Approximately two years ago, my wife decided that it was time to replace her ageing early model diesel Volkswagen Tiguan. She enjoyed the Tiguan and was convinced that she wanted something else similar, if not bigger. So, we found a tidy diesel Hyundai Santa Fe at an ex-government auction and bought it. Not my kind of car really, but we got it for a steal, so we were set for a few years of happy safe motoring for her (or so I thought).
Less than five months later, she had decided that it wasn’t for her. We had a dog but no kids or anything at the time, and it was just too big and slow for her. She wanted something small (but not tiny), easy to park, and fun to drive. Enter the Volkswagen Jetta.
I’ll be the first to admit, the Jetta isn’t what came to mind when she listed her criteria for the next car. In fact, a Volkswagen GTI felt like it would have been perfect. We didn’t want to get a car loan, so we had a limited budget ($15K max) that really did limit our ability to find a later-model GTI without a heap of kilometres on it.
It soon became apparent that the Jetta was a much better buy second-hand. And with the biggest exception being the omission of the tricky front diff, it is almost identical to the equivalent year-model GTI mechanically, and has the benefit of an enormous boot. Seriously, it is bloody massive considering the external proportions of the car.
We managed to find an extremely low-kilometre 2012 Highline (optioned with a sunroof and sat-nav system) well within our budget from a Volkswagen dealer in Brisbane, and bought it immediately. It is black, which isn’t my first pick of car colour, just because I’m extremely lazy and don't like washing cars. But the black works well with the Jetta, as it helps hide the lines a bit, and I always thought the boot line looked a bit frumpy.
The car drives extremely well. Actually, a fair bit better than I was expecting, and the performance (while not mind-bending) is certainly sufficient both in town and on the open road. It’s actually quite a fun and revvy little car, and the gearbox (six-speed DSG) works well when you’re giving it welly. It even gives you little crackles and pops on overrun and when shifting.
The gearbox can be a little jerky and slow when you are in stop-start traffic in town. This wasn’t a surprise to us, having owned a diesel Tiguan with a DSG in the past, but it’s definitely a more harmonious pairing with a petrol engine than the diesel was.
The car is a little prone to skittering about a bit when you’re trying to get the power down (e.g. when you’re trying to do a quick start off from the lights). I’ve never really taken the Jetta on a spirited drive on a tricky road, but I imagine you would get similar issues with understeer and grip. I suspect (and have been told by those in the know) that the better front diff would help with this in the Golf GTI. As a little pocket rocket for driving around town, though, it is really good fun.
The interior is very well laid out and comfortable, which is to be expected. The seats (leather, heated) are exceptional, but would benefit from perforations and/or a cooling function, as they can get a bit sticky on hot days. It is also one of very few cars fitted with a sunroof that my head doesn’t brush the ceiling. I love sunroofs, but I am 6ft tall and it is a huge pain in the arse that most cars with sunroofs don't have the head room I require. As previously mentioned, the boot is massive, which is great, and even with my large frame in the front seat, there’s still room in the back for adults.
The sat-nav is pretty rubbish by today’s standards (let's face it, infotainment has come a long way in the last six years since this car was new, and even then it wasn’t cutting edge), but thanks to it being SD card based, the maps can be updated (and have been), so it at least always knows where you are. It does have a great Bluetooth system with streaming (this was a non-negotiable feature for us), and is controllable via the steering wheel with infotainment displayed on the trip computer screen too (if you so desire).
There are a couple of nice features that are pretty run of the mill nowadays, but again were a bit special back when this car came out. For example, auto lights and wipers (with a very handy 'see me home' function that leaves the headlights on for a while after you exit the car), heated seats, rear air vents, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and electronic folding side mirrors.
It also has that really good feature for putting up the windows/closing the sunroof by just holding the lock button on the remote. This sounds like a bit of a wank (because it is), but I promise you, you do miss it when you go to another car that doesn’t have it.
The only issue we have had so far is the springs that hold the boot open lost their springiness (couple hundred dollars fitted for new OEM ones). Also, the roof lining has started to sag. We only noticed the latter in the last few weeks and have had a quote of $400–$500 to fix. I didn’t think that was terrible value, but it is a little frustrating that it has happened at all.
We have had the car serviced at the standard intervals by the local VW dealer, and been pleasantly surprised at how little the servicing costs really are. It does drink 98-octane fuel (95 minimum but no ethanol), but at a very reasonable rate (averages about 10L/100km, which might seem high but this car only gets a highway run once or twice a year, so that is all in town), and we certainly don't potter around or drive with fuel economy in mind.
Overall, we are very happy with the Jetta, and bang-for-buck-wise, I think they are great value. If you’re a proper driving enthusiast (or you think you are), then the Jetta is probably a bit soft and you might be better off with the GTI or the Golf R. But for our needs of something cheap, easy to drive and park, and a little bit fun, it has ticked all the boxes well.