22 March 2007
Und Ze Coal Miners Rejoiced!
Lo and behold, yet another rental experience was upon me about two weeks ago. Due to some rookie type driving issues, I managed to mangle the passenger side rear quarter panel on my own vehicle and had to bring it in for a big of body work. The gods must have been smiling on me that day, as Enterprise was kind enough to send a not so traditional rental vehicle for me- a gleaming new VW Jetta, equipped with the base 2.5 I5 engine.
First things first- the new generation Jetta is the blandest looking vehicle on the entire planet. Spend a day or two looking at the Jetta, and a passing Corolla looks like a Testarossa. Spend a day in a Jetta, and you'll come away thinking that it would be a perfect vehicle for Greg Kinnear. It didn't help that this particular model was clad in standard issue cheapo VW plastic hubcaps, and its black exterior hid a lot of the subtle creasing that dominates the design mantra of this generation. VERY subtle creasing. About the only interesting thing on the outside of the new Jetta is the new corporate face- a genetically compromised version of what Audi brought to market a few years ago. Thankfully, VW has brought out a 'City Jetta' vehicle this year in Canada, which is more or less a previous generation Jetta with a tiny engine and a tiny price- now that's a good looking car.
Move on inside, and the black theme continues. Everything is black. Everything. The shapes are pleasing to the eye, and the materials feel top notch- but damn is it dark in here. Without a moonroof, the look is slightly oppressive actually. German design at its finest. The base model Jetta comes equipped with most of the obvious standard stuff, but throws in airbags for everyone, traction control, heated seats, side mirror turn signal indicators, and ABS. This particular rental also featured a 6 speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic feature for when you're feeling frisky. The standard radio setup is to be avoided at all costs.
It is in its driving dynamics that the Jetta earns its keep. It exhibits a characteristic German suspension feel- much stiffer than anything else out there in the segment, with a beautifully weighted steering wheel that sends back the perfect amount of feedback from the road. I would imagine that buyers used to the floaty steering and suspension of the Corolla, Cobalt et al, will no doubt feel that the Jetta is a penalty box- and on that count they'll be wrong. The ride is never jarring, just very firm. Where the Jetta falls short is in its base 2.5 litre 5 cylinder engine and 6 speed automatic combination- it sounds great and it revs happily to the redline with a swoosh reminiscent of a turbo, but there is just too much heft and too little power to motivate the Jetta properly. Exacerbating the problem is the 6 speed auto, which apparently has a ridiculously short first and second gear that necessitates a lot of unnecessary gear shifting by the auto in stop and go traffic around the city.
Overall, the Jetta is a decent little car . In the past, one could say that and also add in 'unique', but the good people at VW have decided to erase that pro by anonymizing it to the point of English cuisine. Unfortunately, this decent little car comes with a not so decent little price- starting at 25k Canadian and quickly escalating in the mid-30's, the Jetta is simply overpriced in this segment, even with some industry exclusive features like the 6 speed auto and the 5 cylinder motor, which cannot overcome the austerity and paucity of features at the base levels. A comparable Mazda 3 or Honda Civic is more than up to the task of taking on this VW. Sure, you can get all the goodies at 33k, but at 33k, you can get a well equipped Altima, Accord, Camry, Aura, etc... all of which are bigger, more powerful, and just as well engineered in many respects. Chope 3-5k off the price and we're talking- until then, the Jetta will remain in the domain of perky college girls with a 2.5 GPA and rich parents, and people without enough money to buy an Audi A3.