VW Jetta: Fifth report

18 Mar, 2013 10:15am Darren Wilson

The VW Jetta deserves more recognition, says our man after nine months and 8,000 miles

If the VW Jetta has one problem, it’s that it’s always lived in the shadow of the Golf hatchback. Like a popular, successful older sibling, the class-leading Golf always seems to steal the limelight.

However, this latest Jetta has proved it’s no longer willing to play second fiddle, and makes just as much sense as a practical and desirable family car.

In fact, after nine months behind the wheel of the versatile Jetta, I can confirm that it is much more than simply ‘a Golf with a boot’.

The relatively radical 2011 overhaul gave the Jetta a heavily revised Golf platform, which delivered a much more spacious interior and a vast load area. On top of that, the clean-cut saloon styling gave the car the upmarket appeal of a more expensive compact executive model.

Some of my colleagues in the office say it’s a little bland, but for me the VW’s clean lines look classic and understated. It’s not as distinctive as a BMW 3 Series, but I think it looks more upmarket than the multitude of Golfs that you see everywhere.

Inside, the Jetta impresses with an exceptionally comfortable driving position, accommodating my six-foot-one-inch frame without any of the aches and pains that even short distances in other cars can bring on.

As a result, it is ideal for cruising along motorways on my frequent 600-mile round trips to the north of England. Elsewhere, the logically designed dashboard is simple to follow, while the rest of the interior is beautifully built and impressively refined. It has also stood up well to family life – although a splash of upholstery cleaner was needed to remove a chocolate stain from the rear bench.

Ordinarily, I’d say it would be difficult to argue that a saloon could be more practical than a hatch, but the Jetta is the exception.

Sure, you can’t cram a washing machine or chest of drawers in the back of the Jetta, but the vast 510-litre boot swallows everything else. During the Christmas break last year it easily accommodated presents, food and suitcases, plus my son’s new BMX bike. I would never have managed that in the Ford Focus hatchback that I ran previously.

There are issues with such a big load area, though. For instance, it’s so long that retrieving items from the back of the boot is a real stretch. That’s about it for niggles, however.

Apart from the need to top up the engine coolant after the warning light came on, the VW hasn’t missed a beat.

Now that the VW has left our fleet, I’m seeing more examples on the road, which must mean that car buyers have finally discovered the four-door saloon’s talents. And on the basis of my time behind the wheel, the Jetta fully deserves to be the centre of attention for a change.

Our view

“The Jetta is good, but the new Mk7 Golf has moved the class on again. It’s still not as big inside as the saloon, but it’s more refined and efficient.”
Paul Bond, road tester

Your view

“The £20k price tag of this “bland” car brings it awfully close to a BMW 3 Series, which is a far better car in almost every respect.”
Fadyady, via www.autoexpress.co.uk

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I like the way VW offers a more compact saloon than the Passat. There is an obsession in this country with hatchbacks that I can never quite understand.

I'm curious to see what AE would think about the Jetta vs Skoda's new Octavia - surely a logical competitor?

It is essentially ‘a Golf with a boot’ that appears to have been grafted on. This makes its narrow-body look ungainly long. To make matters worse its two grand more expensive than Golf. That's why it fails to catch our imagination.

They do indeed look very very similar. So no surprise then! If the VW Group persona suits you then just buy the cheapest you can, with the proviso that Assembly Plant A may screw the bits together better than Assembly Plant B.

Jetta 1.4 TSI SE: 18,895.
Golf 1.4 TSI SE: 18,990. No two grand premium there.
I'd always thought that the whole point of the Jetta was that you get a bigger boot (and, if you want them, saloon looks) for no more than a Golf. Personally, I think it's a graceful car, although that bit's subjective of course.

You make a good point about VW offering something more compact than the Passat. Totally agree.

As for "There is an obsession in this country with hatchbacks that I can never quite understand." I like saloons too, but I get really tired of reading this comment on the internet! There are good, practical reasons for the popularity of hatchbacks.

Read a few more car forums where this gets discussed. I think that you will find that a lot of people (and I am one) like saloons but NEED the practicality of hatchbacks/estates/MPVs etc. Another thing in the hatchback's favour is that it fits in better with crowded streets where parking is at a premium.

PussyWillow & Paul Hitchcock. Two cracking points! As this sort of thing gets to be more common knowledge I wonder what impact it will have on VW's current brand strategy?

While I accept what you are saying - that the majority of buyers demand the versatility etc of a hatchback, the point of my original comment was really aimed more at car makers rather than us, the buyers. There used to be more of a choice when it came to compact saloons in the UK. Now though, I can barely think of a c-segment saloon aside from the Jetta. You used to be able to buy a booted Astra, Focus, Mazda 3, Megane, Civic etc. I personally dont need a vehicle with a hatch so it would be nice to have the option of a few compact saloons. The Americans, Asians, and even some European nations have such options.

I have no problem arguing it's more practical than the golf. I don't buy washing machines very often but I do travel every week with 4 or 5 people and their luggage.

A roof rack solves the problem of hatchback shaped loads (and larger).

Unlike previous Jettas, it doesn't share a single exterior panel with the Golf and the wheelbase is 2 inches longer meaning it has appreciably more legroom. I paid £15k on the road for my 1.6tdi comfort. As for narrow, its 2inches wider than my old 90s Passat. And that's really what it is, a "poor man's Passat, now the Passat is so big, it's really a different car.

Key specs

  • On fleet since: June 2012
  • Price new: £20,335
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 104bhp
  • CO2/tax: 109g/km/£20
  • Options: Sat-nav (£1,940), climate control (£825), metallic paint (£500)
  • Trade-in now: N/A
  • Insurance group/quote: 12/£426
  • Mileage/mpg: 7,627/50.3mpg
  • Costs: New Michelin tyre following a puncture (£110.97), windscreen stone chip repair (£88.80)
  • Any problems: None so far