Enter the Competent Compact: the 2016 VW Jetta 2.0L
It sounds as if you’ve just taken off at the Le Mans starting post, but then you see everyone else passing you with ludicrous ease. That’s probably the defining statement of the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L. It tries hard to be a sports car, but doesn’t really have the heart for it. In the process, however, it does make you feel as if you’ve taken your compact family car to a lap circuit.
In all other respects, however, it’s a reassuringly typical competent German product.
The car is not lacking when it comes to satisfying material quality, safety, and dependability surrounding you in a surprisingly spacious and comfortable cabin.
But let’s get back to its wannabe sports car credentials. The Jetta models in the Carlease stable come with a Sport mode on the auto stick that adds a few revs between every gear change, resulting in a sound that would compete with ease next to a revving Alfa Romeo 4C, for instance. It thrills you with its growling ferocity. The thrill runs up your arms from your hands gripped around the sports steering wheel borrowed from the GTI. That’s fun stuff in itself, but don’t expect performance that rivals that of the hot hatch.
The inline-four engine provides pretty high torque for its class at low revs, and is supported by suspension that’s tuned for a low-slung performance car. Perfectly poised between a soft city ride and a hard-charging track assault, the suspension has a satisfying feel that grips the tarmac while going easy on your spinal column, a balance that eludes even urban warriors like the Mustang, and evokes echoes of a BMW 3 Series.
After the thrill is gone
Get past the sports credentials of the Jetta and you discover a well-constructed small sedan that seats four adults with ease – no scraped knees in the back seat – and a boot that is generous for its class.
The defining qualities of the Jetta 2.0L are its comfort and competence. The seats are well constructed for lumbar support on long drives; road noise is minimal, (although the roar of the engine seems to be funneled back into the cabin for the driver’s aural pleasure); the glove box is large and compartmentalized; and the 6-speaker sound system is adequate for the cabin size but without Bluetooth connectivity on some models.
The 6-speed automatic transmission on the Carlease Jetta is smooth and unobtrusive in the up-shifts. Floor the pedal past the stop for a forced down-shift, however, and you will experience a lag before the lower gear kicks in. This makes your lift-off at traffic lights a slow burn rather than rocket-propelled, unlike similar models like the Hyundai Elantra.
The steering is reasonably responsive, but could do with a little less stiffness at lower speeds. The GTI-inspired steering wheel has all the mod-cons you’d expect on it, including sound, display, and cruise controls but without the paddle shifters.
Volkswagen has crammed as many features as it could to lift the Jetta above the compact crowd of Corollas, Civics, Mazda 3s, and Elantras. We especially appreciated the auto-up and -down feature on all four windows, a simple buzz that one hopes for but never finds on most cars in the same range.
The manually adjusted air-conditioning is competent. The electrically adjusted wing mirrors are a little small and need to be set just right to get proper visibility. The info panel between the rev counter and speedometer provides myriad bits of useful information, most in real-time. And the driver, passenger, and curtain air-bags make you feel safe and cocooned.
Overall, the Jetta 2.0L makes a quintessentially German statement with competent ride handling, decent cornering, communicative steering, confident acceleration, a comfortable and spacious cabin and boot, and class-leading fuel efficiency.
Win awards it will not, but turn heads it will, if only for the sound it makes.
|German engineering (and badge!)||Labored lift-off|
|Safety||Small wing mirrors|
|Comfort and space|
|Sports car handling|
Specifications and comparisons
|VW Jetta||Honda Civic||Ford Focus ST||Toyota Corolla||Mazda 3|
|Engine||2.0L I4 FWD||2.0L I4 FWD||2.0L I4 FWD||2.0L I4 FWD||2.0L I4 FWD|
|Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)||7.1||5.3||7.4||7.7||5.9|
|0-100 kph (sec.)||12.0||8.5||6.5||9.7||9.5|
|Top Speed (kph)||193||200||246||195||210|
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