Volkswagen's classy Jetta gets a makeover that makes it sleeker and slicker than ever. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's latest generation Jetta is sleeker and better-equipped than before with a range that focuses on economical petrol and diesel engines. A 510-litre boot with folding rear seats means that you needn't forgo practicality if you prefer the four-door body style.
Volkswagen has tried selling us Jettas since way back in 1980 and, for the most part, we've looked at them, thought they were quite handy but have put our money on a Golf instead. We're clearly wedded to the practicality of a hatchback, the fear that we may one day prove unable to carry a tumble dryer is one that keeps Jetta sales under the thumb.
Despite this, Volkswagen still tries to convince us that the boot ist gut. Was it Albert Einstein that once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"? With this latest generation Jetta, Volkswagen has finessed the details and borrowed a little of what has made the Passat such a class act in recent years. Sleeker and better built inside, the Jetta might well remain a niche player, but you have to love a trier.
The Jetta is, as you might expect, spun from the same excellent chassis that underpins the Golf so no great surprises here. The engines on offer are a 1.4-litre TSI 125 PS unit with a six-speed manual gearbox; a 1.4-litre TSI 150 PS unit with a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG gearbox; a 2.0-litre TDI with 110 PS and a five-speed manual or seven-speed DSG gearbox; and a 2.0-litre TDI with 150 PS and either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG gearbox. Got that? Good. There's a test at the end.
The Jetta never feels quite as light on its feet as a Golf, perhaps due to its increased size, but everything it does, it does extremely smoothly. Whichever trim level you opt for, there's the opportunity to specify the DSG twin-clutch sequential gearbox. This makes city driving so much easier but starts to dent the BlueMotion's raison d'etre by knocking a couple of miles per gallon from the fuel economy figure. Refinement is excellent with very little wind or engine noise. Go for the GT model and you'll have some tyre thrum on poor surfaces but that's only to be expected.
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, with little over £1,000 upgrading you to the diesel engine. The 150PS diesel starts in SE trim at around £22,500 and you'll need just over £23,000 to land yourself a GT-trimmed 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol with 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. It's all modern stuff with efficient BlueMotion Technology modifications, including stop/start and battery energy recuperation, and all engines are compliant with EU6 emissions legislation.
Choose the entry-level 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit and you'll see an average of 52.3mpg and emissions of just 125g/km. The 110PS diesel fares even better with a fuel consumption figure of 70.6mpg and emissions of 105g/km. Unfortunately, none of the Jetta models quite manages to squeak below 100g/km. The other thing worth bearing in mind is that the DSG transmission improves the economy and emissions of petrol models but makes the diesel models marginally less efficient.
The Volkswagen Jetta isn't ever going to trouble the UK's top ten list of bestsellers but it still deserves a place in VW's product portfolio. After all, there's still a small but stubborn group of buyers who just won't be convinced of the merits of five doors over four. What's more, the updates to this latest Jetta's styling mean that there might also be converts who just love the way that it looks. Volkswagen's CC four-door won a number of sales from buyers who might have otherwise spent their money on a BMW 3 Series but decided the CC was furnished with a more overt sense of occasion.
That massive 510-litre boot offers serious carrying capacity, so the Jetta isn't without its practical side and the post-through loading system also allows you to carry longer items. The pricing looks sensible and the model range is fairly straightforward with more gear included than you'd at first guess at, so while the Jetta doesn't deliver any real knockout blows, it's a car that through sheer persistence will doubtless put its rivals on the ropes.