Updated: June 30, 2014
Driving a turbo-diesel Jetta in America, sounds like a beginning of a crude joke. But let me assure you, it is not. In the land of large V8 engines, where cars are judged by the number of cupholders and technology is mostly secondary to the consumer experience, you may occasionally, seldom, rarely stumble upon a lovely, unexpected surprise, in the shape of a Volkswagen Jetta, powered by, no less, a turbo-diesel unit. Which brings us here.
So let us. I will give you an overview of what an American Jetta can do, because it is ever so slightly different from European models. Then, we will do all the usual fun details, discuss the interior and exterior aesthetics, and then heavily touch upon the most important aspect of all, the driving experience. As for the transmission box, let us not push it. DSG, six speed. You thought manual, well not just yet. As promised, follow me.
Nuts and bolts
After its much-sought redesign in 2010, Jetta became a proper standalone car rather than an elongated Golf. It transformed into a smaller, more affordable Passat, with the same recognizable lines, fore and aft. Anyhow, the car upon which I graced my hands was painted black, and comes with a decent middle-range level of equipment, with some unique American details. For example, there's an extra button for springing the boot open from inside the vehicle. And the car computer screen does not display the gear you're driving in, unless you choose the would-be manual mode, because most of the buyers would not be interested or engaged enough to care.
Jetta also came with light alloy wheels, 205/55 R16 tires, cruise control, a decent CD-only media unit, Satnav radio and wheel controls, manual aircon, leather-clad seats, and lo and behold, no cigarette lighter, because there are hardly any smokers left in the former British colony. However, the most interesting element is definitely the engine, the highly refined 2.0-liter TDI, which delivers 140 HP of power and 320 Nm of torque, starting at 1,750 rpm. This is quite enough for a semi-quick dash to 100 km/h in just 9.5 seconds, a perfectly reasonable figure for a family car. Fuel consumption stands at 5.3 liters for every 100 km traveled, and the number is supposed to be worse for the DSG unit than the manual by a whole pint. But we will see about that.
Indeed, all of the above, for the nifty price of just USD23,500, as opposed to USD56,200 where I be, for this same model. Yup. In Britain, for example, the same Jetta 2.0 TDI costs GBP21,000, or USD33,300, while the German price is EUR29,000, or roughly USD40,200. Once again, America wins.
The beauty is on the outside
Jetta is a pretty car overall, and less knowledgeable drivers and pedestrians might mistake it for a Passat, sans chromified elements round the windows and on the engine grille. The nose is virtually identical to all other members of the happy VW family, similar to what Audi has been doing with its entire range. We can call it 'de Silva' looks, and it's gorgeous. If you ask me, this is truly the first Jetta model that looks great. All the others had that Golf plus extra rear feel, and it never quite worked out as it should have. For the past few years, though, Jetta is a winner, from all angles. Go, Jetta, go.
At the back, there's the TDI badge. But lo and behold again, unlike the European models, which brag their engine rating with red lettering, in the US of A, diesel has long been associated with evil forces, hence the badge carries a blue letter, to denote this is something good. In fact, the engine is known as TDI Clean Diesel, so that people do not mistake it for sooty 70s trucks that used to paint the sky the color of doom.
On the inside
Behind the wheel, there's a pleasant, stress-free story of classic Volkswagen practicality. You can sort out the driving position any which way you want. Everything fits logically, and the instruments are simple yet functional yet beautiful. Now, there are still more details that set this car apart from its European brethren. The manometer displays both metric and imperial units, or km/h and mph, if you will. The light switch has no auto mode, or the parking/daylight mode, just the standard beam. Notice the tiny sticker informing the driver to use low-sulfur diesel only. Ah, revolution. And if there's one thing I would change, it's definitely the interior colors. Everything is too dark. Black car, dark gray leather all over, this sample needs more color, more energy. A nice beige interior would be nice.
Since this is a family car, most buyers will probably be interested in how much space there is behind the driver and in the luggage section. Well, Jetta does not disappoint, on both accounts. There's enough room for a couple of adults in the rear, as long as their BMI does not exceed 30 or something. Or you can try three people, too. The boot is large, and maybe even too deep, so you might have to exercise acrobatics reaching for stuff what got displaced as you were muckin' about. If you need the official numbers, you know where to find them.
Oh, fun. There's so much of it. Especially when you calibrate this car against a typical showing of the market. For example, Chevrolet Malibu or the much loved Toyota Prius, which we will have both reviewed soon. So yes, Jetta is so much sharper than the average, or should I say, mediocre, offering. It offers good grip and stability, with little body roll in the corners, even on wet asphalt, although you do know you have a bit of a tail that tries to veer away if you yank the steering wheel too hard.
The engine has its usual diesel rattle, and at high revs, it positively whines, but in the D mode, you will not be spending much time there. In the S mode, the cars pulls more aggressively and tries to keep running in the range of 2,000 rpm, which can sometimes sound a bit wrong, so you will gently pat the throttle to force the car to shift into a higher gear. When you floor it, the changes can be a tad laggy, but it's nothing special. Overall, you always have a plenty of torque, no matter what gear you're in, and the car hauls loyally.
Like most cars from the same family, the suspension and steering are tuned with precision, so you know what to expect, and you're always aware of your peripherals. You know the length and width of the car, and you do not fear going at speed through bends and twists. That said, Jetta is rather comfortable, and it absorbs the bumps and wrinkles in the road with ease. If you can feel a steady beat of vibration through the steering column in cars like Leon or A1, you get a somewhat reduced version in Jetta. Not much, but enough. The seats are grippy, with good support for your love handles. Once again, a difference comes to bear. With European cars, you do not get electrically adjustable seats unless you pay extra. Here, the recline is governed by a switch rather than a knob, although forward-backward adjustment still comes with a rather manual paddle at the front.
Driving fairly aggressively, with most of the time spent in either the M or S modes, plus heavy urban commuting and aircon use, Jetta averaged a surprisingly high 7.5 liters per 100 km. I had expected less, to be frank, but then, with the kind of driving style I exercised, combined with the downside of puttering through city traffic at meager 50-70 km/h, this number might not be that surprising.
Nothing bad happened in the one week of testing.
Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI US edition is a refreshing automotive option for the the American roads. It is smart, elegant and practical, plus it comes with a kickass engine that offers a fairly delightful driving experience. DSG is not manual, but it comes as close as it gets, apart from having the third foot pedal. Good looks, decent equipment and a bargain price, as far as I'm concerned, all make this a joyous family car.
I liked pretty much everything, except the engine noise near the redline and the fuel consumption, which was rather disappointing, but I have no idea if the US regulations require additional filters or catalytic converters, which could impact the thirst. More color inside, but that's truly a brochure option. Yes, you can easily upgrade Jetta into something bigger and meaner, like an entry Mercedes or BMW, and with the laughingly affordable US retail tags, it's quite doable. However, if you wish to stay in the reasonable economy range, this is one of the more sensible offerings on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. Overall, 8/10. There you go. Cheers.