x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Volkswagen Jetta just got better, and at a bargain price

Road Test The Mexican-built and revamped Jetta is well made and comfortable, and a solid buy for just Dh69,990.

The new Volkswagen Jetta is a steal at its retail price. Courtesy of Volkswagen
The new Volkswagen Jetta is a steal at its retail price. Courtesy of Volkswagen

There's an old, very true saying that you get what you pay for. And that's almost always the case in the world of the horseless carriage because, if you're on a tight budget, you're usually limited to buying either a second-hand car or a new one that isn't very good. Volkswagen insists this needn't be the case and perhaps the company has a point; after all, pricing for the new Jetta starts at just Dh69,900. And on the face of it, that's a lot of new car for the money.

Before we get ahead of ourselves here, thinking that this signals the demise of budget cars from the USA, Japan, South Korea et al, it's perhaps worth pointing out that the Jetta is not built in Germany. It's built in Mexico. "So what?" you might protest. Well, there's a world of difference between things built in Germany and things built in Mexico because, well, the world is actually very different there.

So can we expect a VW built in Pueblo, Mexico, to be built to the same exacting standards as those that roll out of the factory in Germany? Well, hats off to them, because it's obvious we can. The new Jetta feels like it's been extremely well built. In fact, when you consider the Jetta's sticker price, there's very little competition for it.

It's marketed as a compact saloon and looks pretty much like a Passat that's been shrunk in the wash. Which means it looks a little bland but certainly inoffensive. And from the rear you'd be forgiven for thinking it was an Audi A4 - a comparison that nobody at VW would be heard complaining about. But the problem for the Jetta over the years is that it's been dismissed as simply a Golf with a boot and VW has attempted with the new model to distance the two and give the Jetta its own recognisable space. Has it worked?

Yes it has, because there's little chance of anyone getting the two models confused nowadays. And anyway, the Jetta's prime markets have always been the USA and the Middle East, where customers like saloons more than hatchbacks.

After a few days and a few hundred kilometres in the new VW, I can tell you that it's a fine car. But like the exterior design, its interior and the driving experience are quite ordinary. The intelligently laid-out cabin looks nice enough, though the plastics used in its construction are hard, not cushioned as they are in the Golf or other VW/Audi products, but when you shut the door there's a reassuring "thunk" that signifies quality. It doesn't feel cheap, despite the fact that production costs are evidently lower than other cars in the range. The seats are comfortable and there's plenty of room for rear passengers. The rear seat is also a split/fold device, which means you can easily transport long and bulky items.

I drove a 2.0L petrol version, which produces a surprisingly low 115hp (from standstill to 100kph takes a positively glacial 12.6 seconds) and the Middle East market only has the six-speed automatic transmission, while other regions are able to specify a manual gearbox. This Jetta would definitely benefit by having the manual because the self-shifter makes the car feel ponderous. It constantly seeks out the highest possible gear ratio, which no doubt improves the fuel economy but makes it feel out of breath. Put your foot down and the revs jump, the noise increases and it moves (a bit) faster - but it selects a higher gear as soon as it can, when you really want to keep the power on.

Sure, you can override the auto by knocking the lever over to manual, but that just means you end up thrashing it to get any sort of performance, particularly if you're overtaking or simply avoiding some lunatic's suicidal driving.

All in all though, there's a great deal to like here. It might be a bit bland, mundane and sterile but the ride quality is excellent, with superb levels of damping. The Jetta feels poised, confident and insulation from road noise and surface irregularities is similarly remarkable.

There were no problems with poor materials and the fit and finish on display was uniformally excellent both inside and out. Just like a Volkswagen built in Germany, then.

No longer just a Golf with a boot, the Jetta could perhaps be best viewed as a cut-price Audi A4 because it looks and feels way more expensive that it actually is. Make no mistake, it's a bit of a bargain but I think if it was my money on the line I'd wait until the Jetta range included some more powerful engines, dig a little deeper and stump up the extra required for a 2.5L version if it was in the offing.