Volkswagen Jetta Review

Tony Sterbenc
by Tony Sterbenc
volkswagen jetta review

My name is Tony and I’m an ex-VW owner. Like most exes, it’s taken me a couple of decades to overcome my bitterness to the point where I can render objective judgment on the German automaker’s products. As a test drive reveals nothing about long-term reliability, I will mention it no more and judge the facts at hand. One of which is Volkswagen automobiles are still beset with mechanical and electrical gremlins. Damn! So, the Jetta. Nice looking car, eh?

Of all Vee Dub’s U.S. products, today’s longer, wider Jetta has the best proportions. You can savor the style at the bottom of the Jetta’s A-pillar, where the intersection of the sedan’s roof, windscreen and hood flow with the go. The Jetta’s jewelry works equally well; the mid-sizer’s maw isn’t a cartoon and the circular taillights are a far more elegant solution than the Rabbit’s wraparound lamps. In fact, the Jetta’s sheetmetal displays plenty of good old fashioned German gravitas.

Inside, things move from serious to grim. While liberal use of the latest laser welding technology has created a car that meets or beats its German siblings for torsional rigidity and low amplitude door thunkery, the latest Jetta could well be the official automobile of The 300. That said, even latter day Spartans might have appreciated a little more color, or a few more cupholders, or some polymers that weren’t as unyielding as a Persian army commander’s worst nightmare.

To ameliorate the interior’s dark, monochromatic monotony, VW’s designers placed pseudo-aluminum stripes across the Jetta’s dash and doors. It’s about as effective as smiley face lapel pin on an undertaker’s suit. Aft of the driver’s door, the pillar is hollowed out to offer a bit of lebensraum for tall drivers. Unfortunately, the rock-hard plastic causes multiple insults to tender elbows. The Jetta’s center armrest moves fore/aft and angles up/down, but it’s got less padding than Cliff Notes.

At this price, leather upholstery is fashioned from the cow’s cheaper sub-surface layers, then burnished, painted and scented with ein spritz of eau de bovine. I mention this because my test Jetta’s stiff plastic seats smelled more like leather than a Bentley Continental. Better yet, the Jetta’s chairs continue the nameplate’s tradition of offering plenty of room in the caboose.

The Jetta’s rear compartment accommodates two adults almost as easily as an ’07 Accord. Unfortunately, the center armrest is so over-engineered (storage compartment, cupholders, key-locking pass-through) that it’s uncomfortable for both arms and backs. The Jetta’s trunk is enormous, with non-smashing hydraulic hinges and a level of finish that will allow mob abductees to feel entirely pampered if, well, you know.

Taken as a whole, the Jetta’s cabin feels like what it is: a Passat that’s undergone a radical plushectomy. While my ’08 tester’s fit and finish were frickin’ flawless, they pale into insignificance compared to the unforgiving slabs of petroleum-based concrete that line the creature capsule.

Our tester “boasted” VW’s infamous 2.5-liter five cylinder powerplant; an engine that sounds like a four and drinks like a six. Once you get past the mill’s overly aggressive tip-in, the Jetta accelerates with upmarket ease. The six-speed automatic’s well-judged ratios ensure seamless though glacial progress. No surprise there. With 150 horses trying to motivate 3230 lbs. of Puebla’s finest, directionally-challenged drivers go nowhere slow. More specifically, an autobox-enabled sprint from zero to sixty takes all of 9.1 seconds.

Once underway, the Jetta’s electric power steering serves-up a strange combination of anesthetic road feel and Soloflex-level resistance. The wheel’s rim is pleasingly fat but the diameter feels small; more so because of the relatively quick steering ratio. The Jetta’s ride is downright soft, almost pillowy, complemented by good isolation and minimal wind noise. Rock the wheel a bit on the highway and the car porpoises unpleasantly a full half-beat behind your inputs, more Flint than Wolfsburg.

Guide the Jetta around a tight corner and the fully-independent suspension (front McPhersons and a rear multi-link) keep the car’s body motions in check. In fact, at low speeds, it’s easier to upset a Buddhist monk than a Volkswagen Jetta. Blast into some high speed sweepers and the car still maintains its longitudinal cool. But string some curves together in a sporting fashion and the aforementioned vertical softness undermines any advantage delivered by the Jetta’s body control.

I guess the “drivers wanted” are of the bunny slipper wearing and hot cocoa drinking variety. While that’s no bad thing in and of itself, it’s clear that the Jetta is an anachronism. Its [s]hair shirt[/s] minimalist cabin evokes a time when VW’s build quality compensated for their monkish interiors. These days the marque’s quality is a barely-remembered myth, and there are plenty of $20k-ish sedans offering both comfort AND reliability.

Sigh. Is there no getting past the “r” word? No, I guess there isn’t.

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2 of 109 comments
  • Niacal4nia Niacal4nia on May 31, 2015

    I know VWs are not as reliable as Asian cars but I know from stats that are a lot safer in an accident and handle better. Since I'm a Shae tree mechanic fixing my VW is not a big deal. I'd rather be safe, however I always advice others to buy a Toyota Corolla the most reliable boring car that has been the best seller in the world. My 1999 VW V6 180000 miles still drives like new.

  • Southbay Southbay on Jun 01, 2015

    Didn't realize I had posted back in July 2009 - Here's a brief up-date. Still driving and enjoying my 2006 GLI, daily- now with 175,000 miles. Replaced the original brakes and front wheel bearings at 125,000. Paint still looks good, leather and interior mostly looks new. The aluminum accent strip is real. The interior plastics are high quality and soft. Replaced the diverter valve. I recently replaced the intake manifold motor which went bad. Car ran but was underpowered. Also did the timing belt and water pump as standard maintenance. I just developed a loud hum, think it's a rear wheel bearing. Probably should do the shocks and control arms/bushings. The ride is not as tight as new. Overall not bad, and it's still a nice car. May replace it with a Passat TDI in a few years : )

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