Quite a decent car, albeit one that’s hard to pin down

What is it?

Volkswagen's Jetta is back, and it's predicted to sell as hotly in the UK as ever... Estimated annual volume is all of 3000 units a year, equating roughly to Golf sales over a decent fortnight. The UK doesn't quite 'get' saloons like this one.

They get them in the States, where more than 120,000 Jettas will sell a year. It's also cheap (there): it's built in Mexico, where US models are fitted with torsion beam rear axles and hard interior trim. Euro variants are priced higher thanks to multi-linked rears, better trimmed insides and their Atlantic cruise. Still, £17k-£22k or so isn’t bad, given its size.

See pics of the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI in action

Ah yes, the Jetta's size. VW says it bridges the gap between the Golf and Passat. Yet, at 4.64m long it's a good 45cm longer than a Golf, and just 12cm shorter than a Passat. Its boot holds 510 litres (Golf only 350, Passat 545) and there's ample room for adults to sit behind adults in the cabin.

The Jetta is longer even than a BMW 3-Series, leaving it in a peculiar hinterland, especially for those compiling company car lists, entitled 'what the heck is it?'

That solving nothing, let's move on.

What's it like?

Not at all bad. Competitive in its class? Definitely, if you can define its competitors. The meat of the Jetta range finishes where the Passat's gets going, so it undercuts its nearest obvious rival, Volvo's S40, which it also betters.

In terms of interior quality the Jetta's at Golf, perhaps just sub-Golf, levels rather than Passat ones, but in terms of dynamism and involvement it's closer to its larger sibling. Which means it's… fine. Its electrically-assisted steering is responsive and well weighted, it rides respectably, turns adequately.

Our test car was equipped with the ubiquitous 2.0-litre TDI unit developing the same 138bhp you'll find throughout the VW range, and noise levels are low. Very low, in fact. The six-speed optional DSG transmission (a six-speed manual is standard) is fine, too – at its worst during low-speed manoeuvring.

All of which makes the Jetta a car with some reasonably compelling characteristics.

Should I buy one?

Maybe. Tell me you were thinking of buying one, and I'd think that was a decent enough idea.

Yet, tell me you wanted a family-sized Volkswagen, and it wouldn't occur to me to recommend a Jetta over a Golf. Plus ça change.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0TDI 140 DSG

Price: £21,000 (est); Top speed: 136mph; 0-62mph: 9.5sec; Economy: 53.3mpg; Co2: 138g/km; Kerb weight: 1411kg; Engine: 4cyls in line, turbodiesel; Power:138bhp at 4200rpm; Torque: 236lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd dual-clutch auto

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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tannedbaldhead 25 January 2011

Re: Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI 140 DSG

Dimebar wrote:
The Jetta boot is huge and seats 4 adults in comfort.

Yup and I'll bet it's not a bad drive either. I think everyone has missed the big point here though. It's not the Jetta that's the pointless car here. The Jetta manages to provide the space, comfort and practicality to make one wonder who needs the extra bulk and occupied roadspace of the Passat. If these two were the only cars on my company car list I'd have the Jetta. If possible I'd spend the saving on toys and a more powerful engine.

Dimebar 25 January 2011

Re: Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI 140 DSG

I think the Jetta is almost the perfect everyday car.

It's very well built, great for long distance motorway work, refined, economical, looks smart yet is compact enough to fit into parking spaces etc. The Passat is about 20cm longer and that means to me a tight squeeze into some parking spaces. Or even parking on the front of my house.

The Jetta boot is huge and seats 4 adults in comfort. It's also front wheel drive which is better than a RWD in poor weather. At the end of the day who needs the ultimate in entertaining handling in an everyday car? That handling of BMW's etc can end in tears sometimes.

yvesthefrog 25 January 2011

Re: Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI 140 DSG

"You'd have to really want a saloon."

Now, over the years, I have owned just about every VW going and fit for my purpose at that time, from Polo(s) to Passat(s) petrol and diesel. Plus a motley collection of Peugeot, Mazda and others (including several Renault but I was young then...)

I happen to need a saloon now and the Jetta fits the bill admirably: it is well finished, very quiet, superbly economical, fitted with just about all I need barring the far too expensive GPS, AND it carries four adults in comfort and peace from the Algarve to Paris with their luggage. What other cars can meet these requirements, at that price and with the same level of refinement? And it can also be hustled along when one feels like a bit of fun on secondary roads, believe it or not...

It may be the case that in the company-car orientated UK market, with its overcrowded roads and tight city centres, this car is overlooked. That said, to denigrate it or to damn it with faint praise is somewhat short-sighted. And yes, mine is a very subdued/sober/classy shade of dark metallic grey: it does stand out in the car-park!