Volkswagen Jetta review
The Golf-based Volkswagen Jetta saloon is practical and economical, but it's getting on a bit now
With global sales just shy of a million cars in 2013, the Volkswagen Jetta is big business. However, it’s not such hot property in the UK, where we only bought around 2,000 examples during the same period. So does this sensible saloon deserve to be the forgotten car of VW’s UK line-up, or are we missing out on a hidden gem?
The Volkswagen Jetta is best described as a saloon version of the Golf. Under the bonnet you'll find VW’s established line up of TDI and TSI engines feature, while at the rear, the 510-litre boot is huge. Opt for the 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion Technology and you’ll get low emissions and a small thirst for fuel.
Our choice: Jetta 1.6-litre TDI SE BlueMotion Tech
Launched in 2011, the current Jetta has a typically conservative Volkswagen design. The fourth-generation (sixth if you count the Vento and Bora) is bigger and more attractive than its predecessors. These days it looks more like a standalone saloon than an elongated Golf – in fact, you’re more likely to mistake it for the larger Passat.
Sport trim cars come with chrome window line treatment, 17-inch alloy wheels and 15mm lower sports suspension, but even in flagship trim the Volkswagen is bland.
Inside, the Jetta is beginning to show its age. Based on the previous-generation Golf, the no-nonsense cabin is easy to get on with and well screwed together, but some of the switchgear is dated, as is the overall design, plus you’ll find some hard and slightly cheap-looking plastics are used lower down.
So if you’ve driven a current Golf you’ll feel short-changed by the Jetta’s interior. At least there’s lots of standard kit – the list includes a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel, all-round electric windows and decorative inserts in the dash and centre console.
The Jetta doesn’t sit on the MQB platform that underpins cars like the current Golf, Audi A3 and our 2013 Car of the Year, the SEAT Leon; it’s based instead on previous-generation Golf foundations. And although European Jettas get multi-link rear suspension and electric power-steering – US models made do with a simple torsion beam and hydraulic assistance until very recently – it feels outclassed.
Compared to newer VW Group products and the sharp-handling rival Mazda 3, the Jetta feels a bit wooden. It handles safely without any nasty vices, but the steering does feel slow and a fraction heavy at low speed, while the front tyres surrender grip sooner than the Mazda 3’s. The Sport model’s 15mm lower suspension gives the ride a slightly firm edge and even in this set-up the Jetta never feels as agile, responsive or grippy as the Mazda.
The 120bhp and 158bhp versions of the 1.4-litre TSI petrol offer decent performance, while diesel fans can choose between 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI and punchy 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI units. The well established 2.0-litre TDI engine is punchy and ensures there’s enough performance on offer.
Volkswagen ranked 19th out of 33 manufacturers in our Driver Power 2014 survey, with a surprising 26th finish for reliability, which contrasts sharply with its reputation for durability. However, the Jetta uses proven engines and components, plus it’s produced in vast numbers.
Standard safety equipment includes curtain airbags, but rear side airbags are a £275 option. You have to pay £465 to add parking sensors, and the Jetta seems a little under equipped. Even so, it does have a five-star NCAP rating.
For starters, the 510-litre boot is 130 litres bigger than a Golf’s. A handy lever flips down the 60:40 split rear seats, and while they don’t lay fully flat, you get a useful 193cm load length. The opening is just 58cm high.
Passenger space is probably the Jetta’s key selling point, as it has more rear legroom than the rival Mazda 3 – although the middle chair is hard and the transmission tunnel big. You get deep door pockets and lots of storage, however.
Available exclusively in BlueMotion Technology guise, the 1.6-litre TDI is the most efficient model in the line-up. The combination of standard stop/start and five-speed gearbox with taller ratios result in combined economy of 67mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km.
Our experts predict the Jetta will retain 40.1 per cent of its value, meaning you’ll wave goodbye to £14,160 over three years. At least the company’s fixed-price servicing scheme looks better value for money, at just £299 for three years.