Perhaps Volkswagen's best chance of getting a sceptical British public to give the Jetta a try lies with the frugal but feisty 1.4 TSI BMT variants. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's latest generation Jetta is bigger and sleeker than before, offering customers a refreshingly different alternative to the Golf. A big part of its promise lies in the fact that this compact Volkswagen saloon these days looks more like a model in its own right rather than a Golf that has grown a posterior appendage. Let's try it in petrol 1.4 TSI guise.
Stop me if I sound like I'm repeating myself. Every few years Volkswagen brings out another booted version of the Golf and each time commentators claim that this time round it'll be a sales success in the UK. First the Jetta, then the Vento, then the Bora and back to the Jetta again; booted Golf variants have been big sellers in the US but have never found favour on these shores.
Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". That applies to a certain degree to Volkswagen's attempts to market the Jetta in the UK but with the MK6 model introduced in 2012, the company claimed it had approached things a little differently. Now that model's been upgraded. Let's see how it stacks up in popular 1.4-litre TSI petrol BMT guise.
The previous fifth generation Jetta model adopted a pragmatic tactic in 'benchmarking' the suspension of the rival Ford Focus and the results proved to be a big step forward in the handling department, something continued by this revised MK6 model. The hi-tech 125 and 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol powerplants we're looking at here combine with multi-link rear suspension and electro-mechanical power steering for a mature driving experience of the kind that prospective customers will be seeking.
Volkswagen has tried especially hard with the refinement of this car, the aim being to make owners feel that they're in something much bigger and more expensive. Certainly, the flexible engines will make the Jetta feel a fast enough performer, even if you opt for the adaptable DSG semi-automatic gearbox. In the 150PS manual model, 0-62mph takes 8.6s en route to 137mph.
Design and Build
The reason you'd choose a Jetta over a Golf would probably be that you'd prefer the styling or you'd rather have a car with a boot. Let's start with that boot. It's enormous. The Golf has a pretty big load capacity at 380-litres but choose a Jetta and there's a full 510-litre capacity up for grabs. To put that figure into perspective, it's only 10 litres down on what you'd get from a BMW 5 Series; a car that's ostensibly two classes up in size. Don't think that just because you opted for a booted car you lose the ability to load longer items either. A lever flips down the 60:40 split rear seats, and although they won't lay fully flat, this does allow you to post in items up to 193cm long, but do bear in mind that the aperture through which you must push them is a modest 58cm high. Rear leg room is generous, although the centre passenger on the rear bench will have to put up with a hard centre seat and also has a transmission tunnel to contend with.
The Jetta's styling has evolved sympathetically, with the latest update making it sleeker than ever before, with an overall improvement in aerodynamics of 10 per cent. At the front, there's a revised radiator grille with three horizontal fins, and a reprofiled bumper beneath. At the rear the boot lid has been redesigned to incorporate an aerodynamically efficient lip, which extends into the wings at the side. Beneath this are cleaner tail lights and a revised bumper. Some budget has been directed at the interior too, with updated instruments, a redesigned steering wheel, a variety of fresh trims around the centre console and classier fabric designs for the seats and door trims.
Market and Model
The range opens at just under £19,000 for the 125PS 1.4-litre TSI in S trim. That's just over £1,000 less than you'd pay for the 2.0 TDI diesel engine. You'll need from around £21,000 to land yourself the 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol model, with a premium of around £1,500 necessary to upgrade to the desirable DSG seven-speed transmission. That would seem to be the sweet spot as far as value goes. Comparable rivals are surprisingly thin on the ground. About the closest in execution and target clientele is probably the Volvo S60, which is a couple of grand more expensive, model for model, than the Jetta.
In order to incentivise sales, equipment levels are stronger than you might imagine for a German saloon. Standard equipment includes DAB digital radio, electronic stability control, electric windows and air conditioning. SE trim adds to the list with 16-inch 'Atlanta' alloy wheels, lumbar support, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel, MDI multi-device interface and cruise control. Go for the flagship GT trim and you get 15 mm lower sports suspension, 17-inch 'Lancaster' alloy wheels, front fog lights, front sports seats, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heat-insulating tinted rear glass, a colour multifunction trip computer, driver alert system and ambient interior lighting.
Cost of Ownership
One continuing theme that's unlikely to differ is the strong residual value of the Jetta. The laws of supply and demand have propped up used values very well, although the problem of depressed residuals via oversupply is a problem that Volkswagen would probably like to have. Day to day running costs are modest as a consequence of low insurance ratings brought about by excellent safety and security and also low emissions and strong fuel economy ratings from the excellent engine line-up.
'BMT' stands for 'BlueMotion Technology'. Using this, Volkswagen's diesel models have proven a big hit among those looking to shave their daily running costs, but the remarkable 1.4 TSI petrol variants aren't that far behind. The 150PS version achieves 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and 123g/km of CO2, returns that actually slightly better the 125PS version.
Many will be sold on the Volkswagen Jetta as soon as they clap eyes on one in the metal. It is undoubtedly a very tidy piece of product design backed up by solid build quality and a range of very strong engines. Amongst these, the 1.4-litre TSI petrol units we've been looking at here make more sense than the diesels if, like many Jetta folk, you're a low mileage driver.
In terms of this 6th generation version, it's hard to see how Volkswagen could have done much more. One option would have been to undercut the Golf on price but risking killing a goose that has laid so many golden eggs would never be on the cards. If you are one of the minority who favours four doors over five, the Jetta is a smart pick. Volkswagen has sold around 10 million examples of it worldwide since 1979, so perhaps it's the UK who needs to play catch up.