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The 2024 Volkswagen Jetta is a stalwart of the compact sedan segment, first arriving on American shores in 1979. The Jetta has remained with the times for the last 45 years, but the 2024 Jetta S, the base model I recently tested for a week to review, is pleasingly simplistic. There’s still a good dose of tech and modern performance, to be sure. But amid the flood of changes to how our cars are powered, how we drive them and how we use them, the Jetta S remains uncomplicated.

For instance, there’s a strange, adjustable lever to the driver’s right and a pedal left of the brake. Automotive historians suggest this means the Jetta S has what’s called a “manual transmission.”

Yes, you can still do the gear changes yourself, a rarity among 2024 cars that don’t have sporting credentials. VW sells an eight-speed automatic for an additional $800 if you’re confused by the simultaneous hand and foot motions required to drive a manual.

The center stack features dials drivers twist to adjust the temperature or which vents should expel heated/cooled air. There’s no fiddling with a touchscreen to adjust the climate controls or radio volume while simultaneously navigating traffic. As such, it’s intuitive, and drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road. That cannot be said for many of VW’s current models (or many other automakers).

Meanwhile, there’s no app to unlock the doors, and you turn the engine over by rotating a key in a slot. There’s no blindingly bright million-inch touchscreen either. Just a utilitarian, 6.5-inch unit flanked by real buttons.

Still, the Jetta S isn’t a 21st-century Yugo, that is, a car completely devoid of modern tech or features. It’s fitted with an 8-inch customizable digital gauge cluster. There’s adaptive cruise control, a lane-keep system, automatic forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection and a blind spot monitor. It sports automatic LED headlights and taillights, heated/foldable side mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. Many of these features were optional extras prior to 2024, but all Jetta models now sport VW’s standard IQ.Drive suite of safety features.

The Jetta S, then, appears to be a prime candidate for those who want the convenience of many modern features without an overabundance of glitz. And with my model’s as-tested price of $22,585, those who value saving at the dealership, to boot.

2024 Volkswagen Jetta S overall review

2024 Volkswagen Jetta interior view
2024 Volkswagen Jetta interior | Volkswagen

But, what is the ’24 Jetta S like to live with? Considering its straightforward engineering and features, well, “easy” fits the bill.

The 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. The turbocharger is necessary. Before it has a chance to spool, the Jetta lacks any get-up-and-go. All travel starts will be made in first gear unless you’re stopped on a steep decline. Downshifts and upshifts must be timed well lest you be required to floor the accelerator just to maintain a semblance of speed.

Still, around town there is adequate acceleration and passing power in most situations so long as the turbo is building pressure.

Speaking of such things, the manual transmission is effortless to use. The clutch pedal is as easily depressed as Travis after he shoots Old Yeller. Shifts can be made with one finger — I know, because I did — and the throw length is neither too long nor too short.

A smooth ride quality is the highlight of the Jetta’s overall road manners. All but the most egregious lumps and bumps of the road are ironed out with relative ease.

Cabin materials are not a highlight. There’s swaths of cheap-feeling plastics, even when compared to some of the Jetta’s affordable compact rivals.

But the Jetta makes up for its lack of upmarket finishes with ample space. There’s no squeeze up front, and the rear will accommodate adults without much issue. Or, a large forward-facing car seat.

Cabin storage is respectable with a deep center console cubby and large door pockets. The spacious trunk will swallow 14.1-cubic feet of stuff, which is more than the Toyota Camry and slightly behind the Honda Civic.

The Jetta isn’t as popular as those two models, but it is cheaper. And with the Jetta’s safety features upgrade for 2024, its value proposition has increased.

To review, the 2024 Volkswagen Jetta S doesn’t wow, but neither does it disappoint. It’s intuitive, spacious, easy to drive and live with, and won’t break the bank. And for prospective buyers who value simplicity, it’s a smart choice.