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Subaru is a vastly underrated manufacturer, which produces some unbelievable models. However, not every Subaru vehicle is a winner. The 2021 Subaru Impreza is a rare dud in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. And most drivers shopping for a compact sedan would be better off buying a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta.

The Impreza is one of the most unique models in its class, yet it fails to set itself apart from the pack. Among being one of the most complained about Subaru cars, the Impreza isn’t the best commuter vehicle.

Meanwhile, the Jetta offers upscale comfort, cutting-edge features, and impressive gas mileage. Choosing this German compact sedan over the Impreza is a no-brainer for most buyers. However, there’s one exception.

Who should purchase a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta, and who should opt for a 2021 Subaru Impreza instead? Let’s break down the differences between these two small cars to help you make a more informed choice.

Northern drivers should consider a 2021 Subaru Impreza

A dark blue 2021 Subaru Impreza driving on a country road
The 2021 Subaru Impreza in action | Photo via Subaru

Local driving conditions play a heavy role in determining what kind of vehicle you should buy. Those who live in snowy climates should seriously consider purchasing a vehicle equipped with an all-wheel-drive system. This drivetrain provides more traction on slippery roads, giving drivers added peace of mind.

Unfortunately, few compact cars offer this feature, and it’s not available at all on the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta. However, it does come standard on all 2021 Subaru Impreza trims.

This oddity makes the Impreza quite a bargain. With a starting MSRP of just $18,795, this compact is one of the cheapest AWD-equipped models on the market.

Impreza drivers will also drive with more confidence thanks to this Subaru’s impressive safety scores. The IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick, and the NHTSA awarded it a five-star overall safety rating.

The Jetta falls a bit behind in this category, as it’s hindered by a disappointing assortment of standard safety features. However, it’s not expensive to add crucial driver-assistance technologies. Therefore, the Impreza’s safety advantage isn’t as significant as it appears to be on the surface.

There’s just too much to love about the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta

A silver 2021 Volkswagen Jetta parked with the sun in the background
The 2021 VW Jetta on display | Photo via Volkswagen

This German car doesn’t excel in just one area; instead, it’s a well-rounded machine. The new VW Jetta displays a sophisticated design that looks more high-end than its Japanese counterpart.

Both compact sedans are spacious, with the 2021 Subaru Impreza offering slightly more passenger volume. Meanwhile, the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta makes up for it with nearly two extra cubic feet of trunk space. However, you won’t feel cramped while behind the wheel of either car.

The Jetta and Impreza each come standard with a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and four speakers. However, the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta offers the advantage of two USB ports (compared to one in the Impreza) and a standard Wi-Fi hotspot.

Volkswagen also offers a wireless version of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as wireless device charging. Meanwhile, you’ll have to bring all your cables along for the ride if you choose the 2021 Subaru Impreza.

A tale of two powertrains

The VW Jetta sets itself apart from its rival by offering multiple engine options. Meanwhile, 2021 Subaru Impreza drivers are stuck with an underperforming 152-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Volkswagen gives buyers a choice between a standard 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and an available 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. 

The Jetta’s base powertrain is somewhat uninspiring, as it only delivers 147 hp. However, it achieves an EPA-estimated 34 MPG city/highway combined when mated to the standard six-speed manual transmission. Models equipped with the available eight-speed automatic transmission get 33 MPG combined. 

The 2021 Subaru Impreza can’t match these numbers. It only achieves between an EPA-estimated 25 and 32 MPG combined, depending on transmission (manual or automatic) and body style (sedan or hatchback.)

Those willing to sacrifice fuel economy for an extra dose of thrills should steer toward the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta GLI. VW equipped this model with an energetic 228-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’ll blow past any Impreza model. Plus, the Jetta GLI isn’t too expensive, either, starting at an MSRP of $26,345.

The better compact sedan is obvious


1 Flaw Keeps the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta From Being a Safe Car

The 2021 Volkswagen Jetta simply appeals to more drivers, thanks to its premium features and exciting engine options. 

Unless you’re in dire need of an affordable car with AWD, you’re better off ignoring the 2021 Subaru Impreza. Its lack of high-end features and its lackluster performance puts it toward the back of the compact class.