Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia launched the Jetta earlier this week, and this was swiftly followed by the opportunity to hustle it down to Melaka and back to experience the differences between this model and the one it replaced. The changes may not be particularly obvious to people who have never paid attention to the Jetta before, but we’ll walk you through them to get you up to speed.
The sole model for this drive was the Jetta Highline, meaning that we got to see the largest number of changes over the old model as it comes with the most amount of kit. This means that in addition to the front and rear bumpers being completely redesigned, both the Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights were also more up to spec- and it almost makes the Jetta look like a slightly more aggressive, slightly shrunk down version of the Passat. That’s a pretty good thing, considering the Passat’s replacement will be here in a matter of months- and the Jetta will carry this styling on for a few more years.
In terms of performance, the 1.4 TSI models have never disappointed. The new Jetta is powered by the same 1.4-litre TSI that came with the Mk7 Golf TSI, meaning it drops the supercharger and has 10 less PS, but gains 10 more Nm through the initial torque band. Just like the Golf TSI, the Jetta accelerates rapidly through its closely spaced low gears, and cruises efficiently when you leave it in 7th gear. It is just as responsive as before, although like before it requires a bit of effort to maintain higher cruising speeds. Suffice to say, in the majority of situations you can rely on the powertrain to deliver large amounts of torque in little time.
The coasting function is also something that has been integrated with the updated Jetta, although we’ve seen this before in other Volkswagen products like the Tiguan. It’s an invaluable feature when it comes to saving fuel as it de-couples the clutches and allows the car to freewheel along without losing much momentum. This, along with automatic start-stop and regenerative braking are what helps the Jetta to achieve its quoted 5.0 litres/100 kilometres consumption and Energy Efficient Vehicle status, which explains the new model's lower price.
Perhaps some of the most invaluable functions are the keyless entry and start systems, which makes the Jetta far more convenient than the previous model. But it is through the keyless start system that you understand how difficult it is to retrofit many of these components to the older Jetta platform- the Start-Stop button has been shrunk to the size of a coin and placed in one of the blank button spots that may have been occupied by a fog light switch or the like. It's a solid effort on the part of Volkswagen, but this may be the most they can manage.
On the inside, the changes are more obvious. When the Jetta first came to our market, it was a pricey model and it came barely equipped with anything. The material quality felt cheap and the overall look so meagre that you had to really want German engineering and dynamics if you were to seriously consider the Jetta. With this update, there’s a proper touch screen (albeit a little small, still no reverse camera) housed in the centre console, and the use of gloss black and faux wood trim helps to break up the sea of rubberized plastic panels. It’s not the last word in luxury, but it’s a far sight better- and it feels almost Passat-ish were it not for the lack of brushed aluminium.
When you consider the added features and functionality, many of them are things that you won’t notice or appreciate until they’re taken away. An electric drivers’ seat offers you effortless seating, the keyless entry and start are invaluable when your hands are full with groceries or luggage, the paddle shifters make spirited driving that little bit more engaging, and the cruise control is perfect for the long haul. These are not features that you consider needing until you spend time with them, and then have to make do without.
Another strong point for the Jetta is that it's closer in terms of spec to the Golf TSI, while providing the benefit of better practicality on the whole. There's ample legroom for rear passengers and a big boot to spare- and if need be, the seats can be 60:40 split folded to accomodate larger items. The top spec Highline has a pleasant leather interior that feels far more premium than the price point, but you could probably make do with the fabric seats if that's more your speed. It's a combination of factors that makes this an excellent product for both a driver and their family, blending the two worlds with little compromise. Perhaps the only gripe is we could not get the Mirror Link system to work, but beyond this the entertainment system is perfectly in line with expectations.
How does it drive?
So how does this all translate to a real life, holistic driving experience? On the highway the performance was adequate enough to make quick bursts past slower moving traffic and hold a pretty quick cruising speed- but for some odd reason, the Jetta felt as if it wanted to wander at much higher speeds, which some suspect is due to the new front bumper design, which has altered the aerodynamics attributes of the car slightly. Switching over to trunk roads, the larger 17-inch wheels and tyres offered more grip and predictability in handling, which was a little better than the wallowy composure of the previous model. The advantage of most of these German cars like the Jetta is being able to execute long haul journeys without feeling worn and exhausted on the other end, and the Jetta lives up to this expectation.
When you look at the entry level market segments, overall comfort is less of a concern than outright value for money, Going into this segment, a car needs to offer appreciable comfort in order to be considered for purchase, because a lot of owners may be using this to ferry their friends or families on long distance trips. The pre-facelift Jetta had no issue in the comfort department, and neither does this new Jetta- despite running on slightly larger rims. Our trip to Melaka and back was without protest from the suspension, although the aforementioned high-speed vagueness may be initially unsettling to some. Both the front and rear seat occupants will not have an issue with spending extended periods of time in the Jetta.
On the whole, the changes and updates brought to the Jetta have really given it a new lease on life- even though we’d be lying if we said we’re not excited for the next generation MQB-based Jetta if and when it comes, but we digress. The new Jetta is specified such that you no longer have to ignore any shortcomings in equipment or looks, because it is now competitive in its segment- even with products like the Honda Civic to go against. Naturally it’s best to opt for the top-spec Highline variant to enjoy the full breadth of changes, but you could make do with the Comfortline model if you’re willing to forgo some of the top spec features (view the spec differences in our launch article here).