Road Test: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta

A road test: the definitive verdict on a given car, and a stalwart of automotive publications for decades.  The ability of a journalist to wax lyrically about applying a “dab of oppo” to any number of übercars is what gets a petrolhead’s blood flowing.  Generally speaking, the more exotic the car, the more interesting the article, and it doesn’t get much more exciting than a ride in a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.

Anyways, why don’t we talk about what I’ve actually been hooning about in: a 2012 Comfortline Jetta. 

Let’s start by saying that this was not a proper road test where I was invited to a car’s launch with a closed off race track to exploit it to its fullest.  As I’m not an automotive journalist any reviews I do are: infrequent, out of my own pocket, and without any manufacturer’s permission.  This limits my road test possibilities, but it does make driving any seemingly mundane people carrier much more special.

Enter at your cue of “mundane” the VW Jetta, the stud in the VW stable (especially in the US market). Not particularly a muscular brute, but a fertile reproducer none-the-less who has currently sired over 10 million examples in its thirty-three years of production.  Across the globe the Jetta has been sold under many names: Atlantic, Bora, Fox, Sagitar, and Vento are just a few, but no matter the name it’s the cheap VW sedan that looks a heck of a lot like a Golf with a proper boot. 

My day with the Jetta only happened because my GTI needed some maintenance, and as I have a sweet warranty I was able to procure a rental for my commuting troubles (it’s funny to note that I get a rental, while my Mum’s Mercedes warranty doesn’t provide one).  Up pulled a 2012 Jetta with only 2000km on the odometer, and simultaneously a grimace appeared on my face.  I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I was hoping for a Touareg for some reason.

My road test was limited as I had to cram my regular life around the assessment of the Jetta, but I was able to summarize that although it’s nice to try new things, the Jetta was not a car for me.  Similar in power to my beloved old Golf, the Jetta has a 2.0L in-line four-cylinder with 115hp.  But, unlike the Golf, the Jetta is an absolute pig to drive.  I swear that this engine was designed to infuriate anyone who would be unfortunate enough to come into contact with it.  The sound, the performance, and the fuel economy are all horrible, which is a real shame as you would at least expect good gas mileage from such an un-sporting car.

Let’s start with some positives before I get up on my soapbox.  The overall look of this, the sixth generation Jetta, is very attractive.  My particular car arrived covered in Toronto-grade snowy grim, but it couldn’t hide the athletic German appearance that suggests the car was hewn from solid stone (this was helped by “my” car’s Reflex Silver Metallic paint).  The prominent front lip was a particular muscular favorite.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the designers spent most of their time weaving an attractive cloth to wrap around an unappealing package with.  This almost base line model is more spartan that the Sierra dessert, as I’m sure that the dessert at least comes equipped with an armrest.  No Bluetooth or Nav is completely acceptable, as is a lack of power seats, but no armrest?  Where in the heck would you like my right arm to go Volkswagen?  I can only assume that this glaring omission is used to keep both hands on the wheel at all times, but if a $6,000 cheaper Kia Rio comes with one as standard than you know you have problems.  Sorry.  I guess I should categorize this as “You know what really grinds my gears?” and not “Road Test”. 

After the non-existent armrest, the seats are really the only other let down in an interior which otherwise has a predictably German lay-out.  The steering wheel seems to be from a car much higher up the VW hierarchy.  Boot space is large, and the rear seats comfortably seat a six-footer with tons of leg and head room to spare.  Overall, the car is great for families, just ones with drivers who do without a right arm.

If the exterior is The Good, and the interior The Bad, then the engine, steering, and transmission have to be The Ugly.  In my ‘04 Golf the engine would sing all the way to the red-line, the steering was weighty and communicative, and the transmission was never marred by stupid electronics that force you into top gear.  As the Jetta was a rental I felt no qualms about revving the nuts off the thing at every possible opportunity, and in fact, doing this was the only way to actually achieve any form of acceleration.  Applying part throttle would produce next to no forward momentum, and when pushed, the Jetta can only reach 100km/h in 12.2 seconds.  Not exactly mind blowing stuff.

The true horribleness of the engine was exposed during some highway driving, where you would expect to achieve the best fuel economy.  It is possible to save the baby whales from your carbon dioxide, but only if you never have the need to overtake anyone.  When passing other cars I would apply just a tiny bit of throttle pressure when suddenly the car would downshift two gears and the tachometer needle would head towards the 7,000rpm limiter.  After completing the jolty pass the engine would revert back to its favorite place – sixth gear.  I say “jolty” because for some reason the creators of the laudable DSG transmission cannot make a basic auto that swaps gears any smoother than a kid learning manual for the first time.  Driving through thirty minutes of downtown traffic felt like I was stuck in a never ending earthquake.  And if you select the “manual” mode (giving you control of the shifts) this all gets much, much worse.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the God awful steering.  Up to this point the 2.0L Jetta would be an okay car for people who don’t really give a crap about cars.  Yes it’s jerky and underpowered, but it’s also practical and cheap, so the uninitiated into the Cult of Cars wouldn’t bat an eyelash.  But I challenge anyone to take this car for a spin and not notice that the steering has no idea what the hell is going on.  Driving this car is the closest you can get to the feeling of piloting a cloud.  You’re unsure what’s happening beneath you, and when you try to turn the experience is a slow and ponderous one.  .  You never see a cloud making tight, apex clipping turns, and the same can be said of the Jetta.  Turning the wheel while driving in a strait line results in no perciebvable change in direction, and you must provide at least a half rotation of lock to start drifting left or right.  Absolutely horrible, and not the usual precision handling that we expect from VW’s offerings.

If you like cars you should be content that the continuing popularity of the Jetta helps to pay for the creation of cars like the GTI and Golf R, and also finance VW’s ownership of Lamborghini and Bugatti.  If you don’t like cars you probably aren’t reading this, and you might think about owning a Jetta.  By all means please do.  I don’t really understand your reasoning, but someone needs to buy the crap cars if others are to have the über ones.

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~ by ubercar on January 16, 2012.

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