Strengths and weaknesses:
- passenger space
- diesel option
Jetta goes long way with segment’s only diesel option
"Power comes on smooth and the DSG dual-clutch transmission quietly goes about its business shifting gears."
The Volkswagen Jetta received a complete redesign for the 2011 model year, but what really snagged consumers’ attention was the sub-$16,000 price tag attached the base model.
That put the Jetta much closer in line with the bevy of competitors from Japan, Korea, and North America, almost all of which could be considered very strong entries in the compact sedan segment.
With that Jetta price being flaunted on billboards, in television ads, and over radio airwaves, it’s easy to forget that at the opposite end of the spectrum, the most expensive model in the line-up comes in at nearly $29,000 before options. That’s well ahead of those same competitors’ top-tier models.
I drove a near-entry-level Jetta last year (it came to just under $18,000, when all was said and done), while this week, I have a top-of-the-line Jetta TDI Highline tester. Despite the price parity, the overall difference between the two models isn’t as dramatic as you might think.
There is one major difference between the two, and it resides under the hood. While the naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine in lower-priced Jettas is downright anaemic, the other 2.0-litre engine - this one with a turbodiesel - provides all sorts of low end acceleration.
Power comes on smooth, and while the DSG dual-clutch transmission quietly goes about its business shifting gears for the most part, it does occasionally seem to have a hard time deciding between first and second gear at low speeds.
While few sedans in this class are beasts in the performance department, the Jetta’s driving dynamics feels particularly sloppy, with steering leaning toward numb and the vehicle displaying noticeable body lean. This car can go really fast, but it doesn’t have the handling to back it up.
When Jetta was redesigned, Volkswagen added a whole whack of passenger and cargo space, and that’s still one of this vehicle’s biggest strengths. In fact, it feels kind of silly calling this a “compact” sedan. It’s worth noting, though, that while it may not look it from the outside, head room in the rear seats isn’t as generous as leg room.
What is great is that all the interior cargo volume comes at no extra cost, so regardless of what trim you opt for, you’ll have plenty of room for rear seat occupants, along with oodles of space in the trunk for whatever it is you need to put in there.
It’s easy to find a comfortable seating position from the driver’s perch, and this Jetta comes with an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, as well as a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Both the front buckets and the rear bench, meanwhile, offer lots of support for extended trips.
I’m not as satisfied with the Jetta’s interior quality. There’s nothing catastrophically wrong, and the Highline’s upgraded materials such as matte chrome trim and leather seats do help things, but it’s difficult not to notice trip computer info that’s so dim it can’t be read properly.
It’s downright impossible, meanwhile, to ignore a sunroof that refuses to close because of a sunshade that doesn’t appear to fit properly. There’s also excessive vibrating and buzzing from the vehicle when the optional Fender audio system is turned up. The sound system is excellent, but it seems the vehicle can’t quite keep up with what’s coming out of the speakers.
The Jetta isn’t perfect, but it does offer things that are difficult to overlook in this segment. It has three options each in terms of engines and transmissions, and it’s the only vehicle in its segment that has a diesel variant in North America (though the Chevrolet Cruze will be getting one soon enough).
Interior room is also a huge plus, and any family that isn’t ready to move up to a crossover, but believes fuel efficiency is as important as space, will see a lot to like in the Jetta.
What the Jetta still offers for the 2012 model year is plenty of choice.