2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSi – review

2016 Volkswagen Jetta Tsi

2016 Volkswagen Jetta Tsi

I’ve always liked Volkswagens.  Years ago, we had a 1978 VW Rabbit handed down to us by my Dad who drove it for ten years without issue.  The front wheel driver was a blast to drive, with a 1588 cc fuel injected four cylinder and a 4-speed manual transmission (that was, to be diplomatic, a tad ‘notchy’.)  But after driving a 1976 Plymouth Fury behemoth, the Rabbit felt like a sports car.

For the past couple of decades, Volkswagens have truly been The ‘People’s’ Car, especially for those of us who derive pleasure from the driving experience.  As a ‘driver’, I can rely on VWs, especially any Golf (which the Jetta sedan is based upon) to deliver more fun per kilometre than most other cars.  The new Jetta generally follows in the family’s footsteps, but in a watered-down fashion.  The new Jetta feels more softly sprung and generally ‘softer’ than the last Jettas (or Golfs) we’ve driven of late.  So, the ‘fun factor’ I’ve come to expect from this new Jetta has definitely been diluted compared to previous models.

Still, the Jetta is enjoyable.  I especially like the (typically ‘Volkswagen’) instrument cluster, which is a model of beautifully clean design and superbly legible.

The Jetta's instrument cluster has a beautifully clean design and very legibible

The Jetta’s instrument cluster has a beautifully clean design and very legibible

Pricing

Our test unit was a 2016 Jetta 1.4 TSI Trendline+ with 6-speed automatic transmission.  While the base Trendline starts at a remarkably low price of $15,995, our ‘loaded’ ‘base’ car was fitted with popular options; heated fabric seats, automatic transmission and a connectivity package.  Our test unit even had steel wheels and hubcaps!  Indeed a rarity these days.  The as-tested price was an affordable $22,300 (+GST).

Driving and fuel economy

While I’ve loved VWs (especially the Golf) for their classically ‘Germanic’ handling with good steering feedback,  taut suspensions and precise steering, the Jetta felt softer than I expected (or wanted.)  Coincidentally, we had the 2016 Honda Civic the week prior to the Jetta, and odd to say, but the Civic felt more ‘German’ than the Jetta.  The Civic’s steering and suspension are both firmer and more communicative than the Jetta.

However, what the Jetta gives up to the Civic in handling, the Jetta delivers a slightly more absorbent ride.  But in the handling department, the Civic is the winner.

We were able to run a few tanks of fuel through the Jetta.  The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine puts out a strong 150 horsepower and stout 184 lbs-ft of torque, and never feels lacking for power under normal driving conditions.  The engine is powerful (for its size), smooth and eager.  On a trip from Calgary to Edmonton (with some city driving mixed in), the Jetta TSi returned a very good 5.9 L/100 km on regular unleaded fuel.  (That’s 47.9 Imp. mpg, loaded with luggage and 3 adults.)  Very nice.

Our only complaints about the Jetta apart from the ‘tinny’ sounding doors is the slight amount of wind and road noise at highway speed.  (Interestingly, we criticized the all-new Civic for its slight wind and road noise, too.  But the Civic definitely feels more ‘solid’ on the road.)

The bottom line

The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta TSI has a lot positive attributes.  It’s an easy car to drive, has a competitive price point and is fuel efficient.  If you are a die-hard Volkswagen fan, you won’t be disappointed.  Viewed on its own, the Jetta is a very good car.  While conservatively stylish, this sedan makes good use of the space for occupants and has a roomy trunk.

However, the all-new 2016 Honda Civic is a better choice for my money.  The Civic’s styling is more modern and ‘edgy’, and the compact Honda surprisingly manages to out-‘German’ the Jetta.  The Civic’s suspension is calibrated to be firmer (sportier) than the Jetta, and the Japanese engineers have tuned the Civic to give much better steering feedback to the driver.  For my money, the 2016 Civic betters the Jetta in almost every way.

Likes

  • Nimble, responsive handling – as driver friendly as a Labrador pup
  • Spacious cabin for 4 adults + 1 kidlet
  • 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine drives like a much larger engine
  • Highly legible instrument cluster
  • Fuel efficient – 5.9 L/100 km (47.9 Imp. mpg, 90-percent highway/10-percent city)

Dislikes

  • Doors sound ‘tinny’
  • Automatic transmission’s 1st to 2nd gear shifts can be surprisingly hard under light load in certain conditions
  • Heated steering wheel not available
  • Hubcaps – really?

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