By on September 5, 2013

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Two years ago “Dubbers” around the country from AnimeCon to FanimeCon were shocked by my decision to make the Jetta GLI the winner of the VW Intramural League. My failure to recognize the obvious Euro-superiority of hatchbacks at all times caused the phrase “threw up in my mouth a little” to be used to the point that certain backbone Internet routers achieved sentience just by being forced to repeatedly consider the concept of holding in one’s vomit to express disgust.

If you, like Ender’s “toon”, have mastered the process of elimination, you have just realized that this time we had to let the hatchback win. Was it because it wasn’t a straight GLI-on-GTI scrap, or was it because the Mark VII platform represents a major step forward? To find out, you’ll have to click that “Read More” link below, which will immediately cause TTAC’s advertisers to deposit yet another Brazilian-Rosewood-and-Beeswing-Sipo-festooned Paul Reed Smith guitar into my private vault. So go ahead and do it!

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I didn’t re-drive the GLI this year because time was short and I wanted to give each of the cars I drove a full forty-five minutes to demonstrate its on-road virtues. Instead, I chose this “Jetta SE w/Connectivity”. To paraphrase Marcellus Wallace, it’s pretty freaking far from a GLI… but it’s closer than last year’s Jetta SE 2.5 would have been. Not only does it have the new 170hp 1.8TSI engine that I also drove (and liked) in the Passat, it has shed the beam-axle rear suspension in favor of the same control-arm layout found in the GLI. In Europe, Volkswagen has occasionally fielded a lower-power “Golf GT” alternative to the GTI; you could argue that this is a Jetta GT. Or Jetta GL, perhaps. Since VW used the “Jetta GL” badge on their Mark III “two point slow” models, perhaps not.

Of the five Volkswagens I drove in Napa, only the Jetta gave me an authentic moment where I realized I am going wayyyy too fast here. It was on one of the long downhill sections I’d previously driven in the larger sedans, a series of narrow-radius turns along the side of a hill with two-hundred-yard stretches of curving pavement connecting them. Coming out of a turn at full revs in second, I snagged third and rode that to the end as well before reaching for fourth and realizing that I had let the Jetta convince me to temporarily triple the reasonable speed on that road. The mid-sizers couldn’t make that kind of speed, while the Scirocco and GTI’s aggressive demeanor reminded me that I was There To Go Fast And Stuff and so therefore I was velocity-conscious. Only the Jetta managed to build serious pace without being brazen about it.

The sticker said it was a “Jetta SE w/Connectivity”. That means Bluetooth for the fascist states out there that would prefer you crash your car trying to connect your phone to the stereo rather than crashing it while holding said phone, an improved stereo, alloy wheels, and “partial power” front seats. It also incorporates “Car-Net”, which allows you to do some OnStar-style things with your car from your iPhone. This is the type of feature about which twenty-something marketing types get extremely excited but in the real world it’s used by a vanishingly small percentage of owners. I’m sure that is changing, and I am also sure it is changing slowly. One good thing is that your iPhone will apparently tell you when your VW needs service. They had to wait to implement this feature because the original version, which called your Motorola StarTac every time a coilpack or window regulator failed, was sticking users with $200/month phone bills! Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Try the veal!

Thirteen years ago, on a whim, I took delivery of a black Golf GLS 1.8t five-door. It seemed like an okay car, and my wife drove it a lot. I sold it about a year after I got it and picked up a Saab 9-3. That was not a great idea, as it turned out, particularly because in the years that followed I realized that my little black Golf was, in fact, the Holy Grail Of Dubbers Everywhere. “YOU HAD A GLS 1.8T?” people would ask. “AND YOU SOLD IT?” That last question would be delivered with the kind of incredulity typically reserved for stories of having bought in AAPL stock at $21 and selling at $32. Oops.

That Golf was popular among the VW crowd because it was a bit of a Q-ship, fast and subtle. Not everybody wants their quick little German (or Brazilian) commuter to have red stripes and big wheels. So. This Jetta doesn’t weigh much, if any, more than that old Golf and it makes more power everywhere you look. There’s more room inside and it even handles better, particularly at higher speeds, where it fails to display the kind of mushy-nosed grind that the Mark IV in all forms and guises used as a back-road calling card. In the Passat, the 1.8TSI is adequate; in the Jetta, it is good. If you liked the old GLS 1.8T, you would love this car. If you could find it in your heart to forget all the claptrap on the Internet and drive it for yourself.

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Shame, then, that VW cheaps out on the car by equipping it with a five-speed. I suppose we should be grateful that there’s a self-shifter at all, but in an era where the Hyundai Accent has six forward gears this feels like old-school Type I penny-pinching. Hey, my Fox had a four-speed in 1990 so I suppose this is progress. The five cogs with which you, the Jetta SE w/Connectivity driver, are grudgingly supplied are actually reasonably-spaced and usable. Only on the freeway would you want a sixth gear. The claimed highway MPG is a respectable 36 so perhaps it’s not necessary. On the other hand, the EPA has not an inkling of the various and sundry times you’ll be stuffing the accelerator pedal into the floorboards for the hell of it, so if you have thirty-six miles between here and your destination you would be wise to have more than one gallon of fuel left.

Certainly I burned more than a gallon in thirty-two miles of mountain driving, alternately using full throttle and whoa-Nelly braking. Thankfully, the Jetta simply stops better than the Passat and CC. It doesn’t have a Scirocco’s worth of brakes but neither does the brake pedal flirt with the carpet when it’s time to shed seventy or eighty miles per hour going into a turn. No doubt a significant part of my improved progress along the route compared to the Passat was due to the reassuring feel from the middle pedal. It should be mentioned that heel-and-toe is no problem in this car, but that’s generally been the case in VWs of the watercooled era.

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Equipped like my tester, the Jetta SE w/Connectivity is about twenty-one grand. It’s $3800 cheaper than a GLI. Should you spend the extra money? I certainly would. There’s an extra gear in the box, thirty more horsepower on tap, a more sporting suspension tune, various little interior bits the absence of which makes the SE’s interior seem a little purposefully dismal, and a resale-value bump that makes the GLI trim more or less free for years. Seriously. KBB says a ten-year-old Jetta Wolfsburg is worth $3200 in a private-party sale. The GLI? $4200. And guess which one is easier to sell in the real world? That’s right, the one that some kid wants.

If you can afford it, the GLI continues to be recommended over this SE 1.8TSI. If you can’t, or if you want to strike a balance between efficiency, price, and performance, then there’s no shame in choosing the lesser model. It’s a joy to drive, it’s more than spacious enough for four people, it has plenty of trunk space, it’s not missing any genuinely critical features. It looks pretty sharp and if you are a VW fan you already know you want it, so what are you waiting for?

Oh, you’re waiting to hear about the next-gen GTI. Well then. Come back tomorrow!

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44 Comments on “2013 Volkswagen Intramural League, Second Place: Jetta 1.8 SE TSI Manual...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Sister-in-law has an old late 90s Jetta in deep purple with a manual trans. Bought new, given basic preventative maintenance, and now has 100s of thousands of miles on it. It will be my 16 year old nieces first car. Too bad she bought a Tiguan to replace it – this Jetta would have been much more interesting.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    Hey, it’s just a decent car.
    Dan

  • avatar
    walker42

    This entry reminded me of Sajeev’s excellent piece on the Mk IV Jetta. I wonder what a Vellum Venom would say about the Mk VI Jetta and its twin the Passat. For me it’s clear looking at the Jetta that the plus-size isn’t the only thing that makes the Passat look dumpy.

    • 0 avatar
      Cymen

      The people looking at a Passat care about rear legroom, comfort and space. I do not think they are comparing it to a Jetta GLI. They are comparing it to their mother-in-law’s Toyota Camry. Or maybe I’m just talking about me here…

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    Let me just add to this, as I did the same route as Jack with a 6-speed auto car. With the auto, still tuned for efficiency, the car is still nearly as much fun. The added low-end torque helps make up for a few quick upshifts, and it remains a very quick little car.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Tomorrow the next-gen GTI will get a great review. Yet, that car may also be one that us Americans will never be able to buy. Will the US-spec GTI be really the same car, or will it be a decontented GTI with tortilla soft suspension (and a more affordable price level)? TTAC may want to re-review the next-gen GTI as soon as it is for sale on our shores, or put warning signs all over the webpage that indicate that this isn’t “our” GTI.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    GLI Wagon and sold.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    is that first pic of the HVAC controls supposed to indicate that its too downmarket

    analog hvac? in 2013? wut?

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      “analog hvac? in 2013? wut?”

      And ****ing thank God.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        I love analog hvac. Easy as pie, and it takes about 2 seconds to get it to do what you want it to do. All the systems with auto temperature control end up being annoying as hell….you can’t ever really get it to do what you want, and they always seem to be needlessly complicated in terms of usability.

        • 0 avatar
          Sam P

          I set my BMW’s automatic climate control at 70 degrees and forget about it year-round. It works pretty well.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          I’ve never had problems getting any of the auto systems to do what I want. For the most part I’ve just set them to 70 and they do their job. The occasional issue is when it’s been really raining and I’ve got in the car soaking wet. In that case I push the button that sends 100% of the air to the defrost vent. Sometimes when my wife or daughter is particularly cold they’ll turn the temp up higher than 70 and then when I get in the car and drive it for a while I’ll start wondering why I’m so hot look down at the HVAC system screen, that I usually never look at, and then tap the temp down button on the steering wheel to return it to the 70 setting. If you want to you can make it function pretty much like a non auto system with the same choices of where to direct the air and actually more choices for fan speed.

          • 0 avatar
            Nostrathomas

            There are two big issues for me with just setting a temperature and forgetting about it.

            1) It uses AC in situations where you may not need it. Maybe it’s my upbringing, but Im stingy with it to conserve fuel. I don’t like using AC when the weather outside is already cool enough. Auto systems always seem to use AC to cool a car no matter what. Sometimes it’s perfectly adequate to just bring in outside cool air.

            2) I dont like it when I set a cool (or hot) temperature, and the fan just goes on full blast like its a jet engine, to get there as fast as it can. I dont need it to be cool immediately…I would rather i can still hear myself think and wait an extra couple of minutes.

            Probably pretty petty things, but at the end of the day I like to control my destiny, and be in control of my car. Same reason why I will always drive a manual!

          • 0 avatar
            cackalacka

            ^ What Nostrathomas said on HVAC and manual trans. That, you know, +1.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            I don’t like to use the A/C because if it uses two horsepower, then my car only has twelve. That’s not relevant to anyone else though.

            I just think a knob for the temperature, cold to hot, and a knob for the fan, off to high, is an elegant and timeless solution. If you’re fancy you can have another to blow it in different directions.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @Nostrathomas, with the Ford systems there is a button you can push that will prevent the AC compressor from running. As far as it running the fan on full speed that is a pretty rare event and when it does feel the need to run it at max speed like when the car has been sitting in the sun in 100 degree weather it usually comes off of max speed pretty quickly. I do agree that when they go to max speed, at least on the ones in my vehicles, they are pretty loud. Of course every mfg’s system is a little different and there are even sometimes differences from model to model from the same mfg.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            On most systems, you hit “AUTO” to get full-automatic, then tap “A/C” to turn off the air-con. I run that way most of the time, at 68, 70 or 72 degrees.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The knobs look identical to those in my Mk5 Jetta. VW HVAC controls of this style just plain work. You can adjust them and know by feel what you are doing without having to look at them while driving. I don’t know if this is something that has been de-contented, but the Mk5 heater control – despite being an rotary knob – is thermostatically regulated. Set it to the temperature you want and it maintains it … but again, because it is a rotary knob that you can feel the position of, you don’t have to look at it to adjust it.

      I vastly prefer three knobs like this to control HVAC compared to buttons and digital readouts (that you have to look at in order to adjust) and certainly prefer knobs over touch screens. Might not look as gimmicky, but it just plain works in real world, doesn’t require the driver to take attention away from the road, and you don’t have to read a book to figure out how to do it.

      By the way, the Mk6 Golf still used three knobs but they went to a fancier-looking style that wasn’t as easy to feel the position of without looking at them. I like that they’ve gone back to the Mk5 knobs.

      • 0 avatar
        Ion

        I can’t stand knobs like this. How much blue is too cold or how much red is too hot? I found my self constantly shutting off and on the HVAC in my old cars because it was easier then trying to figure the correct color ratio.

        There needs to be more knobs with temperatures on them like Chrysler vehicles. It can’t be too hard to swap em out depending on what market uses C or F.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        The full-auto VW system is called Climatronic – that’s on upper-dollar VWs now. The semi-auto one is called Climatic. They stopped putting Climatic on GTIs and went to full-manual in late 2011. My 2011 Autobahn has Climatic (has the temp numbers on the temp dial instead of just blue for colder and red for hotter).

        It controls the temp; you control the fan speed and where the air comes out. Also if the temp you’ve set it at requires the A/C to be on, you have to hit the A/C button. I love it – it has all the simplicity of full-manual, three-knob controls, but it will keep a set temperature in the cabin – and does it very well.

        I don’t care for full-auto systems; they’re always trying to outsmart you and vice-versa. Also they take up more real estate on the dash and are more complicated to use.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I actually prefer the controls that are on the Jetta sedan. My Sportwagen isn’t as easy to operate in terms of heating and cooling. The older controls have more of a tactile feel so you know what things are at without looking. They’re just like the Mark IV controls, which is fine with me. They put climatronic in the GLI and I think the Hybrid, but otherwise it’s traditional controls.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    If it didn’t have such a craptastic interior, it would actually be worth considering.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Eh, not that craptastic. The dashboard is hard, but the relevant touch points are just fine and the seats are still very comfortable. They put the nice telescopic & tilt center armrest back in there this year too.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      What car in the same price range and class do you consider to *not” have a craptastic interior?

      I personally don’t care for the busy Focus interior, and the Civic’s digital speedometer needs to go back to 1985.

  • avatar

    I do not understand why Scirroco lost to this. Does the stick matter this much?

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Test drove a 2013 Jetta with this same trim package but the 5 cylinder. I was prepared to be disappointed but came away surprisingly pleased. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this is a good car. Sounds like the 1.8 makes it even better.

    They’ve let road noise creep in though, and at 21K+ you are still aware that VW didn’t make the Jetta any more affordable than the MkV as they claim; they just improved their profit margins.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I’m waiting to see the TDI in the jetta to get scr. Anyone know if this will happen soon?

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Supposed to happen in 2015 from what I’ve read on the TDI forums. But only VW executives really know. As usual, believe it when you see it at your friendly local dealer. My friendly local dealer had no clue about the new engine coming back in May of this year when I asked if he know when the 1.8TSI was going to be available in the Jetta. He had no clue about any of it because VW corporate hadn’t told them anything at that time (only 3 months before the cars were to arrive). I told him it was on Jay’s car blog and other sites but I just got a blank stare.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I don’t see the need for an extra gear on a car like this. I have 6 speeds in my Z and I think it’s too much. I go 1-2-3-6th on most normal roads. On the highway I do 2-3-4-6. 4th and 5th should just be combined into one gear. Even my bike, a Ninja 650R, has 6 gears and it’s kind of silly as the spread is even tighter. It does have a more narrow powerband, but clunking down through the gears to a stop just feels silly…

    The only cars that made me wish for 6 gears were DOHC VTEC equipped Hondas. They NEEDED it. The 5 speeds were OK but on the highway cruising at 4K RPM was just stupid. I can hear the droning now.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Amazing how 1K RPMs makes all the difference! 3K in my 1994 B18 VTEC Civic EX Sedan slusher (~70mph) was library-quiet! And an ergonomic dream–everything just WORKED! Function over bling!

  • avatar
    brettc

    Hilarious review between the backbone router joke and the circa 2000 On-Star reference. You’ve confirmed that it’s the next car in our driveway because it’s for the wife and she doesn’t like hatchbacks. Even though I’d love to buy her a seventh generation Golf when they arrive.

    The wife and I test drove a Jetta TSI recently and decided that this is her next car. We drove the automatic because she can’t handle a manual (“to much to think about” according to her). But even the automatic was fun. The automatic is the Aisin made “09G” 6 speed tiptronic that’s been in use for several years in other VW and Audi models. So it is surprising that they only put a 5 speed manual in it when they could easily put a 6 speed in since that’s what they offer in the Jetta TDI manual. The crappy thing we’ve found is that to get the better radio, you have to get the Jetta SE with connectivity and sunroof, which is about $1600 more. But it adds sunroof, touchscreen RCD-510 radio and VW’s keyless start system.

    Hopefully we’ll have one in the next year or so. Saving up at the moment to replace her 2000 Jetta (which has been pretty much problem free) because we don’t want a crazy-big car payment. Thanks for the excellent review yet again, Jack.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Problem-free MkIV Jetta?! Consider yourself blessed!

      My Mom’s 2000 had a creaky front suspension that was never solved, lotsa blown coil packs which left her sitting at work a few times, peeling interior trim, a window regulator which rendered the driver’s window unable to be raised as she was about to drive into a car wash, and a completely sh!tty service department, and, let’s say she learned her lesson, and happily purchased a cherry 2007 Civic with 21,000 miles a few years ago, and never looked back!

  • avatar
    Cubista

    Paul Reed Smith name drop confirms Baruth has exquisite taste in guitars.

    Picking a Jetta over a Scirocco confirms that his taste in cars is badly lacking.

    And this coming from a guy who drives a Z12 Cube.

  • avatar
    patman

    4-speed Fox brothers unite!

    I can’t remember – was 5th an overdrive in the 5 speed Foxes or was it a close ration box with 5th still being 1:1. I’m not sure when you could use an overdrive gear in a Fox – maybe on a long down hill as an alternative to coasting in neutral.

    My only regret about my Fox was that I wasn’t able to get a wagon with A/C in that beautiful metallic pewter color (this was before everything only came in silver) and had to settle for the red one that the dealer had on hand.

  • avatar
    setsail26

    So Jack, I just have question about what the rankings are based on. Is the Jetta truly more fun than the Scirocco, or a better value, or better against expectations, or what?

  • avatar
    redtruck

    I’m thinking that this engine in the Golf Wagon would be a good drive.

    Are we going to get the wagon still?

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The Jetta is a great car, me, hack off the trunk and you got a deal… Oh! Wait…
    I must be one of the few that does not align with the Golf’s “Euro-superiority of hatchbacks” statment, I just can’t stand a 3 box…

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Getting an extra $1000 in resale value for a $3800 investment works out to be almost free?

    What the kid can afford can be just as important as what the kid wants when it comes to buying an old car.

    Spend the extra if you think that stuff is worth it, but the premium will depreciate along with the rest of the car.


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