German quality and a great drive

The Jetta’s independent suspension on all wheels puts this car among the best handlers in its class. PHOTO: Quickpic
The Jetta’s independent suspension on all wheels puts this car among the best handlers in its class. PHOTO: Quickpic

THE Jetta has been with us since 1979 and is produced to fill the sedan niche above the Golf Hatchback.

It uses the Volkswagen’s proven Group A platform. Now into its sixth generation, the car has grown over the years and now barely fits into the C-Segment. It does, however, remain a fine, compact, family car and nine models are currently available in South Africa. We offer our thanks to Keith Abrahams, dealer principal at Barons Pietermaritzburg, for allowing us a few days with the vehicle.

Styling

The Jetta is a handsome car, although you may not be overwhelmed by its styling. However, in a world overdone with curves, crests and ersatz chrome, it commands respect. The car’s appeal lies in its visual durability and it will still look relevant in a decade.

Updates in 2015 have kept it fresh without altering the basic design. At the front the new three-bar grille dips down into the colour-coded bumper and is met on either side by the stylish headlights. Volkswagen offers bi-xenon lights as optional and, given South African road conditions they appear a useful buy.

The entire front end is designed with air-flow management and subsequent fuel saving in mind, while the rear end has large, wrap-around tail-light clusters and a new aerodynamically friendly boot lid, with integrated, trailing edge spoiler.

The overall impression is one of tasteful durability and lasting quality.

Interior

The cabin is as straightforward as the exterior and almost minimalist in its design. It is composed with clean lines and well-organised controls. In a hectic, traffic-filled world, it presents the driver and passengers with a clam, spacious oasis. The big, round gauges placed in front of the driver are typically Volkswagen and the gear lever is capped with an attractive, metallic strip.

The driver’s seat and the new multifunction steering wheel, added in 2015 are both fully adjustable, while the other seats, covered in a heavy, apparently durable cloth, are made for comfort during both short and long journeys.

One of the most impressive interior features is the fact that the car is not at all constraining. The Jetta has more room than some mid-size sedans I have driven. The rear seats accommodate even the long-legged and large, like me, comfortably and the rear doors open wide to allow easy entrance and exit. There is a moderate amount of small-item storage and a deep, spacious glove box. The centre console contains two cup holders, which are complemented by two moulded bottle holders in the front doors. Interior finishes are in textured plastics and the multifunction steering wheel with all the usual controls is a pleasure to handle.

The centrally placed 6,5-inch touch screen operates the radio-AUX-CD-MP3, eight-speaker audio system and several other toys in the more expensive models. The system also features an SD card reader and Bluetooth facility

Boot space can without exaggeration be described as large and up to mid-size sedan standards. With the rear seats folded down, the boot space doubles and the car provides one of the largest storage spaces in its class. Rear-seat movement is controlled from the boot and the flat-seat folding mechanism is easy to operate.

Safety and Security

The Jetta has a Euro NCap 5-star rating, which makes it a safe car.

The safety features list is long, with the main features being the electronic stability programme, hill-hold control, a multilink independent rear suspension and six air bags.

There are seat belts for all and a front passenger air bag deactivation option, as well Isofix attachments for child seats. Then there is the usual central locking and factory-fitted alarm.

Performance and handling

The Jetta’s four-cylinder, 1 390 cc, petrol engine puts out 92 kW and 200 Nm, making it quite powerful, despite its family car image. Zero to 100 km/h comes up in around 9,7 seconds and top speed is around 200 km/h. The six-speed manual gearbox is easy to operate and provides a pleasant sense of being in control, but, should you enjoy auto drive, a six-speed auto box is also an option.

I am always reluctant to quote fuel-consumption figures because so much depends on driving style and terrain. However, driving the car hard on both good and bad roads gave us an overall figure of 6,7 litres per 100 km, which is very good for a car of this size.

The 1,4-litre power plant is sweet and the transmission is impressive and refined. The independent suspension on all four wheels puts this car among the best handlers in its class. It has excellent control, even on the roughest D-roads and the electric power steering is precise, with immediate feedback.

VW also has the advantage of its Germanic background in suspension tuning. The brakes, which I used several times on very bad roads, had a strong, confident and deep feel, which is inspirational.

The car is as excellent on good roads, as on bad and it will collect the kids and do the shopping, as well as see the relations in Johannesburg.

On the N3, the Jetta performs well, although with a 1,4-litre engine you either keep the revs up or work the gears. Passing long loads also requires forward planning, but generally the Jetta is a pleasure to drive.

Costs and the Competition

The VW Jetta TSI Comfortline Manual will set you back around R325 000. The auto will cost about R16 000 extra. The car comes with a factory guarantee and a five-year/90 000 km service plan.

Also look at the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Opel Astra, Toyota Corolla, and Kia Cerato.

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