I know a guy who shot himself in the foot. Literally. So while part of me felt that his punishment fit his actions, the other part of me felt sorry for him. After all, he did have a bullet in his foot. Well, it actually went through his foot. That’s kind of how I feel about Volkswagen as well so I made arrangements to drive a Volkswagen Jetta TSi to see what it was like to drive.
While VW has really shot itself in the foot lately with the whole controversy over its diesel-powered models, they actually do build vehicles that are really quite exceptional. This Jetta that I drove had a 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that just hustled this Jetta along very nicely. In the week that I spent with the Jetta I logged over 600 miles on every kind of road I could find and, in every case, just loved my time with the Jetta.
First of all, this car is solid. Unlike every Japanese car I’ve ever driven, the Jetta’s doors give an authoritative “thunk” when closed like a Mercedes from the 1980s. The sound is very, very reassuring.
This quality feel extended to the interior with everything feeling as if it were hewn from the same solid substances used in the doors. Again, I’ve gotten so used to the tinny feel of Japanese cars lately this heavy, solid German feel was really refreshing.
Germans have also earned a reputation for building really high-quality seats and this car was no exception. I’ve made the drive from my perch in Northern California to the land of great car shows in Southern California plenty of times and I always need a good bit of recovery time to stop swearing about my back. This time, I was ready to go and spent the next day walking around the LA Auto Show.
The seats, seating position and armrests on this car are conducive to long, long drives. Oh, and speaking of armrests, the center armrest on the Jetta both adjusts for height and extends. Brilliant feature. Of course the steering wheel was adjustable for both height and reach. The seats are supportive and grippy enough for spirited driving and comfortable enough for long, boring stares out the windshield at miles of asphalt and semi tractor trailers.
On the wheel were controls for the radio, sort of, and then controls for an in-dash information center. I could have done without the controls for the in-dash system being as prominent as those for the radio and would have been happier with more compatible Bluetooth functionality. There were buttons to operate an attached Bluetooth phone and the system worked well with Siri. Well, as well as anything works with Siri, she is sort of a evil phone ghost who doesn’t work that well.
This Jetta is a good sized car in that it’s not so big that it’s clumsy or difficult to park, but not so small that four real adults can’t be really comfortable. While the EPA says that the Jetta is a compact, it’s a car that is seems ideally sized for four adults. In fact, this is a really fun car to drive despite being a four-door sedan. No wonder it’s Volkswagen’s top perennial top seller.
As mentioned before the 1.8L four-cylinder engine really is a kick, providing plenty of gusto to move this car smartly up the Ridge Route with the cruise control on while almost all the other passenger cars were starting to choke and the trucks had already moved over to the crawl lane with their hazard lights flashing.
This particular Jetta sported the six-speed automatic transmission but you can actually buy a Jetta with a manual transmission. This is a fun car with the automatic, it would be a bigger blast with the stick. Yet, as mentioned, it doesn’t give up on comfort at all and even the ride is smooth and controlled without being jarring as in some cars.
Despite the strong performance, the Jetta averaged 40.1 miles per gallon from NoCal to LowCal. I actually had to check my math a second time and my figures were borne-out by the car’s own trip confuser. That is extremely impressive considering how spirited this car’s performance is.
About the only thing I really didn’t like about the Jetta was the puny sun visors which had no provision for extension. Sure, Germany is a northern country without a lot of sun but VW’s selling a lot of Jettas here in parts more southern so this is something they should seriously work on.
Right now Volkswagen is really in a corporate funk with the issue about the emissions cheating scandal with their diesel models. I’m guessing that a lot of folks are steering clear of VW dealers right now. But considering how much I like this Jetta that could be a mistake. In fact, Volkswagen is probably dealing like they haven’t in quite a while so that could mean an opportunity.
When I was raving about the Jetta to several of the automotive journalists at the LA Auto Show one of them made the comment that this car is probably as good as a five year old Mercedes with the point being that cars have become ever better so quickly that today's Jetta is yesterday's Mercedes-Benz. Okay, I would go there.
Frankly, of all the “compact cars” I’ve driven, this one is my absolute favorite. Strong performance, very comfortable interior and driving position and an incredibly strong feel. Considering how nice this car is, I would say that VW will likely survive long-term despite this diesel scandal. And for those looking for a good-size car with strong performance, I would definitely consider the Jetta. It will absolutely put a smile on your face.