It’s a strange feeling when your favorite indie band gets a contract and changes their sound to appeal to more listeners. Fans of the Volkswagen Jetta can appreciate this concept. With the 2013 version of the mid-size sedan, VW has done what is necessary to attract more buyers, but those same changes are what might turn off longtime Jetta owners.
Volkswagen has its eye on world domination in sales, and that means creating a sedan that our dull American sensibilities can absorb. No longer the edgy, near-performance machine, Jetta is aiming for a quieter corner of the market. The good news is there is still room for the performance buyer.
You would not know changes had been made by looking at the new Jetta. The sedan’s clean lines and minimalist design announce the same European-style sedan. In an era where new production techniques are pushing the boundaries of what kinds of shapes we can give new cars, the Jetta’s sophisticated design is actually a welcome relief. The Jetta’s overall visual impression is almost Apple-clean.
The same is true for the Jetta’s interior, where the simple threeknob climate controls are almost an endangered species in new cars. Many automakers complicate what should be a very simple process to set the temperature and fan speed. This is unnecessary, and thankfully, Volkswagen agrees.
The wheelbase of the 2013 Jetta has an overall length that is more than three-and-a-half inches longer. This pays dividends in the cabin, where the mid-sizeV-Dub feels more like a large family sedan. Never once did it feel cramped, and the rear seats always had plenty of legroom.
Our Jetta SEL test model has a starting price of $24,805. The car came with navigation, sunroof, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and V-Tex, and composite leatherette upholstery. Also part of the package was the Fender premium sound system. This is perhaps one of the best audio systems available in a new car, rivaling any of the designer stereos offered by luxury automakers. It was crisp and pronounced, yet delivered heart-palpitating bass. Perfect for listening to that grunge band that sold out to tour with a hip-hop artist.
The spaciousness, combined with a simple layout, will appeal to many potential buyers, as will the user interface for the navigation and entertainment system. The graphics are crisp, and the navigation system is smooth, with very little refresh time. This will pay dividends as you take directions in a city like Boston, which seems to confuse certain NAV systems when driving through the North End or Beacon Hill.
The screen is not very large, though a larger screen might overwhelm the interior feel of the Jetta. Not so with this smaller, yet still functional, unit.
Where this Jetta compromises is on handling and drive feel. Predecessors to this sedan have been among the most sought after for front-wheel-drive performance. It was always expected as part of German engineering. But this Jetta is not built in Germany. It is designed and built in Mexico and geared toward the massive highways and soul-crushing trafﬁc of the American commute. Focus is put on a softer ride as opposed to the tight-handling Jettas of yore. A previous Jetta owner hopping into a 2013 model will experience more body roll than expected, as well as more ambiguous steering.
The Jetta is offered with a 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4, and 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline-5. Given the just-enough acceleration of the 2.5L, I wonder about the lackluster power of the smaller base engine. Proponents will argue in favor of the 2.0L’s 34 miles per gallon in highway driving, but with a fuel economy of 23 mpg city, 33 highway, losing 55 horsepower over one mile per gallon is not a worthy tradeoff.
For anyone not content with the power in these two models, two more models are offered that should quench your need for speed. The Jetta TDI comes with a 2.0-liter, turbodiesel inline-4.This engine makes 140 horsepower, and an impressive 236 pound feet of torque, while returning 30 mpg city and 42 highway.
Don’t want to deal with a diesel engine? The Jetta GLI comes with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-4 that puts out 200 horsepower, while delivering the same 22/33 fuel economy numbers as the less powerful 2.5L. Given that our test Jetta was nearly $25,000 when factoring in the $795 destination charge, the $23,000 to $25,000 price range of theTDI, and the $23,945 starting price of the GLI seem far more palatable, and both deliver a more dialed-in driving experience.
If VW really wants a top-selling line, they can’t do it without a small car for the masses. However, the German automaker has not completely turned its back on the enthusiast driver, whose admiration for the Jetta has resulted in its premium brand reputation. Those who want the spirited driving experience of days past still have options in the lineup. Even the band that sells out still plays an intimate, unplugged show—the tickets just cost more.