New Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG

What is it?

Volkswagen’s all-new Jetta saloon. It’s headed to UK showrooms in spring 2011, but it’ll be bigger news in the US, a market much keener on compact saloons for which this improved and enlarged version of VW’s Golf-based four-door has been expressely designed.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:Jetta heading to UK showrooms in Spring 2011

VW is aiming for massive sales gains in North America over the next five years. Previous versions of its Jetta and Passat have been over-priced and over-specified for US tastes, it says, and also extremely difficult to make a profit from, having been built in Europe and imported to the US.

See the road test pics of the VW Jetta

This new Jetta will be built exclusively in Puebla, Mexico, and goes on sale in the US this year for less than $16,000. Which makes it as cheap as a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic saloon; cheaper even than a Chevy Cruze in Chevrolet’s home market.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:Jetta heading to UK showrooms in Spring 2011

Unfortunately, UK versions of the Jetta won’t be such compelling value – but they should still look cheap. While entry-level US Jettas make do with cheaper multi-point injection petrol engines, less standard equipment, hydraulic power steering, a torsion beam rear axle and slightly harder cabin plastics, British ones will get more expensive TSI and TDI powerplants, multi-link rear suspension, electro-mechanical power steering and proper slush-moulded dashboards. So they’ll cost more than US Jettas to make.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:Jetta heading to UK showrooms in Spring 2011

Still, the Jetta should start at roughly £17k for a 1.2 TSI in the UK, rising to around £22k for a range-topping 2.0 TSI petrol with DSG – value which, for a roomy family saloon, isn’t to be sneezed at.

What’s it like?

Our test Jetta was a 197bhp 2.0 TSI DSG – a close, if not quite perfect match for the range-topping Jetta that’ll be offered in the UK next year.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:Jetta heading to UK showrooms in Spring 2011

VW has added 90mm to the overall length of this car. It’s lost some of the appealing compactness of the old Bora and current Jetta as a result. But with 70mm of that extra length gone into the wheelbase, the Jetta’s now a cleverly packaged, surprisingly accommodating passenger car. Golf-derived it may be, but there’s more legroom in the back of the new Jetta than you’ll find in a Honda Accord, Seat Exeo or Volvo S40, and enough head and shoulder space for a 6ft 3in occupant to get truly comfortable. The Jetta’s boot is an enormous one too: 510 litres with the seats up.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:Jetta heading to UK showrooms in Spring 2011

The cabin quality and material tactility of our test car was good, if not quite up to Wolfsburg standards, but both will be improved in time for the Jetta’s European launch. In the main, the car’s cabin fixtures and fittings felt solid and expensive, in line with those of a familiar European Golf.

Second-rate refinement is another way you might have expected a Mexican-built VW to fall short of European standards, but this Jetta won’t confirm expectations that way, either. Mechanical refinement is very good; our TSI was smoother and quieter than a Golf GTI. It wasn’t quite as well isolated from wind and road noise, and didn’t quite have the same hushed and absorbent secondary ride as the Golf. Still, its rolling refinement felt good enough to put the likes of the Renault Laguna and Honda Accord to shame.

Slightly slacker body control made our Jetta fall short of the Golf’s standards on handling and roadholding, but that was at least partly due to softer North American chassis settings.

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI Sport DSG:TSI is smoother and quieter than a Golf GTI

On northern California’s twisting coastal ‘Route 1’, the Jetta felt like a larger and slightly more cumbersome drive than the old car, and lacked a little of the trademark precision of European VWs. However, it provided just enough cornering composure to make for a sporting drive at times, without compromising the above-average refinement expected of a saloon car.

A flexible engine and adaptable DSG gearbox made the Jetta feel a fast enough performer too, with a generous reserve of power for overtaking.

Should I buy one?

You should seriously think about it. Especially if your initial reaction was to dismiss this new Jetta as the usual pokey old Golf saloon, because you’ll be surprised at how capacious it is, and therefore at the value it represents.

VW will quite neatly capture the European D-segment in a pincer movement with this car. By the middle of 2011 it will be offering a larger, more upmarket and more expensive new Passat to those who might otherwise buy a BMW 3-series or a high-end Ford Mondeo. And at the cheaper and more compact end of the market, VW will have this new Jetta to put up against the Renault Laguna, Volvo S40 and Citroen C5.

Against those second-string family saloons, provided VW delivers on the quality promises it’s making about the European versions of the Jetta, we can well imagine that it’ll find a keen following in the UK. It’s not quite a Skoda Superb with a VW badge on the nose, but it has a little of the Skoda’s magic ingredient: it just seems to deliver more than expected for your money.