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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Jetta - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Lower prices, more equipment, cabin updates, 77TDI’s accessibility and economy, 125TDI’s performance, huge boot
Room for improvement
Still expensive for a C-segment sedan, drab styling, ageing cabin architecture, 77TDI manual seems a little under-endowed compared to rival diesel applications

13 Nov 2009

THE Volkswagen Jetta’s popularity has always perplexed us a little here at GoAuto, and not because it is in any way a bad car.

We believe its design is the dumpiest of the VW breed the build quality from the Mexico plant had never really seemed to match the standards expected from the brand (though now they’re out of South Africa so things may have improved) and the medium-car positioning irked us majorly because the Jetta should clearly be playing in the small sedan segment.

Priced against the suave Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Honda Accord Euro, Volvo S40 and even Saab 9-3, the Vee-Dub screamed dubious value – at least to us.

Add the fact that it is based on the rather excellent fifth-generation Golf, and you can understand where we might be coming from.

Or do you? 12,000 sales and almost four years later, the Jetta is firmly established in the Australian medium sedan segment.

But now there’s a new one, with more engine choices and features for significantly less money.

Time for a re-evaluation then.

The problem is, VW hasn’t actually changed anything on the outside except for the alloy wheel design, so its newness doesn’t leap out at you as much as just creeps up quietly.

Inside the spacious cabin, with its superb driving position and great seats, everything seems to be screwed together better than we remembered.

The centre console controls for the heater and radio, along with the steering wheel and instruments, have been nicked from the latest Mk6 Golf – so that’s progress too.

But the dashboard architecture is beginning to look dated, just like that exterior styling. A new-generation Jetta isn’t too far away (2011), so that’s probably worth keeping in mind.

On the fairly brief rural drive program we drove just one of the two fresh engine variants – the new entry-level Jetta 77TDI featuring the 1.6-litre common-rail turbo-diesel unit as found in the also-new corresponding Golf model.

Unfortunately, no Jetta 77TDI was fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission for us to sample, so we had to make do with the five-speed manual only gearbox.

And first impressions were strong.

One big plus point is the 77TDI’s sweet and smooth nature, offering plenty of mid-range torque for fast flat-ground driving characteristics. We found ourselves speeding along without even realising it.

The gearshift quality is good the steering is responsive and well weighted the handling and roadholding are predictable and secure and ride comfort rated highly.

But the 77kW 1.6-litre diesel needs to be revved hard for it to step off the line quickly (reflected in its 12 second 0-100km/h sprint-time figure), affecting consumption and emissions levels.

Hills or sudden overtaking manoeuvres also reveal a dearth of low-down torque, meaning that you can be caught out off boost and getting nowhere just when you least need too.

We felt that the DSG would probably have fared better with the 77TDI powerplant, and this was backed up by a quick drive in a Golf 77TDI DSG. But in the latter we still found ourselves putting the pedal to the metal constantly.

The newer-generation Golf’s high-quality cabin presentation also put the Jetta’s to shame, further eroding our opinion of it.

In the end, we came away thinking that the Jetta’s massive boot, compact dimensions and new, cheaper prices are enough to elevate the VW to a place where it’s never been in our estimation, until we realised that a Skoda Octavia can do everything it can, but with more class and pizzazz.

Throw in the fact that the Mazda6, Mondeo, Accord duo, Impreza and a heap of other rival small and medium car rivals have moved on since this era Jetta first arrived in early 2006, and we’re afraid that our initial verdict for the VW stands: there are better buys out there, even at the new, lower price point.

But what do we know? It’ll probably still continue to sell well!

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