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I’ll admit there was some grumbling when Ouseph told me he’d asked the Volkswagen PR guys to send us a manual Jetta. Manual? Okay, it’s not that I have a nightmarish daily commute (15 minutes, tops) but still who shifts gears on their daily drivers these days – especially now that we’re spoilt silly by DSG ‘boxes? So, sure, I grumbled, even made a call to see if our car could be reallocated (too late, I was told) and then the Volkswagen Jetta arrived. On the same day our E-Class went back.
First impressions – The Volkswagen Jetta looks good doesn’t it? I always thought the angular lines, sharp creases and tension in the Jetta’s bodywork lends itself well to darker colours but in this shade of blue it really stands out. It looks new which, let’s be honest, the Jetta really isn’t. It was launched four years ago and only received a mild facelift earlier this year, but that’s the thing about VW designs – shorn of flashy details and outrageous curves they age very well and continue to look attractive even after years on the road. Likewise with the interiors; VW cabins have always been a cut above its rivals and it’s no different in the Jetta’s case. If I have to criticise I’d point to the leatherette seats that don’t breathe like leather and leaves you with a sweaty backside on hot days. On the positive side the flat-bottomed steering wheel is fantastic to hold, the ergonomics are excellent (seat-height adjust plus steering that adjusts for reach and rake) and the seats are very comfortable. The afore-mentioned steering wheel has a total of 19 buttons which might sound like overkill but it’s all very well laid out and intuitive in its functionality; well spaced out so you don’t hit the wrong one when your eyes are on the road and Mercedes-like in terms of quality, damping and feedback. What I can’t understand is why the stereo doesn’t have a simple USB slot in the armrest or the stereo fascia like the Polo – instead there’s a media interface cable that plugs into the glove box which makes it a bit cumbersome to use. Our Volkswagen Jetta has an iPhone charging cable instead of the USB connector (which is great, if you know how quickly even the iPhone 6 runs out of juice) but with the phone plugged in you can’t listen to music on a USB, and good luck with trying to read messages when the phone is charging out of reach. In fairness I must mention there’s an SD card slot on the fasica, but who uses those to carry around music?
I don’t want to sound tedious but I must mention the horn has a tone quality and volume. It is not too grating for those sitting inside but of the perfect pitch to get slow-movers out of the way.
Okay, I have been dilly-dallying so lets address the elephant in the room. That engine. The 2-litre diesel. The engine at the centre of the emissions storm. You won’t find me condoning the acts that led to the ‘defeat device’ business but I have to say, I really hope the fixes don’t lead to a drop in the engine’s performance or efficiency, because this is a fantastic motor. I did a fast drive to Goa and the efficiency didn’t drop below 13.5kmpl. And the drive was fast. There is terrific bottom-end torque, great responsiveness and brilliant eagerness. As we closed for press I read that the emissions fix would probably require nothing more than a 10 euro device and a software remap. At the cost of repeating myself I hope that doesn’t mean a drop in performance.
And as for that manual gearbox – I was wrong. The Volkswagen Jetta is a great driver’s car, one of the best front-wheel drive cars in the business – and the manual gearbox adds significantly to the involvement and joy of driving the Jetta. You might still prefer a DSG on your daily commute but the thrill of driving the manual is the business.
Sirish Chandran (@SirishChandran)