Overseen by Volkswagen in Germany, mostly designed and built by VW in Pueblo Mexico and aimed primarily for the American market, the Jetta is a true global car. The Jetta model spans back to 1979 and it was the third most popular model car sold worldwide in 2013, outsold only by the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla, so it is definitely an important model for VW.
My 6th generation was the first era to depart from the script of being a booted Golf. Dubbed the “new compact sedan” by VW, VW took its awarded PQ35 chassis from 6th generation Golf, lengthened the wheelbase, widened the rear track and cloaked it in its own body to create a standalone model for the first time. Production shifted to Mexico to allow it to be competitive in price for the American market.
My 2012 147TSI Highline model is effectively the GTI of the range being fully optioned, featuring lowered sports suspension on 17inch rims and the same Audi designed EA888 2.0 turbo petrol engine from the GTI and numerous other VW group cars. This GTI parallel summarises the car well, it's purposeful but without being as recognisable.
It is a good looking well proportioned design that is as per the VW design ethos. It has a purposeful stance, particularly in this lowered version, courteous of a strong shoulder line running the length of the car. It is conservative overall and some may say boring but at it won't date as quickly as some other designs around.
Inside, again it is a conservative VW design that is high quality in construction and logical in functionality. The dash features soft touch plastics and overall it is a comfortable place to be with some notable features being 2 zone climate control, comfortable leather seats with warmers up front, a Bluetooth enabled touch screen infotainment unit with a 6 stacker, heated external mirrors and an auto dimming rear-view mirror. Given the Jetta was designed to more price competitive than the Golf, one noticeable area of cost cutting are the hard plastics and simple design of the door trims but more on that later. In the back there is a huge amount of legroom for a car of this size at 96.8cm, more than many cars a whole category larger. There is also a large 510L boot, more than a Commodore.
Driving the Jetta is a joy. With its sports suspension tune its European firm in its ride without ever being uncomfortable on our patchwork roads. Noise levels are well suppressed and grip levels are very high from the independent setup which allows you to really push on through bumpy corners and forward progress is well controlled by the electronic differential lock. The electo mechanical steering system is well weighted if lacking the outright feedback of now redundant mechanical systems of years past. The engine offering 147kw and 280nm of torque offers a very linear power delivery and it really zings past 4000rpm whilst completing 400m dash in the low 15 sec bracket. This engine is more aurally subdued than in the Golf GTI which is in keeping with the nature of the car. Once having disengaged the clutch from standstill, the 6 speed wet clutch DSG transmission is seamless in its operation. Official fuel usage of minimum 95ron is rated at 7.9 l/100km on a combined cycle which is a fair indication given it ranges from 6 on the highway to high 9's around town.
It should be noted that the negative camber on the sports suspension means tyres need to be regularly rotated or they will scallop and require early replacement. The Mexican factory build quality is to an equivalent standard to that of any VW factory but unfortunately in Australia resale is below that of a Golf.
The Jetta 147tsi Highline is a roomy but compact fun to drive package with a sporting edge that remains refined and comfortable at the same time. It's a rare combination as past champions of this mix including the 4th Gen Subaru Liberty GT and 1st Gen Honda Accord Euro are now larger and more ungainly in their approach.
With a list price of just under $38,000, this Jetta was $5,000 below a similarly specked GTI of the same era (with cloth seats!). An AUDI A4 being comparable in size and using the exact same engine would have cost you $64,500, so this Jetta was a real bargain, you just have to put up with the door trims which are a bit low rent!