I must admit I wasn’t expecting much from the new Jetta when setting out to see its European launch in Munich last night. I, like many others, had always seen it as merely a slightly awkward and compromised ‘Golf with a boot’.
But not anymore. And, judging some of the forum comments on our news story, most of you would seem to agree, too.
The Jetta was known as a ‘Golf with a boot’ because, well, it was. As the Jetta’s technical project manager Michael Hinz told me, “It was easier and cheaper to do it that way. But this time we’ve started from scratch.”
The Jetta may use the same PQ35 platform as the Golf, has the same radio and similar switchgear and a similar engine range. But the similarities stop there.
The wheelbase is 70mm longer than the old Golf-derived Jetta to offer more boot space and 67mm of extra legroom for rear passengers. The front axle has also been moved forward, while the rear track has been widened to allow for the two differing rear suspension set-ups.
The Golf and Jetta used to share the same doors for reduced costs – not anymore. Even the dashboard is new.
VW doesn’t try and hide the fact the Jetta has been designed primarily for the US. “We can adapt the car to the needs of a particular market, but it’s fundamentally designed for the US,” says Hinz. “It’s in the details: things like the handbrake being moved to accommodate larger cup holders. This is what we were being told to do in the JD Power survey and it’s very important we listen to this in the US.”
VW acknowledges the old Jetta didn’t really meet the demands of the US market. It was just too sophisticated and expensive. That’s why the US version has a more basic suspension set-up and a lower quality interior to bring its price in line with the market norm.
“The old Jetta was a very good car, but just too expensive for the US market,” says Hinz. “A Corolla cost $15k, the Jetta cost $17k. The market didn’t want such a sophisticated car like they do in European countries.”
Being able to offer two distinct versions of the Jetta makes it a real global car for VW, much like with Ford’s new Focus. It will be built in Mexico, but production in China and India is also likely to follow. Buyers in these latter two markets, perhaps surprisingly, are more likely to get the more sophisticated car due to VW’s status there.
“VW is a premium brand in China so buyers want a sophisticated car,” says Hinz. “India also sees us as premium but they’re not as keen on sophistication. We could build it in China and possibly India to significantly boost volume and reduce prices in domestic markets.”
Being offered in so many markets also allows for much greater sales. Hinz remains coy of numbers, but expect it to sell in much greater numbers than the 1.3 million units VW shifted of the fifth-generation model. Total Jetta sales since the 1979 original now stand at 9.6m.
All this raises the question: what’s the point of the Passat, given the Jetta is just 130mm shorter? “This is missing the point,” says Hinz. “The whole point of the Jetta is about simplicity and be able to offer the car at a competitive price point, particularly in the US.
“The Passat is more of technological showcase and has more expensive options and higher standard equipment levels. Offering these on the Jetta would increase the price; it would no longer be relevant.”