Test Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TSI

Perhaps more so than any other model in its lineup, the Jetta is truly Volkswagen’s people’s car in North America. Starting at only $14,990, it’s the cheapest car the German marque offers here, having bumped its hatchback Golf sibling up a rung as a sportier, slightly more premium offering.

More than just about dollars and sense, the Jetta comes in enough flavours to satisfy a lot of different tastes and motoring needs. That basic Trendline car at under fifteen grand, features some seats and wheels, a meagre, inefficient lump of an engine and little else. But there are good German-engineered genes in the family and much better drivetrains and equipment levels can be had for higher budgets. And while the fan-favourite 2.0L turbo diesel TDI has been updated for 2015 and is catching most of the headlines, it’s the excellent 1.8L turbo gas engine that is featured in this review.

It’s not difficult to see why the Jetta remains as popular as it is.

Filling out the remarkable variety of engines in the Jetta lineup, a hybrid and a sportier GLI model will make their return to Canadian dealerships later this year, making this the only car in its class to offer four distinctly different powertrain formats. Throw a fuel-cell version and maybe a big, honkin’ V8 into the mix and VW would truly have every angle covered.

And it seems Canadians like the variety, for despite this being the fifth year of production of the current generation Jetta, the sales numbers have continued to rise here in the Great White North year over year. 2014’s 31,000 units sold represents a new record for the Volkswagen compact, and while still well short of the number of Civics Honda moved last year, the Jetta is unquestionably a major player in the Canadian compact car market.

It’s not difficult to see why the Jetta remains as popular as it is. Despite cost cutting measures for the current generation that launched in 2011 resulting in some cheaper trim pieces, the model has continued to improve and evolve to the current car’s best-ever offering.

The Jetta’s exterior is understated yet sophisticated as it has always been, like a plain but well-cut blazer. It’s casual enough to be contemporary, yet has enough class to be worn out to dinner and drinks. The subtly updated 2015 model is pretty much only identifiable by the LED lighting bling that’s been added to the headlight assembly, but that’s okay – it’s still instantly recognizable as a Jetta. The Silk Blue Metallic paint on our test car is an outstanding choice thanks to its impressive finish and radiant glow in the sunlight.

The fashionable little Fahrvergnügen looks good on the inside as well, in a simplistic way that only German designers seem to pull off without looking chintzy. This year the interior receives an update to the gauges, mimicking those found on the all-new 2015 Golf (now, no longer on the same platform as the Jetta), as well as some glossy piano-black trim and a larger infotainment screen.

That infotainment system deserves special mention too, since it’s part of the $2,500 Technology Package that adds navigation and a premium eight-speaker sound system. The Fender-branded setup has delighted this writer’s ears before in the new GTI and continues to impress here, being arguably the best system found in any current non-premium machine.

The upscale Highline trim of our press car also featured the “Vienna leather” seating that is neither overly styled, nor overly supportive, but comfortable enough that they shouldn’t contribute much to the wealth of chiropractors. A note of caution though: while the very light-coloured “ceramique” hides help to brighten an otherwise sombre cabin, they appear to be very easy to stain, as the marks on the low-mileage press car can attest.

Overall passenger space is mid-pack in the class with some of the newer competitors offering a bit more legroom here, or a bit more headroom there. Generally speaking, though, the Jetta is on par with the class leaders. Where it excels is in cargo space, with its 440 L of trunk capacity proving to be considerably more cavernous than any of its competitors.

The only gripe about the Jetta’s interior is its lack of automatic headlights. While this may seem trivial, with all the technology found in modern cars – especially ones like this reaching over the $30,000 threshold and featuring high-end bi-xenon units – it’s inexcusable. At the very least, the driver should be able to leave the headlights in the “On” position without suffering a berating buzzer every time the car is shut off. Headlights and taillights are safety devices, let’s try to prevent people from forgetting to use them, okay Volkswagen?

VWs have long been appreciated for their on-road manners, and while numbed a bit in this new Jetta with its electric assist steering (TSI and TDI models), the expected composure and stability of the handling remains. The steering is light and lacking some of the immediacy and tactile feel of older Vee-dubs, but the car sets into curves well and is agreeable enough when pushed for a bit of a frolic around the back roads.

It’s in those more aggressive situations that the engine and transmission awaken from their default, dormant commuter-car state. “S” mode, utilizing the paddle shifters on the steering wheel, keeps the little turbo engine rich with torque and the shifts themselves are a little friskier. For daily duties (and fuel savings) in “D” mode, the six-speed automatic’s shift action is lazy and slow, especially compared to the crisp action we’ve grown accustomed to with the dual-clutch DSG transmissions found in the diesel models.

The 1.8T engine, however, is a sweetheart. With loads of torque (VW claims 184 lb-ft, but truthfully, it feels like more, and the same 1.8T in Golf application is listed as 200 lb-ft on the American VW.com site) available from only 1,500 rpm all the way up to 4,750, the Jetta moves more effortlessly off the line and in passing maneuvers than expected. At highway speeds, thanks to the tall gearing suitable for long-distance tours, cruising at 120 km/h keeps the engine turning at only 2,000 rpm, resulting in a more tranquil place to enjoy that killer stereo. What’s more, with the engine not screaming, it helps burn less fuel, consuming only 6.3L of regular for every 100 km travelled on the highway (and 9.3 L in the city).

Ordering a Jetta with the 1.8T engine and a traditional stick-shift transmission would result in worse fuel efficiency (the manual is only a five-speed), but even greater driver involvement and enjoyment.

The Jetta is a stylish choice that plays into Volkswagen’s brand cachet that elevates it a bit above the Asian alternatives, at least in the minds of the Wolfsburg company’s loyal fans. Even though five years is an entire generation’s worth of time in the auto industry, Volkswagen’s compact sedan remains a relevant and popular choice thanks to the evolutionary updates bestowed upon it. The detail improvements for 2015 are bound to keep it a popular sales leader amongst the compact sedan class, and help maintain the Jetta’s position as Volkswagen’s true people’s car.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Cruze
Dodge Dart
Ford Focus
Honda Civic
Hyundai Elantra
Kia Forte
Mazda3
Subaru Impreza
Toyota Corolla

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Highline (1.8T, 6-speed automatic)
articles_PricingType 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Highline (1.8T, 6-speed automatic)
Base Price $27,390
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,395
Price as Tested $31,380
Optional Equipment Technology Package, $2,495
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.8
7 Exterior Styling
6 Performance
7 Interior
7 Comfort
7 Fuel Economy