Big car, small price.
- Seattle, Washington
The 2017 VW Jetta reveals just how different the German brand's approach is to offering Canadians a small sedan to complement its hot-selling hatchback, the Golf. Whereas in past years the Jetta and Golf shared platforms, engines, and interior designs, the most recent version of Volkswagen's 4-door has carved out its own path - one that's significantly larger, and in some ways not nearly as engaging as the popular hatch. By accentuating the differences rather than leveraging any similarities between the Golf and Jetta, Volkswagen stands starkly opposed to the share and share alike philosophy that has guided the development of rivals like the Ford Focus, Mazda Mazda3, and even the Honda Civic and Chevy Cruze sedan-and-hatch pairings.
How does this shake out for the average driver? To be sure, the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is worth a look - particularly if interior room is your overriding concern - but we're hard pressed to lavish the same glowing praise on the sedan as we are its hatchback cousin.
This is not the budget European tourer of years past.
As noted above, the Jetta is big, and noticeably so when compared against almost any other contemporary compact four-door option. This is both a blessing and a curse for the car, depending on your particular perspective. For families seeking a cavernous rear seat suitable for stowing even teenage children (and an enormous trunk to boot), the Volkswagen Jetta makes an affordable alternative to a true mid-size sedan, but the dynamic dulling that the car's plus-size dimensions exacts from the chassis will have past Jetta fans - or anyone whose driven the recent Golf - furrowing their brow in confusion. This is not the budget European tourer of years past, but rather a more blatant paean to buyers who want a larger car at an affordable price, and who aren't particularly concerned that it drives big, too.
There are three turbocharged engines offered with the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta, and like the chassis this trio offers competent performance without edging over the line into excitement. That's to be expected from the 1.4-litre 4-cylinder entry-level mill, with its 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and perhaps even the next-step-up 1.8-litre unit that adds 20 horses but holds the line when it comes to torque production. The former maximizes efficiency and puts up respectable figures when compared to the Skyactiv and EcoBoost engines also available in the segment, while the latter is perfectly acceptable in daily driving (although not quite as thrifty at the fuel pump). Transmission choices for the Jetta include a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
The GLI engine lacks the extra torque that was gifted to the GTI in 2015.
The third member of the turbo trio is a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine lifted from the Golf GTI's engine bay and installed in the Jetta GLI. It's here that the biggest disconnect between the two cars can be felt. Whereas the hatch is lithe and lively when driven hard, the GLI sedan seems unable to overcome its girth, regardless of the improved suspension, bigger brakes, and additional forward cog in the manual gearbox that come with its heart transplant (a dual-clutch automated manual also joins the options list for the GLI). The engine also lacks the extra torque that was gifted to the GTI in 2015, which means its 210 horsepower are complemented by 207, rather than 258 lb-ft of twist.
Prioritizing an accessible starting price is a guidepost that has influenced more than just the Jetta's mechanical bits, too. Whereas the Golf - and indeed, many other compact cars - have moved up in the world of cabin accoutrements, Volkswagen's small sedan is somewhat spartan as a base model, but grows a little more enticing as you move up the trim ladder. It's a case of 'what might have been' rather than anything lacking in VW's design department, as the Jetta feels like an interior outlier when compared against the rest of the brand's line-up. This sedan really could offer world-class accommodations, but the cost-conscious philosophy guiding its development asks buyers to settle for less, and while the top-tier Highline trim level feels well-equipped, the extra cash you'll have to shell out to get it will most likely have you peeking into rival showrooms in search of better features and stronger interior execution.
Still, not all areas of the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta have felt the same pinch. A blind spot monitoring system is offered with the sedan, as is a collision mitigation system that will automatically brake the car if a forward impact is deemed imminent (although strangely, the Jetta lacks the Golf's available lane departure warning system), and these advanced safety features complement excellent crash test scores. Volkswagen has also recently updated the Jetta to include a much more attractive - and easer to use - touchscreen information system.
It's a beautiful world for new car buyers when a 'good' entry-level sedan like the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta is overshadowed by a host of 'excellent' alternatives from a number of competing brands (including the previously-mentioned Focus and Cruze, as well as sales juggernauts like the Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla). This isn't the first time an automaker has placed price above most everything else in an affordable car, but given the escalation in features, materials quality, and drivetrain power and efficiency we've seen from almost every other four-door contender, the Jetta is in tough to satisfy anyone looking for more than a well-priced, comfortable, and spacious compact vehicle.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting