Driven: Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI – can the baby Passat still deliver?

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Times are tough when you’re a company building cars. You’ve got responsibilities to push sales, to hold on to market share, ensure your models stand out from the other players, cater for a wide scope of customer needs and demands, and keeping the rest out of the competition.

The Japanese have had the reliability game in their bags for years. They were seen upon as manufacturers with no fuss; economically efficient and simple to maintain, yet with an extensive supplies and parts network you could have your car out of the workshop in a week or two when in a pinch.

On the other end of the spectrum you had the premium marques – the Italians, French and Germans marques that brought the image of luxury and performance, where enthusiasts would go gaga over; not to mention a certain kind of stature for owning a Continental car.

Back in the 2000s, this situation was all too familiar – there was a huge gap between the frugal and the posh.

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So when the People’s Car set up shop in Malaysia in 2006, VW came in full force in the subsequent years to fill the void with their range of models with the introduction of their state-of-the-art TSI engines and quick shifting DSG transmissions to one-up the antiquated naturally aspirated engines and 4-speeder ‘boxes the Sushis had.

They were a force to be reckoned with: orders poured in, and their public image shot through the roof. In the eyes of those who bought one they were a game changer, which VW further solidified their position – the reign of that aforementioned gap was theirs to conquer. VW pulled every magician’s trick up its sleeve to enthral and entice, and it worked well to their advantage.

But the question lies herein, can VW continue to captivate? The sixth-generation Jetta gets a mild facelift and spars directly against competitors such as Honda’s very attractive Civic 1.5 Turbo. Yes, the East have forced induction now, and the refreshed Jetta will have to pull out all the stops for this contender.

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As the Jetta qualifies for the Government’s EEV (energy efficient vehicle) incentive, the savings rendered has gone into the car in place of better equipment, functionality and aesthetics. With prices slightly lower than the previous Jetta at RM129k for the top spec Highline, you get an even better deal for the same cost – and let’s not forget the currency which was far better off than before.

The question which comes to minds – are the upgrades worth it? Maybe. In place of the front halogen lamps are new, bi-xenon beamers with DRLs encasing the lower outline. The front fascia comes new with VW’s continued love for horizontal lines at the lower section, and at the grille comes with – yes, you guessed it – another chrome strip. It’s no surprise really, as straight, unobstructed lining seems to be the rage with VW’s art and design. As for the rear, it’s different but not much is done there. If you need a hint, look out for the debossed section between the subtly redesigned rear light reflectors.

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vw_jetta_009A facelift is never complete without a new set of wheels, and the Jetta now comes with new 17-inch Queensland wheels which suits the executive vehicle look, topped with 225/45 Continental MC5 rubbers which befits the purpose. Inside of the cabin, the seats are wrapped with black Vienna upholstery – at first sight they may not look too inviting but are surprisingly plush and comfortable. The shoulder support is excellent for a comfort oriented sedan and is made better with the electronic 12-way adjustability, albeit for the driver only.

At the centre of the cockpit is a new head unit model to replace the aging, previous generation era RCD330 with a new five-inch touchscreen with CD, auxiliary, SD card, Bluetooth and Mirrorlink support. The purpose of Mirrorlink is to connect your phone to the head unit where the phone’s functions are controllable via the head unit’s touchscreen, alongside the steering controls.

Sadly, as noble the intentions are, the feature falls into the “I know it’s there but it ain’t worth it” category, given the number of hoops to jump thru before ending up with something that ultimately disappoints. With royalties to be paid to the consortium, you’d think omitting support for it and throwing in a screen larger than what you’d find on a phone would be a better idea.

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Where the Jetta slightly loses out in performance compared to its predecessor, it comes in with much more reliability. Out goes the EA111 twincharged mill and in place lies an EA211 1.4 litre single-turbo lump that dishes out 150 HP and 250 Nm; that’s 10hp less but 10Nm more than the former but touted to be far more reliable off the factory. It’s also very well frugal, with 5 litres of fuel for every 100km thanks to the engine which comes with start-stop and better efficiency, brakes with energy regeneration and a coasting mode that disengages the DSG7 clutch when the throttle pedal is lifted off.

Even with a few spirited drives and rather ‘inefficient’ trips which more than the average driver would normally do, the fuel gauge needle took its own sweet time leaving the F mark – and it’s certainly assuring that the fuel station won’t be your best friend with the Jetta around.

As for the Jetta’s ride quality it just somewhat passes the mark. The 45 profile of those tyres that come with the Queenslands means that most of the unevenness and imperfections that Malaysian roads are so well known for makes its way into the suspension system, which for some reason does not absorb them too well either. I would not call the ride teeth jittering but it’s all too noticeable to myself, the driver and passenger included. Handling wise, the German auto is nonchalant but expected; it keeps to its line when told to, but it’ll begin to hesitate when you realise that the Jetta isn’t a sports sedan.

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So if you’ve been reading up till now, the baby Passat is roomy, has ample comfort, great fuel consumption and, while looks can be subjective, has renewed aesthetics that some will no doubt like. But if we have to be honest, the car is boring and that is the one chink in its armor. Don’t even get us started on the silly badging that now comes as default – doesn’t matter what VW says, the 280 TSI badge on the Jetta’s rump just does not compute.

With the Japanese hot on their heels in terms of technology and sophistication, it’s undeniably clear that the Jetta needs something new and fresh to keep up with the image they started off ten years ago. Until then, the Jetta remains the same old, very competent magician but with no new tricks up its sleeve.

 

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Having a penchant for cars since youth, he firmly believes that speed and stature go hand-in-hand. He enjoys the occasional spirited drive and can be found personally grooming his cars from time to time.

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