User-friendly and vault-like build quality will endear Volkswagen’s new car Jetta to customers, writes Homzard Sorabjee

There are several ways to look at the Jetta. The world over it is seen as Golf with a boot made for markets (like India) where there is a clear preference for saloons over hatchbacks. However, since VW’s iconic hatchback isn’t available in India as yet, think of the Jetta as a mini-Passat or better still a rival to the Laura to put VW’s latest model in the right perspective.

Volkswagen plans to price the Jetta between Rs 13-16 lakh. This makes the Jetta far more affordable than the pricey Passat and puts it in a segment in which the only serious competition is its own cousin, the Laura. The fact that the Laura now outsells the significantly cheaper Octavia by over 50 per cent gives a good indication about the potential for a Rs 15-lakh luxury saloon.

Though the Jetta and Laura share the same chassis and powertrain, the Jetta with its Passat-esque looks is more visually in common with its bigger brother. The rear light clusters burn with the same LED glow and the Jetta’s overall silhouette, though significantly smaller, has the same smooth and taut lines that characterise the Passat.

Understated elegance

What gives the Jetta a distinctive face is the prominent grille which drops down into the bumper and has a generous helping of chrome. Some will appreciate the understated elegance but there will be a section of buyers who might be disappointed by the Jetta’s lack of flash. Indians will be impressed by Jetta’s size and the long overhang, which accommodates a massive boot, makes it look much bigger than it actually is. A crucial difference with the Laura is that the Jetta is not a hatchback but a proper three-box saloon which automatically elevates its status.

Step inside and there’s a sense of logic and functionality that immediately puts you at ease. All the controls are well laid out, and everything works with a solid and precise feel that so typifies German engineering. The front seats are high and, though a touch on the firm side, are supremely comfortable for long stints in them. The rear seats as well are perfectly sculpted with the right amount of underthigh and back support. There’s a set of air vents for the rear passengers as well. While there is enough headroom and width, legroom could have been more generous, especially for chauffeur-driven owners. The interior design is not as elegant or classy as the Passat’s but it feels a touch more upmarket than the Laura’s. The splashes of superbly finished chrome uplift the austere cabin but that may not be enough for Indian tastes. VW may have to spice up the interiors further on the India-spec cars with beige trim and lots of mock wood.

The Jetta comes with only two engine options and neither of them is madly exciting. The diesel Jetta is powered by the same 105bhp 1.9-litre TDi engine found in the Laura and the 1.6 petro which puts out a modest 102bhp.

uite a hit in the Laura. We could only get our hands on the diesel with the manual box, which we suspect will be the mainstay of the Jetta range in India.

Engine noise

Fire the engine and you are greeted by the same gravelly sound you find in the Laura. VW’s PD (Pumpe-Düse) engines may be super fuel-efficient but they aren’t high on refinement. Insulation from engine noise could have been better. Engine noise is not very obtrusive and with that distant drone, which disappears only at cruising speeds, you would never mistake this motor for anything but a diesel. The six-speed gearbox requires a firm shove to operate but has a short and precise throw and the extra cog makes good use of the Jetta’s power band. Performance is quite impressive for a car producing only 105bhp but remember that it is torque that matters more these days and the Jetta has a healthy dollop of it. The power delivery isn’t as linear as we would have liked and though it behaves predictably at low rpm, displaying little zest, it suddenly awakens after 2000rpm. This abrupt arrival of performance takes some getting used to but there is no doubting the Jetta’s grunt when you want to overtake.VW has achieved a near-perfect balance between ride and handling on the Jetta. Except for a bit of harshness at low speeds, the Jetta feels light on its feet and perfectly stable at all speeds. The electric steering is too light and feels quite numb but it is pretty precise and, when coupled to the Jetta’s terrific body control over a variety of surfaces, it makes the car effortless to drive.

Its user-friendly nature and vault-like build quality will endear it to customers. This car is Mr Sensible and, unlike the Passat, will be available for sensible money when it goes on sale in July.

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