What is the definition of refinement? If we’re talking about oil, it’d be the process of converting bubbling crude to golden delicious gasoline. At finishing school, it would be the transformation of young girls from open-mouth gum-chewing teens to delightful, etiquette-conscious ladies.
The actual dictionary definition is: The improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes; but in automotive terms refinement could be defined as Volkswagen’s Jetta.
The Jetta’s been built since the late 1970s, through six generations with numerous facelifts and improvements along the way, and it’s just gotten better and better every time. Okay, there was that one slip-up with the unreliable, thirsty and expensive-to-repair V5-powered Jetta 4, but we’ll turn a blind eye there.
This is the all-new and incredibly refined Jetta 6 and it’s all in the details. Besides the immaculate build quality, which you would have read about in any of our recent Volkswagen tests, you get brilliant little features like a climate-control system that automatically switches to recirculate when you squirt the windscreen so that the washer solution fumes don’t come into the cabin. It does the same when reverse gear is selected so that dust can’t get sucked in through the vents. That, is the definition of refinement.
You could say it’s just a sixth generation Golf with a trunk welded on, which was the case for previous Jettas but it’s not entirely true here. While the basic platform is similar (most current VW passenger cars share basic underpinnings), the Jetta is in fact longer so that there’s more space in the back seats, wider so there’s more space between shoulders, and though it’s hard to tell, every single exterior panel is unique. No part of the exterior is shared with the its Golf sibling.
Obsessive compulsives like myself, will enjoy the cabin’s “a place for everything and everything in its place” design philosophy. There’s no funny business when it comes to dashboard layout, and everything from the radio and climate controls, to the speedo and rev counter are neatly laid out and easy to read or use. There are no cheesy colour-changing backlights, holographic displays or garish faux wood inlays. Just German detail at its finest.
With VW’s new strictly-business facial profile that’s found on almost all of its cars today, the new Jetta’s in all fairness among the most inconspicuous sedans on the road today. But don’t let its vanilla looks put you off because under this bland skin is one of the most pleasurable drives I’ve experienced this year.
This specific unit is a 1.4-litre turbo and supercharged petrol with a six-speed manual transmission. Power is rated at a relatively high 118kW and 240Nm, and while I’d sometimes be sceptical of such generous outputs from such a small capacity engine, I’m not at all here. The way this twincharged 1.4 delivers power is very similar to a modern turbodiesel, but better because there’s almost no lag.
From just over 1000rpm there’s oodles of torque which creates a very relaxed drive. The transmission has very long gear ratios, and with such diesel-like power delivery, this Jetta can spread its torque through speeds in one gear that would take most cars two or even three. In third gear alone, it will pull from around 80km/h all the way up to 160 before redline. This means a very chilled-out driving characteristic with infrequent clutch and gearlever inputs.
It’s obvious that the long gears are an attempt to keep revs down, which in turn should result in lower fuel consumption. During our test we averaged 9.1l/100km, and while that’s not as good as some similarly-sized turbodiesels might do, it’s pretty good considering performance levels. We recorded a best 0-100km/h time of just over 9 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.3. Respectable for a 1 398cc engine.
An interesting fact is that VW builds two separate Jetta specifications, and in South Africa we get the better one. In the American market this car is fitted with cost-cutting interior materials and a cheaper, torsion-bar rear suspension. Here the Jetta gets a very Audi-like interior ambiance and a top class multi-link rear suspension.
That said, a base Jetta (with a 2-litre engine) in the States costs exactly the same amount as a base Hyundai Elantra. Here, a base Jetta (with a much smaller 1.2 engine) is R35 000 more than the same Elantra. Still, I’m glad we get the nicer version and I think the extra money is well worth it.
I enjoyed driving the new Jetta immensely. With its conservative styling it won’t turn many heads, but with such satisfying driving attributes it’s a car that you’ll look forward to getting into every day.
The VW Jetta 1.4 TSI 118 kW Highline is one of ten 2012 South African Car Of the Year Finalists. The winner will be announced in March next year. -Star Motoring
1.4 TSI 118kW Highline - R274 500
Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LT (104kW) - R263 900
Ford Focus 2.0 Trend AT (125kW) - R268 260
Hyundai Elantra 1.8 GLS (110kW) - R214 900
Mazda3 2.0 Individual (110kW) - R288 920
Toyota Corolla 2.0 Exclusive (102kW) - R266 800