Volkswagen Jetta

The acquired taste

"Call me crazy, but for me, the defining characteristic of the Jetta is its torque curve, not its lack of a hatch."

"The Jetta's interior feels more premium than many competing small saloons, with soft touch plastics and obvious Volkswagen style throughout."

"The Jetta seems to be an acquired taste - wildly popular in the US and looked upon quizzically by Golf lovers the world over," said Liam. 

Everywhere but America, Volkswagen has to explain the rationale behind the Jetta every time the model changes. In some ways, this is not a bad problem to have, since it's an intense fondness for the VW Golf that drives enthusiasts to ask, do we really need a saloon version of the storied hatchback? And really, that's about as pointed a criticism of the Jetta you are likely to hear; that it's somehow guilty of the crime of not being a Golf. If you feel that way, you can probably stop reading now, because ultimately that's a matter of taste, above all. But on the practical side, I'd respond that while the Golf does have more storage space, on paper, it can be a bit harder to take advantage of since you give up a good deal of rear visibility if you load a Golf to the gills. Rather than dismiss the Jetta as a lesser Golf iteration, think of it as a Golf for buyers who are allergic to hatches, a format that is decidedly less popular in the States, where the Jetta is a huge seller for VW.

Call me crazy, but for me, the defining characteristic of the Jetta is its torque curve, not its lack of a hatch. It won't blow your ears back like a 911, but then there's quite a price differential between the two. Open the throttle though, and the Jetta tugs at you viscerally off the line, bettering a good many of its competitors in the segment with 250 Nm of peak torque between 1500-3500 rpm. The 1.4L TSI engine exhibits a little bit of turbo lag, but it's almost imperceptible unless maybe you're trying to drag race, in which you might want to look at another ride. Yes, there are sportier saloons out there (some of them made by VW) but the Jetta is a relatively affordable little saloon that still manages to be enjoyable behind the wheel - probably because VW hasn't gone the CVT transmission route, a bit of technology that has made some competing whips significantly less fun than the Jetta (and their former selves).

No, the Jetta still rocks a transmission that actually shifts, harnessing Volkswagen's 7 speed DSG gearbox to offer more than decent performance and efficiency. Switch on Sport mode and the shift points are adjusted, holding each gear right up until redline, and allowing you to flick your way through the box as you desire. The car still isn't sporty, but there is some satisfaction in being able to manhandle it nonetheless. Meanwhile, as your CVT propelled neighbours whine their way to the store and back, the Jetta still sounds like a proper car. The Jetta does the 0-100kph dash in 9.6 seconds, but it feels a tad quicker than that - maybe it just looks fast, but I found the spec surprising.

VW does a great job of creating a look and feel to its cars that are unmistakably VW. The Jetta's interior feels more premium than many competing small saloons, with soft touch plastics and obvious Volkswagen style throughout. I do believe that interiors are getting better and better across the wide spectrum of marque and price point, but VW has one of the most developed aesthetic identities in the business.

The Jetta steering feels balanced and reliable, responding predictably to driver input. The brakes have ample stopping power, but they don't feel intrusive. This is a car that you can swing through the curves a bit, carrying your momentum well, so it's not like you're constantly stabbing at the brakes… unless you're caught in the notorious rush hour traffic outside of Washington DC, where we tested the car.

For 2015 the Jetta's front end is reworked for aerodynamic improvements culminating in 10 percent less drag. The design team optimized the rear end, replaced the bumper and re-tooled the gutters on the sides near the A-pillars - all so the car can slip through the air a little more easily. Not surprisingly, fuel efficiency is improved in the new model. The radiator grille is changed as well, and the LED daytime running lights give the car a visual identity for night and day. VW also made the lower air inlet larger this time out, which has a widening effect on the overall appearance of the vehicle - not a bad thing, I'd say. Additional updates to the underbody panels at the rear axle and sill covers with wheel spoilers round out the exterior updates, but they're easy to miss if you're not looking closely.

Verdict
The Jetta seems to be an acquired taste - wildly popular in the US, and looked upon quizzically by Golf lovers the world over. I have a theory why the Jetta appeals to so many young Americans though, and it's not just the lack of a hatch. This is a very European car, through and through. Sometimes people just want a taste of something slightly outside their realm of experience, and for those yanks who dreamed of taking their gap year abroad, owning a Jetta is like bringing a bit of their travels home with them, even if the travel itself was imaginary (we Americans are shockingly insular sometimes). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the revised Jetta is certainly worth beholding in its price point. 

Pros: Very cost effective, decent torque, above average handling
Cons: Less storage than Golf, slight turbo lag, not very exciting
Rivals: Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla
Engine: 1.4L TSI, 122 hp, 250 Nm
Transmission: 7-speed DSG, FWD
Performance: 0-100 kph: 9.6 sec, 45 mpg km Top speed: 200 kph
Chassis: 1403 kg
One word: Competent

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