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Jet to Jetta ... runway to rental lot ... 6 day test drive - via rental


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I haven’t gotten much in the way of rental upgrades lately.  I’ve gotten exactly what I’ve rented on line.  I had a scheduled airport rental for a “standard” car, barely below a full-size car.

When I showed up at the counter, the woman working there was trying to find available cars and wanted to put me in a SUV.  I asked her for a regular car with a trunk.  I pointed out a Malibu on the lot and she said, “No, that’s a full-size.”  Wow!  That’s splitting hairs.  She spotted a VW Jetta, which is exactly what the icon on the rental reservation showed.  She was very nice throughout the rental process and took me out to the car.

I took to the VW Jetta with curiosity and even some positivity.  I felt that it could be similar to driving a VW Passat, which I’ve had as a rental car a long time ago and mostly liked.

These days, whether on the open road or at the auto show, telling a Passat and a Jetta apart has gotten more difficult.  Lately, the Jetta resembles a Passat more and has gotten bigger, it seems.  The way to tell them apart is that, in the Jetta, the third side window, or faux opera window, has exterior moldings that come to a point and the beltline is very even all the way across.  In the Passat, the rearmost point of the side greenhouse is more rounded and the beltline jogs slightly upward.  The grilles and rear fascias of the Passat and Jetta have become more similar, and that doesn’t help matters.

As I settled into the Jetta, I immediately liked the shape of the dashboard.  It is similar to that of the smaller Golf.  Its center stack with the infotainment system and the climate control angle away from the driver before straightening out again in front of the passenger.  Everything on the dash is tucked under the cowl and looks clean.  Most of the controls are fairly straightforward and Germanic, or at least European.  The main instrument panel bezels have the standard things one needs, such as the speedo, the tach, the fuel gage, and the temperature gauge.  There is some red, but most of the graphics are white.  Unless I didn’t find it, the trip odometer only operates for that one trip.  There is no A and B that I could find.  Also, the information settings from the stalk are more fussy than not.  Once this is all squared away, everything else is fairly intuitive, especially the climate control system.

One has to keep in mind that an entry-level Jetta prices out at under $20,000.  It might go slightly above that with an automatic transmission, which most people would want, and freight.  Discounts and incentives might bring it back under $20,000.  The Jetta is generous in some areas and stingy in others.

I was impressed by the safety features on the car.  They are touchy, meaning they pick up cars in adjacent lanes and the cruise control adjusts itself quickly for prevailing conditions.  That there is a braking assist is a great thing.  However, one wants to know it’s there and not have to sample it doing its job!  Perhaps adaptive cruise control provides a sample of this.

The Jetta’s powerplant is a 1.4 liter inline 4 cylinder mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.  The engine is turbocharged and provides a little less than 150 horsepower … 147 to be exact.  Given that this is a fairly compact car, the engine allows the car to do what it’s supposed to do. To me, the Jetta seemed better at the mid-range pass than darting off from a standing stop.  I would not push matters in trying to pass on trafficked two-lane roads.  The transmission’s shifts were slightly perceptible but smooth.  It’s not an upline sedan, so you might still want to feel them.  In shifting through higher gears, though, the shifts go unnoticed.

In terms of roadability, it’s a mixed bag, though mostly positive and easy to live with.  The Jetta is agile and communicative enough.  You always know what the tires are doing.  It does well in urban traffic and is fairly easy to park.  However, in terms of a quiet and supple ride on the highway, I felt it fell a little short.  This is possibly because I was comparing it to my one experience driving the larger Passat, which impressed me with how flatly it handled.  But this is to be expected.  A Sentra doesn’t drive as quietly as an Altima and a Corolla doesn’t drive as quietly as a Camry.  On fresh asphalt, the Jetta behaved very well.  On washboard pavement or over pavement gaps, the suspension sent through some hints of what was going on.  Noise suppression was fairly good, but I wouldn’t say the Jetta excelled in this department.

The seats were sensibly shaped and reasonably comfortable.  The fabric material was coarse but appeared very durable.  For that matter, many of the finishes were coarse and seemed cheaper, though they seemed to be assembled fairly well.  The lack of refinement in the materials can be seen in how the door panels, the console, and the rear of the cabin are finished.  I did not see vents or charging outlets at the back of the console.  I read one review after having made up my own mind and it used the term “plasticky” to describe the interior materials.

The Jetta is roomy.  It uses space well, in both the front and the rear of the passenger cabin.  Similarly, the trunk was also surprisingly roomy and fairly tall.  All of this is contained within a rakish silhouette.  Rear visibility is adequate and, in my opinion, could be better.  The rear seat headrests are very tall and almost oddly shaped.

In summary, the latest Jetta is enigmatic.  It is a known quantity.  I got a mixed read from what professional reviewers say about its reliability, even though we see many older ones on the road.  Cars tend to have certain systems that have quirks.  It could be the suspension, the brakes, the electrical system, or something else.  On the Jetta, and over the long haul, I don’t know which systems reviewers were referring to.

For the price point, the Jetta appears to be a good value.  A person’s criteria and brand preferences might dictate whether they buy a Sentra, a Corolla, a Jetta, or something else.  If a person wants a geared automatic transmission, the Jetta offers that while other manufacturers are moving toward CVTs.

Lastly, the Jetta’s fuel efficiency was commendable.  Though driven mostly on interstates, and at varying speeds, along with being driven on city streets and some two-lane roads, it only required refueling at the end of the 6 days.  I averaged 36.6 mpg.  That was definitely respectable, and only slightly less than what econoboxes with CVTs achieve.  As such, the Jetta is bound to appeal to consumers who need to check off certain boxes in what they want in a fairly priced compact/mid-size sedan.

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Photos forthcoming

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Exterior and mechanical photos

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A side view of the VW Jetta down by the Gulf, with homes and palm trees typical of this area.

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A front 3/4 view of the VW Jetta in front of the Pleasure Pier on the Gulf.  It's not the boxy car it once was. 

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A rear 3/4 view of the VW Jetta on the other side of the Pleasure Pier.  Those are indeed alloy wheels.

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A rear view of the Jetta, whose tail lamps look an awful lot like those of the Passat of the same year.

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The VW logo in the generic grille and the prop rod up.  It's fairly neatly organized and labeled, and the turbocharger plumbing is fairly obvious.

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Four cylinders and spark plugs, oil dipstick, battery, coolant overflow reservoir, brake master cylinder, washer fluid reservoir (blue - bottom RH), air intake/air cleaner, O2 sensor, fuse box, and more, all easy to access.  Also, there is actually some leftover space at the rear of the engine bay where you can see the pavement beneath.

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Interior photos

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An overall view of the front of the passenger cabin with its layout and pleasing enough shapes, functions, and volumes

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This is the angled infotainment center before going linear again in front of the passenger seat

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The gauges are straightforward.  It might take a little while to stop hitting the wrong steering wheel controls for what you want to accomplish.

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For the most part, it's logical and Germanic.

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Pardon the dust.  The bezels make sense.  The info box is ideal.  It neatly shows mph, time, outside temp., gear, odometer, and trip info. That button in the center is to reset the trip odometer.  I think it was only good for the current trip.

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The climate controls are very simple to operate and calibrate.  There is a cigarette lighter to charge phones.  There are small USB ports; not the kind I was looking for.

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Pardon the sand.  I used Eco mode and maybe that's why I got good fuel economy.  I like having the parking brake control here.  Kudos for being able to shut off the auto stop-start, which typically annoys me.

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Logical layout of controls for windows, mirrors, and door locks as well as a cup holder.  The placement of the trunk release here is also convenient.  (I forgot what the situation was with the fuel filler door ... I prefer a remote release for those as well.)  The grade of the materials - vinyls and brushed metal appliques - is not exactly uptown.

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For the size of the Jetta, the trunk is roomy and easy to configure with different types of luggage and other items you may have.

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The rear seat is roomy enough.  Note the coarse upholstery on the seats.  Again, you can see the caliber of the materials used.

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I don't see conveniences for rear seat passengers at the back of the console.

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Visibility across the rear window is somewhat okay.  I could do without those tall rear headrests.  It would be nice if they were removable and I couldn't tell if they were or weren't.  Many Jetta drivers may only drive with 1 or 2 passengers in the car.

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