates a honeycomb grille and foglights, along with a new rear bumper design that has a diffuser and a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts, plus 18-inch Mallory design aluminum-alloy wheels.
On the inside, the GLI SEL continues to add features like dual-zone climate control, a 6.3-inch touchscreen for radio controls and navigation (it was a little clunky to operate), heated black leatherette front seats with red accent stitching, a power sunroof, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a Fender premium audio system developed through a collaboration between Fender and Panasonic. It includes 400 watts of power, nine speakers, a trunk-mounted subwoofer, and my favorite low-tech feature, a CD player.
Convenience features include a split rear seat with pass through to the trunk, a 60/40-split rear seatback offering 15.5 cubic feet of usable trunk space, a tilting and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth, keyless access with push button start and a cooled glovebox.
Volkswagen’s most popular model, the Jetta has a starting price of $18,500. The as-tested price topped out at $30,100.
Sí: Always great to find manual transmissions on up-level trims and the Jetta GLI SEL includes nice bells and whistles.
No: The audio system was less intuitive than most, especially when programming preset stations.
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