Diesel cars have simply become the primary choice after the spurt in petrol prices became too absurd to even protest. And after every day that passed with the Government continuing to dither on diesel prices and get all tongue-tied when the proposal to levy an additional duty on diesel cars is to be taken up, the swing in favour of diesel cars continues unabated.

Volkswagen, and for that matter all its group brands, have always had good diesel options amongst their cars. In fact with the new Jetta, VW didn’t even bother launching a petrol engine version. And thanks to the complete lack of any new models in the price and size class, the Jetta has been doing quite well.

The Toyota Corolla (even after the facelift), the Honda Civic, the Skoda Laura, the Renault Fluence and the Chevrolet Cruze have all been around for sometime and so the Jetta had an advantage over them, being fresher in design and packaging. But if petrol-heads were disappointed with the absence of a gasoline burner in the Jetta, there is now reason to rejoice.

VW is launching the Jetta with a 1.4-litre petrol engine. Now, before we tell you the rest, this might seem like a let down for petrol-heads, especially for a car in a segment that already has many 1.8-litre engines slugging it out. But, the Jetta’s new mill is the 1.4-litre TSI, an engine that manages to mix the business of being frugal and eco-friendly with the pleasure of spirited performance.

Design

The new Jetta TSI looks the same from the outside, the same VW family design similarities that the sixth generation has with the cars of one of the group companies’ and the same crisp, chiseled look of the other VW cars. The only visible differences, compared to the existing diesel Jetta, are the new TSI badge at the rear and the 205/ 55 R16 tyres.

The interior of the Jetta TSI is also no different. The same simple, yet pleasing layout of the cabin, with clean, finished good quality plastic panels, premium touches like the faux wood inserts and the brushed aluminium trim have been brought into the Jetta TSI too. The three-spoke steering wheel offering the perfect hold and the well-proportioned, comfy front seats are the other two features that I was reminded of when I stepped into the new Jetta TSI.

The two big changes, rather the only ones worth mentioning, are both in the powertrain – the new 1.4-litre TSI engine and the six-speed manual gearbox. To experience the new petrol Jetta, VW had organized a ‘novel’ night drive, where we motoring journos were woken up at 2 in the morning and while still bleary-eyed were handed over the keys to a flock of Jetta TSIs.

Performance

I step into the cabin, crank the engine and drive off the parking lot and leave my drowsiness behind too. The peppy TSI engine is extremely quiet during idling and the initial acceleration cycle, but can spool up quick and deliver some serious power (about 122 horses) to the wheels in double quick time, despite its puny proportions.

The VW TSI engine came into prominence in the Golf GT and the badge represents a range of performance boosting tech in the petrol engines that sported it. Independently or together, TSI engines feature a combination of turbocharging, supercharging and in some engines even futuristic tech like cylinder-deactivation.

For the India-spec Jetta TSI VW has chosen a simple turbocharger set up for the 1.4-litre direct injection petrol engine. Supercharging at the intake usually is a big help in turbocharged engines because the combination enables an almost complete elimination of turbolag. Of course, the combination also enables a big boost in power generated and torque delivered.

Positioned in the exhaust manifold, the turbocharger also boosts the overall efficiency of the engine makes sure that the combustion is complete, wastage is avoided and the emissions are lowered. The 1,390cc, four-cylinder engine’s peak power gets kicked up to about 122 bhp (90 kW) and gets delivered to the engine at 5,000 rpm. But more importantly, due to better efficiencies and the turbo boost, peak torque delivered is an almost diesel engine like 200 Nm which is available from as low as 1,500 rpm all the way to 4,000 rpm. Those numbers mean that the Jetta TSI is only slightly less powerful, but more torquey than the Corolla and the Civic.

There is only the faint semblance of turbolag just between 1,000 to 1,500 rpm levels. Torque available right after that is impressive enough to prod you to quicken the pace every time you get behind the wheel. During idling the engine is super quiet and vibration-free and though it gets a bit buzzy during hard acceleration, there is much less of the gearbox whine that comes off the six-speed manual transmission compared to VW’s automatic.

Paired with a progressive clutch and a clean, slick shift into every slot, the manual gearbox is also a delight to use. With enough torque available in the low rpm range, much of the slow city driving cycle can be easily tackled in the second and third gears. But if you do want to pull away, a quick shift down one slot and throttling past is still a breeze.

Though I was faced with empty and desolate Mumbai roads at three in the morning, I found myself regularly testing out the new Jetta TSI at really slow speeds too. The gearing could have been a bit shorter and so shifting down might be needed at really slow speeds, but at least you won’t be bugged with the gearbox. Of course, the sixth cog is there to boost average mileage and average emissions, if you did get to use it extensively (maybe on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway).

The Jetta TSI’s handling is another familiar trait. The same rigid chassis, combined now with the slightly lower weight of the petrol engine makes it even crisper to steer. Straight line stability, poise while cornering and the ability to behave predictably in dynamic on-road situations are all likely to be class-leading.

Bottomline

The new Jetta TSI is really for petrol-heads who will also appreciate this VW’s cost conscious disposition. But that really has to be what appeals to the buyer because in terms of features the Jetta TSI will be found wanting. The model is being offered only with two trim variants – Trendline and Comfortline. There is no Highline and even in the Comfortline there are quite a few features that are not offered.

There is no auto aircon, no electric seat adjustments and the music system is a grade lower than the diesel’s. But the prices for the two variants would make it attractive for the kind of buyers in this segment who are still in favour of petrol. The Jetta TSI Trendline and the Comfortline have been priced at Rs 13.6 lakh and Rs 15.07 lakh respectively (ex-showroom, Delhi). Point to note here is that the Toyota Corolla starting from about Rs 11.5 lakh is dated, but will represent more value. With the Hyundai Elantra – the other likely to be VFM model in this segment – just around the corner, the Jetta TSI could prove to be a much needed addition to the VW portfolio.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on June 26, 2012)
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