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The new Volkswagen Jetta is dejà vu at first sight

Volkswagen decided to give Jetta a second facelift in three years. However, it wasn’t much of a gamble and the German car manufacturer probably doesn’t expect the sedan to take a serious bite out of the market. In its 2015 version, the Jetta has only got a minor nip-and-tuck, but as a product it remains a tough sedan with a luxurious feel inside.

I hate to start off on a negative note, but the refreshed Jetta doesn’t look too different from the outgoing model. But hang on. Take a step closer and you realise the front-end has been re-worked, but only just. After a long hard look, you notice the three-strake grille that has replaced the Vento-like, two-strip one. So while the Jetta earlier looked like a bigger version of the Vento, it is now a mirror image of the premium Passat. There is no doubt that the broader front grille, which merges with the headlamps, boosts its premium credentials, but the Jetta’s design, like that of most of Volkswagen’s models, is so subtle that it tends to get lost in the crowd.

The front bumper has been re-sculpted to give it an edgier look. The lower lip grille and air duct vents have been stretched to go all the way to the foglamp housing. All this has been done to improve the sedan’s aerodynamics and to improve airflow into the engine bay. The fog lamps are now bigger, while the bonnet has been given prominent creases. It is quite obvious Volkswagen wants to give the Jetta a more masculine appeal. But in all honesty, the subtlety of these changes robs them of visibility. Likewise, there is no tectonic shift at the rear, where the bumpers have been widened and and now come with new reflectors. The shape of the tail lamps has been reworked for a more angular aspect merging into the boot. With design cues borrowed possibly from Audi, the Jetta now has a faintly crafted duck-tail rear spoiler, though it is not as conspicuous as in the Audi A3.

The cabin feels all too familiar, which means it has more ups than downs. The interiors have remained virtually unchanged, but what catches the eye is the new three-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel equipped with paddle shifters (though only in the diesel variant). But sadly, the steering wheel, the switches and the paddle shift are all knock-offs of the Polo GT. The Jetta does have goodies like the driver fatigue detection system, which analyses steering movements to calculate if the driver is tired. If the system reckons it indeed is a cause of concern, warning lights blink and buzz to alert the driver. This great feature injects a whole new level of safety into driving. However, I somehow felt that by going overboard with technology, Volkswagen forgot to add basic features like a rear camera to ease parking woes.

The cabin in black and beige oozes luxury, and the wooden panels on the doors and above the glove box add a touch of sophistication. The Jetta has always been and remains an extremely spacious car. The seats are very supportive, even if slightly low, especially at the rear. Getting in and out of the car for a 6-foot-plus passenger can be cumbersome as the knees scrape the seat. But once settled in, there are acres of legroom.

The Jetta retains its current powerplants — a 1.4 TSI petrol and 2.0-litre TDI diesel engines. The former is mated with a six-speed manual transmission, while the diesel comes in both six-speed manual and automatic variants. The petrol engine, all enthusiastic with 120 bhp, provides a refined yet a linear acceleration. It’s not supposed to provide a blistering pick up, but once you cross the 1800 rpm mark, the horses begin to gallop at some serious pace, and before you know it, the Jetta is cruising in the 120 kmph region.

The diesel engine, the mainstay in the Volkswagen family, throws a decently calculated punch, and the automatic DSG shifts gears quickly, neutralising any lag in the process. But getting into the manual mode is how you can derive more power from the 138 bhp engine. The slick and easy-to-change paddle shifters can be quite addictive; I kept down-shifting even when the Jetta was on auto mode.

There has been much ado over that fact that the Jetta does not use the new MQB platform, which is employed for the Skoda Octavia and Audi A3. But if you were to consider the build quality, the Jetta feels superior to the Octavia, while seriously questioning you on whether you should go for the Audi. It becomes even more evident when you close the doors of the Jetta — there is a solid thump that can’t be said about the Skoda. And the Volkswagen certainly has a far more accomplished ride quality due to its independent suspension set-up. And on unpredictable Indian road conditions, that is a huge plus.

This Volkswagen sedan is as solid as a tank, and has a range of safety and comfort. The cabin is spacious with comfortable seats and a fairly powerful air conditioner. But the Jetta’s drawback remains its looks, which lack individuality and tend towards the Vento and Passat. And that is my grouse against the car. The Jetta needs to have a more in-your-face presence to complement its rock solid advantages.

Arup Das is features editor at AutoX


Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI
Engine: 1,390 cc
Power: 120 bhp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm @ 1,500 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Price: Rs 14.15-15.67 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI
Engine: 1,968 cc
Power: 138 bhp @ 4,200 rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1,750 - 2,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual / 6-speed DSG automatic
Price: Rs 15.67-20.17 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)