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Volkswagen Jetta Review: Built to win? You betcha!

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Sep 07, 2011
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There are benefits to be had by following a kind of unified design philosophy. Cars from the brand bear a comforting resemblance, a signature that is immediately identifiable as its own. And importantly, if its premium models' lines are carried down to the more affordable cars, there can be a positive impact on sales.

Unfortunately though, buyers of premium sedans may not embrace the concept if the car's design closely resembles a smaller-sized, less expensive sibling. It is a tough line to walk for designers - to retain the DNA of the brand in every model in its portfolio and at the same time give each one of them a unique identity.

Volkswagen's designers must be faced with an even more challenging situation, with 13 brands under the group's umbrella. Avoiding resemblances between brands and between the models within a brand would probably get even more complex. So much so that you would think that there is bound to be the occasional repeat stroke from the designer's pen. Is the new VW Jetta a case in point?

Design

The new Jetta's design is a bit more curious because it seems to share lines with cars from both ends of VW's stables. While it seems to look like a smaller sized Passat when viewed from a distance, step closer and at the front there are lines that seem to have been borrowed from the Polo and Vento too. At the rear there seems to be a bit of Audi influence. The new Jetta has transformed and moved away from its rounded edges, and though the previous generation also bore resemblances to both the Golf hatch and the Passat, it also had more individualism.

Yet, the new sixth generation Jetta is a classic VW design. Simple, straight, elegant lines that manage to make the sedan look wider, but smaller than it actually is, on the outside. The new design also still gives it striking looks, only it can get a bit confusing when the new Jetta is amongst other VW cars. Despite what the resemblances in exterior design might seem to indicate, the sixth gen Jetta has been built on a completely independent platform.

The new model is 4,644mm long, about 90mm longer overall than the predecessor and has a wheelbase of 2,633mm, which is about 58mm longer now. It is also 1,453mm in height and 1,778mm wide. The weight of the car is marginally up by about 25 kgs. Leveraging the longer wheelbase, VW engineers are said to have managed to push back the rear seat and get almost three inches of extra kneeroom and legroom for rear passengers. The new chassis is also evidently more rigid and dynamic, improving on the Jetta's already strong image of it being driver-oriented.

The new Jetta's design is also more coupe-like now with the incline and sweep of the windshield and the A-pillar. The new design headlamps now incorporate daytime running lights as standard, and there is also an LED package that is an optional addition. The dual reflector headlights are sectioned by a masking blade into a larger area with the low and high beam lights and the narrow lower section houses the daytime lights.

Aerodynamic door mirrors with integrated turn indicator lights, prominent wheel arches and the VW trademark ‘tornado' line are all eye-catching features when the new Jetta is viewed from the side. The rear is again a classic VW design. Stubby short boot, wraparound tail-lamps, twin exhaust pipes peeping out of an oversized rear bumper and thickset C-pillars are what you get at the rear.

Despite the thick looking C-pillar, rear visibility is not affected thanks to a large rear glass and the cabin itself is well lit and airy due to the fairly large green house. A new design ‘Navarra' 16-inch alloy wheels are standard fitment and they are shod with 205/55 R16 tyres.

Interiors

The interior has Volkswagen design written all over it. Elegant, simple and ergonomic, the cabin is focused on practical luxury. A two-tone – dark grey on top and beige below – interior theme has been chosen and the layout is clean and familiar. I test drove the Highline trim variant which came with wood inserts, chrome bits and leatherette seat upholstery (not real leather). Real leather wraps for the steering wheel, gear knob and hand brake are standard in all three variants.

The interior fit and finish quality is typically VW. There is a lot of the German-feel to the cabin (except the beige of course), soft plastic on the dash, perfectly matching edges and certain solidity to every part. Choice of music system and accessories available vary with the trim level. The top-end variant gets aux-in slots and the touch screen unit on the dash which is also used in some of the other VW group models. Of course, there is no navigation option in the India-spec model.

Controls and knobs are all easy to access and the increase in space available is obvious at the rear, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. The only complaint amongst a few buyers could be the rather tall central driveline tunnel that may make it uncomfortable for the passenger in the middle, if three adults were to be sitting at the rear.

The seats themselves are perfectly shaped and bolstered at all the right places. Electrically adjustable lumbar support and 12-way power adjustment is available only for the driver's seat and only in the Highline variant.

Engine and performance

VW has chosen to launch the new Jetta with only a diesel engine, at least for now. The two-litre engine is shared with other VW group models, but finally, the Jetta also gets a DSG automatic gearbox, in addition to the manual option.

The 1,968cc, 16-valve, 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine featuring a current generation common rail injection system is one of the quietest you'll come by. Refined and offering a lot of low-end torque, this engine is a good choice for buyers in the segment. In terms of in-cabin refinement, the engine and packaging is so good that you can barely figure out that it is a diesel. There is no clatter, even during idling and there is just a tolerably low gruffy engine noise during hard acceleration.

Unlike the Passat's engine characteristics, in the Jetta, the engine produces a lower 140PS of peak power that is delivered at a similar 4,200 rpm. Peak torque of 320 Nm, also lower than the Passat's, but more than adequate, is also delivered within the 1,750 rpm to 2,500 rpm band.

The engine's characteristics feel ideal for the Jetta and it is well matched with both the six-speed manual and the six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. During the test drive I felt that there was a bit of lag discernable in the DSG gearbox Highline variant, though that was mostly in the fully automatic Drive mode. The programming must be tuned towards quick upshifts to preserve fuel efficiency.

In sport mode, the gearbox tended to stay in gear in a wider rpm range and there was no urgency to shift up. Of course, depending on the demand (like when you are overtaking) and/or the amount of fun you want to have with the car, you can choose to flip the steering-mounted paddle shifters, which are now available with the DSG (only in Highline variant), to downshift and accelerate quickly. The manual gearbox is also a slick shifting unit and with the loads of low-end torque, you can stay in within the first three gear slots for most road conditions. I felt that turbo lag was much less evident in the manual.

In the handling department too the new Jetta scores high marks. The dynamic chassis tuning makes sure that the car is confident and composed in most situations. At tight corners and quick overtakes there is very little body roll or loss of traction. A reason for that is also the availability of ESP as standard. Drivers looking for an even more engaging drive might be a little irked by the fact there is no option of turning off ESP.

Suspension tuning is spot on and the new Jetta manages to soak up most of what the road conditions can throw at it. Potholes and rough patches are only heard inside the cabin as the Jetta passes over them; very little effect is felt on the seat squab. McPherson front suspension with coil springs and telescoping shock absorbers have been the choice for the India-spec variants.

Bottomline

In the US, one of Jetta's key markets, VW has managed to drop prices and some of that must have been possible due to parts sharing. For the India-spec Jetta, VW has managed to hold prices or marginally lower it too depending on the trim. The good part of the new package being offered is the amount of equipment that you'll get even in the base ‘Trendline' variant, including six airbags and a lot of other safety features as standard.

The new Jetta is being offered with three variants – Trendline, Comfortline and Highline, with the DSG gearbox available as an option in the Highline variant only. Prices start from Rs 14 lakh to about Rs 17.5 lakh (ex-showroom). Buy the new Jetta for its solid engineering, elegant interiors and trademark VW style inside-out.

Published on September 07, 2011
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