Not too heavy, not too light may be just right for some, but the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta continues to be a case of not being a small car but not being a medium car either.
Whether that will make it just right or just a compromise for buyers shopping in each segment continues to be debatable, but for the new-year Volkswagen has helped make things a little clearer.
When your car approaches four years old – this second generation Jetta came out in late 2011 – a manufacturer can either give its model a visual spruce-up or dramatically lower prices, and Volkswagen has done the latter.
Entry to the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta range is now $3700 less expensive than it was when this generation launched, with the new 118TSI Trendline variant priced from $22,790 plus on-road costs.
That makes the ‘is it a small sedan or medium sedan?’ question a little easier, placing the Jetta in the thick of the small car brigade. A harder question for the Volkswagen Group is whether its repositioned sedan now gets too close to its ‘budget brand’ Skoda Octavia, which is priced from $23,990.
Neither are quite a $19,490 Toyota Corolla Ascent sedan, although both are bigger than one.
The Toyota sedan is one of the largest models in the small car class, but the Volkswagen sedan is more sizeable again. At 4659 millimetres long, it stretches 39mm further; at 1778mm wide it pushes a scant 2mm more from door mirror to door mirror; though with a height figure of 1453mm it is 7mm lower.
Meanwhile the Skoda measures the same length but is full 36mm wider than its Group sibling.
The Jetta has always been known for its big boot, and rated at 510 litres it affords 40L more volume than its Corolla sedan competitor (but here’s a trend: 58L less than Octavia).
So that gives some context about where Volkswagen has repositioned the Jetta. What you gain in size, you do lose in standard equipment versus small car competitors, however.
Standard are 16-inch alloy wheels, remote central locking, auto up/down power windows, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Missing, though, is any form of colour screen, let alone a touchscreen for the audio system, and more disappointingly there is no reverse-view camera or rear parking sensors on this base model.
Volkswagen also charges $2500 for its optional automatic transmission, a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG, that will be the overwhelmingly popular choice in this segment and is fitted to the 118TSI Trendline we have tested here.
The auto is standard on the next grade up in the Jetta range, the 118TSI Comfortline, but it costs $29,990 – placing it firmly back in medium sedan territory, even if it adds goodies such as 17-inch alloys, foglights, auto keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav with colour touchscreen, auto lights and wipers, reverse cam and front/rear sensors with semi-auto reverse parking.
What you do get over the small car competition is an engine designed to propel a medium car. The Volkswagen 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine has been around for years, and is being phased out.
It has had some reliability issues in the past, as has the DSG that sends drive to the front wheels, but the brand promises it hasn’t been sitting on its hands about this issue, with design tweaks aiming to address the issues – only time will tell, and we can’t qualify this long-term, but can only flag it.
What you are rewarded with in the here and now is a superbly smooth and responsive engine.
With 118kW of power produced at 5800rpm, and most importantly 240Nm of torque produced between 1500rpm and 4500rpm, the Jetta 118TSI Trendline feels faster than any car in the class; perhaps with the exception of the Holden Cruze SRi that gets a 132kW/230Nm 1.6-litre turbo for about the same money, and of course the 103kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo Octavia 103TSI.
Volkswagen claims a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 8.3 seconds, which is even a couple of tenths faster than the Skoda, while combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres undercuts most of the competition.
The DSG still has some lurch and hesitation right down at low speeds, meaning adding small throttle when reversing, for example, can sometimes result in more of a sudden surge than you’d hope. It’s more noticeable in the 1.4-litre ‘twincharger’ than it is in its newer, turbo-only Volkswagen Golf hatchback sibling, though at least you get a hill holder function to stop roll back on hills.
When up and running the Volkswagen Jetta feels like a class (and cut) above. It may be based on an old Golf platform, with a soon-superseded engine, but few sedans are this roomy, effortless and comfortable on the road for this price.
The steering is medium weighted and enjoyable to twirl, the multi-link independent rear suspension teams with the front-end to deliver impressively supple but disciplined ride quality (particularly versus the lumpy torsion bar rear-end of the Octavia) and the engine purrs away in the background.
There is some road noise particularly on coarse-chip surfaces, and the Jetta doesn’t feel as light on its feet, ultimately as sharp nor as plush in its suspension as the new Golf. However that hatchback simply can’t deliver the space you get in the Jetta for this price.
In terms of legroom, particularly in the rear, the Jetta has the game sewn up. Along with a nicely tilted backrest, long-legged teens will be able to stretch out with space to spare. There’s standard rear air vents, too. Just don’t try to squeeze three across the back, as you’ll be no better off than in a Corolla.
The focus is definitely on function rather than form up front. The base Jetta feels barren; from the hard and scratchy door trims to the lack of any colour on the main dashboard, this is clearly a sedan designed to have a completely different set of priorities compared with the high-class Golf.
There is nothing wrong with being roomy and comfortable, however, not least when you can throw many bags beneath the rear boot lid and easily wipe off any mess little kids may have made on the hard door trims.
What Volkswagen needs to take more seriously, even at this level, is technology and connectivity. While the Bluetooth system is complicated to initially sync with, once your phone is connected it will pick up quickly and effortlessly every time. Not having any form of reverse-view camera or rear parking sensors on a car that costs $25,290 plus on-road costs is most disappointing.
The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta range may have taken a pricing plunge, but as with the Skoda Octavia it clearly still asks that you make sacrifices in terms of equipment and technology compared with other competition. It remains a leader for performance and sheer space, though, and chances are when you do load the car up to its full capacity you’ll appreciate the extra punch even more compared with the competition.
Although ageing, then, the Jetta is still a very sensible, functional and capable small-to-medium sedan.