Judge and Mambaonline Motoring Editor Brent Ellis takes on our seventh 2012 Car of the Year finalist and latest incarnation of a South African stalwart – the VW Jetta 1.4 TSI 118kW Highline.
The VW Jetta is as much a part of the South African landscape as Table Mountain, Hillbrow Tower and a traffic jam on a Friday afternoon. Now in its sixth generation, VW South Africa says the Jetta has evolved into a stand-alone model, and is no longer simply a Golf with a boot. Launched on VWSA’s 60th birthday in August last year, seeing the new Jetta on the list of COTY finalists came as no surprise to me. Will it be able to score VW a hat trick, following in the footsteps of the Golf and Polo which have won the last two COTY titles in a row?
The first problem, if I can call it that, is that the Jetta battles to create its own identity. Park this car next to a Polo sedan and I’d place money on most people not being able to tell the difference. While the new VW design language has been expertly integrated in the new car and I adore the design, it’s not special enough to give the Jetta the personality it deserves. That said, there’s nothing wrong with it. Proportions are spot on and in the flesh the Jetta is actually quite a large car to behold. And it isn’t just a Golf with a boot, because the new Jetta and the current Golf don’t share one single body panel.
The interior is just like that of any current new-style VW – German. And by that I mean you get a mix of flawless quality, fit and finish, and the ergonomics are brilliant too. It’s all soft-touch, nice-looking plastics and accented “metals”, all of which come together in perfect harmony and make the Jetta a lovely car to sit in and enjoy driving.
Comfort and Features
As VW tradition goes too, there are a few items that aren’t standard on this car. However, in range-topping Highline spec, VW does give you a decent amount of standard kit to go with the sticker price. These include the likes of 17-inch alloy wheels, electric windows all-round with auto up- and down, Climatic air conditioning, height- and lumbar adjustment for both front seats, leather detailing, an anti-dazzle interior mirror, electric and heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a multi-info trip computer, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, auto lights and a very good 8-speaker radio/CD/MP3 audio system.
Ride and Handling
Drive-wise, comfort abounds in all respects and with the adjustable lumbar support, a long journey becomes easy and fun. The ride is fairly firm and typically solid for a VW, with the light steering giving a decent amount of feedback. It’s not racing-car sharp but the electric assistance with speed sensitivity means you know what the car is doing at all times, and parking is effortless.
Performance and Economy
Featuring a marvel of engineering that is the VW TSI engine, this little 1.4-litre petrol motor packs quite a punch. Featuring turbo- and supercharging (I could take an entire year to explain just how that works), what Volkswagen have done is create a small engine with big boots and a relatively small thirst. Producing 118kW and a delicious 240Nm, performance is great – VW claims the 0-100km/h dash will take 8.3 seconds and you’ll end up doing 221km/h. The flip side of the TSI coin reveals efficiency. VW claims average consumption on the combined cycle to be 6.3-litres per 100km and that carbon emissions are 145g/km. After my test the trip computer showed my average to be 7.6-litres per 100km which, considering my affection for power, wasn’t disappointing. The open road revealed the true merits of TSI however, with consumption hovering in the 5-litres per 100km region, and that’s diesel-like consumption.
What I found particularly wonderful about the engine’s character is how its low-down torque (for which the supercharger is responsible) allows you to crawl along in a higher gear than your mind says is correct, with enough torque on demand for acceleration without changing gears (via the 6-speed manual ‘box). Driving up a fairly steep hill in Joburg’s Northern Suburbs in fifth gear at 60km/h really hit that fact home, and I came away impressed.
All the usual three-lettered acronyms and ‘bags are present in the Jetta, and with 5 EuroNCAP stars this is one of the safest cars money can buy. Six airbags are fitted as standard and an extra two can be specified optionally. Acronyms include ABS (anti-lock brakes) with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and ESP (traction control), with a hill holder and brake wear indicator adding to the arsenal. Other highlights include ISOFIX child seat anchors, remote central locking and an alarm/immobiliser system.
There’s no surprise that this car comes with a few options and after having some of them fitted to my test unit, they’re worth that little bit extra (if you can afford it, of course). My test car was fitted with an electric folding towbar (R6370), the extra side airbags (R4240 and worth it if you have children), Climatronic auto climate control (R4520), front and rear parking sensors (R4520), leather seats (R12 080) and a very handy 230V power socket in the rear (R950) – into which you can plug your cellphone or laptop without the need for a car charger or adapter. That’s a heavy R30 000-odd extra and there are further options available, chief among which include xenon headlights, heated front seats and a sunroof – none of which are really necessary to make the Jetta feel any better than it already does.
List price on the VW Jetta 1.4 TSI 118kW Highline is R274 560, which includes a 3-year/120 000km warranty and a 5-year/90 000km service plan. As standard it is slightly cheaper than most of its direct competitors, but the problem comes in when you fit extras – the car I drove was worth R307 050 and that I’m afraid is simply too much for a Jetta with this car’s competition.
Speaking of which, your shopping list for similar cars would include the likes of the brand new Honda Civic 4-door 1.8 Executive (R269 900), the Mazda3 2.0 Individual 4-door (R288 920) and the age-old Toyota Corolla 2.0 Exclusive (R266 800). Sadly for this lot, the Jetta is superior in pretty much every aspect. Yes, it might become a lot more expensive if you have an eye for extras so perhaps if money is tight you’ll be better off with the Civic, which offers excellent spec in a great new design and an involving drive. If a little bit more per month isn’t a worry though, the Jetta is one of the best cars on the market right now. Whether or not it scores that hat trick for VW when the 2012 Car of the Year is announced in March, time will tell. It would be no surprise at all however if it walked away with the crown.