VW Jetta is the best kind of vanilla


LONG-TERM TEST: VW Jetta 1.4 TSI Highline

Johannesburg - Ask me to keep a straight face while telling you that our long-term test Jetta has been a bundle of thrills, and that our team here Motoring fight for the keys every day at home time, and the corners of my mouth might more than twitch under the guilt of a lie.

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Our test Jetta has the 1.4-litre twincharger engine, a peach of a motor.Bland styling belies the fact that the Jetta sedan is a beautifully built and engineered vehicle.Jetta comes with German attention to detail that car connoisseurs never stop raving about.

No, our silver 1.4TSI Highline with manual gearbox isn’t the most exciting car we’ve ever laid hands on. It doesn’t leave would-be robot racers behind in plumes of smouldering rubber, it rolls permanently unnoticed under a haze of humdrum-ness and it wouldn’t be our first choice of machine given a clear, unabated run up a mountain pass.

This is the responsible choice.

Reliable transportation. One of those A to B cars. Room for four, maybe five people and loads of space to stash stuff in the boot. A Jetta represents that stereotypical three-box family sedan that Joneses the world over have parked in their white-picket-fence perimetered driveways. It takes out the trash when it’s told. It walks the dog. It washes the dishes, dries them, and puts them away after dinner.

But, there is a but. While the Jetta is in fact a boring car (forgive me Volkswagen), it’s a very high quality kind of boring. This isn’t the only three-box, middle-class family sedan out there by a long shot but, in its price bracket, it’s one of the only options that comes standard with that German attention-to-detail car connoisseurs go on about like stuck records.

It’s one of those ‘if you have to ask, then you’ll never understand’ things.

If you don’t appreciate the way a key turns smoothly in an ignition barrel, or how a seat glides free and easy on its runners when adjusted, or how an A-pillar trim panel meets the dashboard with intricate precision, then you will have no idea what I’m talking about.

And, in all fairness these little things don’t matter at all. There are some quality sedans out there with sloppier ignition switches and less than perfect interior panels that will get you from A to B without a hitch just like our Jetta. But then there are only tiny differences, technically speaking, between mules and horses, right? I know which one I’d prefer riding if I had to choose.


The Jetta’s been a sweet commuter since it landed with us in April 2013, but it seems to be getting better with more mileage. We noticed its shift action was a little tight when it was newer, but the lever’s now slicing through its gates with an exactness we know VW ‘boxes are good for. I also swear that as I watched the odometer tick over the 14 000km mark, the engine developed a touch more power and started delivering in a more willing way. But then I also believe cars run better when they’re clean as well so some of this is probably personal fallacy.

It’s VW’s clever little twincharger unit under the bonnet.

While I admit to having some scepticism of super and turbocharged engines at first, I don’t anymore. The whole idea of low-rpm boost fed by a belt-driven blower, and higher rev-range assistance from a normal turbo is working a charm and genuinely feels like a higher capacity displacement without any nasty lag issues. Remarkably smooth too.

The Jetta’s trip computer says we’ve averaged 7.7 litres per /100km over a mostly urban cycle, and we’re pleased with that number considering its eager performance. In fact it’s all very turbodiesel-like in character with bags of bottom end torque and decent average consumption, but without the perceived clatter, repair costs and stinky bouquet many buyers say they’re scared of in diesels.


This model, priced at R306 600, comes at a slight premium over similarly specced three-box sedans... but horses cost more than similarly specced mules too. The Jetta may be vanilla, but it’s the best darn vanilla out there. -Star Motoring


Engine: Four-cyl, 1.4-litre (turbo/supercharged petrol)

Power: 118kW @ 5800rpm

Torque: 240Nm @ 1500-4500rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 8.3 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 221km/h

Consumption (Gauteng): 7.7 litres per 100km

Price: R306 600

Warranty: Three-year/120 00km

Service plan: Five-year/90 000km

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