Engineering objectives change with time. Old goals are regularly replaced by new standards and this directly impacts the character of the cars. This is why today’s cars are getting lighter and slighter in an attempt to get more and more fuel efficient. Some, like the new VW Jetta, however, that are built to more robust standards, still soldier on. While this does mean the new Jetta could have been a bit more efficient and might have been a bit quicker, there are other benefits.
It’s built tougher, for one, which is communicated clearly the instant I shut one of its ‘unnecessarily overbuilt’ doors. And it’s the same every time I select a gear, or so much as ride over a rough patch of road.
The Jetta also hits the spot when it comes to size, space and comfort. Almost as long as the new Passat (it’s only around four inches shorter), the cabin is wide and long enough to give passengers plenty of legroom. There’s a huge amount of shoulder room, the big seats are ample and quite supportive, and the massive boot easily swallows four full-sized bags, which makes it great for airport pick-ups. The 1.4 TSI petrol engine isn’t the most exciting piece of kit on the car, however. The 120bhp and 20kgm of torque are only sufficient for a car of this size, nothing more, and this manifests itself when I’m looking for an occasional spot of spirited driving.
That said, the Jetta recently proved to be great company on an over 100km drive from Aamby Valley to Mumbai. Set with the task of taking me home after more than 12 hours behind the wheels of other more exotic cars, it started off by first allowing me to relax and be comfortable. The large driver’s seat, the super support for the thighs and lower back and the adjustable steering all contributed in making me feel right at home.
We’d been testing luxury cars all day, most of them more than five times the value of the Jetta, but still, getting into the cabin didn’t feel like a huge step down. Yes, the bulky centre console feels a bit old fashioned, and its two-tone display should have had a colour touchscreen, especially in this day and age where affordable smartphones and tablets are available a dime a dozen. But the general build of the cabin, the use of the materials and the way everything just fits together perfectly, give it an old world charm so difficult to come by today. Volkswagen has upgraded the instrument panel, and it now gets gorgeous luminescent white numbers set on a matte-black background. And there’s a new wheel as well, similar to the one on the Vento, which, though well put together, has a bit too many buttons on it for my liking.
The first part of the journey home included a decent run off a ghat, approximately 20km long. First impressions: this car could do with better lights, especially when the beams are dipped. Yes, the spread is good, but there seem to be pockets of darkness that need illumination. The cornering lights, however, do work well, and they helped quite a bit on the drive down.
What I also felt immediately comfortable with were the grown-up driving manners. The high levels of grip, the poise around corners and the effortless way in which it handled the challenging conditions left me clearly impressed. The brakes did a sterling job bleeding speed many times over too. The Jetta also proved it was more than up to the job of soaking up the rough patches of road encountered on the way into the town of Lonavala. Big holes, deep ruts, sharp edges, it took all of them in its stride.
The wide expanse of the expressway was likely to be a bit more challenging, especially for the 120bhp engine. But here too, it proved to be well upto the task, as long as the slick gearbox was used in an intelligent manner. Yes, more oomph would certainly have gone down well, but the smooth responses of the engine and its willingness to rev allowed for decent acceleration. And high cruising speeds were also relatively easy to maintain due to the tall gearing; 2000rpm in sixth equates to 100kph on the clock and that means progress is relaxed and stress free.
The Jetta is also settling nicely into the daily grind. You do miss a bit of grunt in the city, especially when you want to overtake someone in a hurry, but otherwise it seems just the right size for city use; big enough to be comfortable yet compact enough not to be unwieldy. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t hugely entertaining and it isn’t attention-grabbing either. It, however, is extremely capable and scores really well at every given opportunity. And, like Rahul Dravid, is always dependable and solid.
They still make some of ‘em like they used to.