by Alex Kramer
- German build quality
- Luxurious interior
- Improved acceleration
- Confident handling
- Classy styling
- Hefty curb weight
- Drivetrain could use refinement
- Intrusive center console
- A bit pricey for a compact
When it comes to the finer things in life, the place of origin often matters. Whether it’s a pair of Italian leather loafers, a Swiss watch, or a bottle of French wine, we’ve come to associate certain countries with quality craftsmanship in key products they produce. In the realm of cars, Germany has an enviable reputation for producing the worlds finest, with brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi representing the pinnacle of high-performance, luxury automobiles. Unfortunately, this level of quality often comes at a price. Or does it? The Volkswagen Jetta brings German design and engineering to a car that starts at well under $20,000. But does it still retain the same qualities that make other German cars so special? After a weekend of driving around the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re ready to weigh in on this budget Bavarian.
Our silver Jetta SE test model came nicely equipped, with options such as a 16″ alloy wheels, power moonroof, satellite radio, and 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. This pushed the MSRP to just over $22,000, and out of true budget territory, but the Jetta was never meant to be some generic econobox. From the rock solid build quality, to the composed ride, to the top-notch interior, the Jetta exudes a classiness that’s way beyond the average compact sedan. In fact, I’m sure a well-equipped Jetta would give some smaller luxury sedans a run for their money. Still, the car had a few quirks up its sleeve, including an uncommon 5-cylinder engine design and bold Audi derived front-end styling. Like the commercials Volkswagen uses to advertise the car, the Jetta presents a unique entry in the mass-market small car segment.
All it takes is to open and close one of the doors on the Jetta, and feel the nice resounding “thunk”, and you know the car in front of you is a solid piece of engineering. Teutonic is an adjective often used to describe German cars, and it definitely fits here. Everything from the exterior paint to the interior surfaces exudes quality in both materials and design. The only penalty for all this solid engineering is a hefty curb weight of close to 3300 lbs., which is several hundred pounds more than most compact cars.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior fit and finish is exceptional for a car of this price. The quality of materials used on the interior surfaces is outstanding, and the layout and design of the various controls is excellent. Front and rear leg room is also exceptional for a compact car, with plenty of space for four full-sized adults, and the trunk can easily handle several large suitcases.
My only complaint has to do with the way the center console is designed. If you have longer legs, like I do, the unique design of the console, which swoops toward the dash in an arc, could cause it to bump up against your right leg. Although this was just a minor annoyance, it proved more aggravating over time.