£19,155 - £25,055 Price range
52 - 70 MPG
Small saloons have never been hugely popular with Europeans – Americans tend to find them better than European hatchbacks though. Because of this, the Volkswagen Jetta has never been a particularly strong seller since its first iteration in 1979. It’s based heavily on the old Golf, with only some small styling tweaks and the addition of a boot on the back separating them.
The previous Jetta was entirely soulless, and largely unnecessary next to the better, more practical Golf. The current Jetta will appeal to those who can’t afford or have no need for a Passat-sized car. It’s as dependable as ever, and is now a very refined and comfortable, but has it found any character?
Cheapest to buy: 1.4-litre S petrol
Cheapest to run: 2.0-litre 110hp S diesel
Fastest model: 2.0-litre 150hp DSG SE diesel
Most popular: 2.0-litre 150hp SE diesel
Volkswagen has always taken a strict no-nonsense approach to interior design, and it’s a similar story in the Jetta. There’s nothing in the way of surprise and delight, but it’s wilfully fit for purpose. It is based on the previous Golf, so it isn’t as modern inside as the current class best. But the driving position is spot-on, all the controls are well-placed and comfortable to use, and there’s a real air of quality inside.
It’s well equipped too, but VW’s insistence on using black plastic all over the dash makes it a bit of an uninteresting place to sit. It is very spacious though, thanks to the Jetta being a 4.6-metre long car. This means there’s plenty of space for adults in the front and back, and there’s a big 510-litre boot, and split-folding rear seats.
This is another area where the current Jetta (due to be replaced in 2015) looks behind the class best, and in particular VW’s own Golf. Testers say that it’s competent enough, safe and fairly balanced, but they also comment that the steering is wooden, and the car isn’t very quick to respond. Compared to the Mazda 3 Saloon, its main rival, the Jetta feels its age a bit.
At least the ride is still very comfortable and composed over bumps, although testers have found the ride on Sport trim-level models’ 15mm lowered suspension is noticeably firmer. But for the most part it’s a refined cruiser, and wind and road noise are well taken care of. For most Jetta owners (mainly company car buyers), this will be all that matters.
The Jetta is available with just one petrol engine (in two states of tune) and a couple of the usual diesels. The 1.4-litre petrol engine (TSI in Volkswagen speak) is, as ever, a strong option. Testers favour the higher powered option, because it’s smooth and brisk, as well as being more refined than either diesels. It also manages 47mpg, which is strangely a bit better than the lower powered version.
But in a car designed for reps to pound up and down the motorway in, it’s the diesels that make the most sense. The 1.6-litre TDI is the one to choose if all you care about is economy, managing an excellent 67mpg. But the engine of choice is definitely the 2.0-litre TDI, which manages to be punchy, flexible and almost as economical, if not the last word in refinement.
The entry-level 1.6-litre diesel is likely to be the most popular Jetta on our shores. Critics report that performance is predictably leisurely, with only 104bhp on tap it takes nearly 12 seconds to reach 60mph. What it lacks in speed however, it more than makes up for with frugality and efficiency.
In ‘Bluemotion’ spec it’ll return 67mpg and emit just 109g/km of CO2, helped in no small part by stop-start technology (A system whereby the engine is switch off when the car is stationary automatically) and brake-energy regeneration. It’s a quiet, and surprisingly refined, with only muted diesel clatter under hard acceleration.
The potent 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel is the most powerful available in the Jetta, and has been a staple of the VW engine line up for some time. It’s quiet at speed and impressively smooth, especially when it’s equipped with the excellent DSG automatic gearbox, though this’ll add a few quid to the price tag. 60 takes just over 9 seconds, and it’ll go on to 136mph, all the while emitting only 126 g/km of CO2 and delivering 53.3mpg.
This 2.0 TDI is for people who want a more rewarding drive, while the 1.6 TDI remains the eco-champion. It feels relaxed on the motorway, and offers up enough overtaking grunt to satisfy most drivers.
Volkswagen claims that this Jetta is the safest yet, despite being a bit lighter than its predecessor. It hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but because it’s so heavily based on the Golf, you can expect five stars.
As standard there are six airbags, stability control and a counter-steering system that helps to stabilise the car in situations of very heavy breaking. It also comes with an electronic locking differential that reduces wheelspin and brings the car back into line. On the options list is Volkswagen’s usual array of crash-sensing systems that can brake for you and prepare the car for a collision, as well as adaptive cruise control and lane assist.
When put alongside saloons of a comparable size, such as the BMW 3-Series, the Jetta looks fantastic value for money, starting at £17,325 for the 1.4 TSI S. But the BMW is a different league in terms of driving and the interior, although the Jetta is more spacious and a bit more comfortable.
It’s also usefully cheaper than the Passat, and Volkswagen is hoping that buyers may want to sacrifice a little bit of style and luxury to make the saving. As is common with Volkswagen, the options list is fairly extensive, but even the S model is well equipped. The best option is the mid-spec SE, which comes with electric windows and mirrors, air-con, front and rear parking sensors and eight-way adjustable seats. You have to step up to the Sport model for climate control, however.
It’s easy to dismiss the Jetta as a fairly forgettable car, and Volkswagen are fully aware it’s the sort of car you buy with your head and not your heart. It’s also showing its age in places, and is due to be replaced soon. But it’s still a competent car, and is very comfortable, refined and ideal for motorway work. It’s also very economical in both petrol and diesel form.
The new model will hopefully address the current Jetta’s dynamic shortcomings, however. The majority of customers are still fleet buyers, but for those looking for a car that can happily take a family of four and their luggage, you could do a lot worse than the trusty Jetta.