I used to like the old Jetta; it was simply a four-door variant of the Golf. The Golf has over its six generation been, well, a damn good car, and VW always sought to maximize profits by selling one with a little extra steel behind the rear seats. Sadly this era is now behind us, and the new Jetta is frankly a bit shit. Actually upon further reflection the new Jetta is more than a bit shit; we’re talking a steaming pile of elephant dung may be a more apt comparison. Yes, it is that bad, and it really shouldn’t be like this.
My (seemingly accident prone) cousin is on her second Jetta and third overall VW, and between the Jettas she drove a B5 Passat, which shared a platform with the Audi A4. The new Jetta is about the same size as that Passat, and that’s the problem. VW has gone for the old Americans think that bigger must equal better, so we’ll build them a big yet cheap car. This may have been true in the past, but the people who bought into such nonsense are so upside down on their mortgages that they won’t be buying a new car for a very long time. Plus, Ford, GM, Chrysler, and the Koreans have actually started to build competitive products at an affordable price-point, and they don’t have the decades of poor service and unjustified snootiness, which mare the VW brand in America. Of course, the fact that VW operates two excellent value-for-money oriented brand in Europe and the British Isles makes this whole situation all the more laughable. Skoda’s Octavia with a proper boot-lid rather than a notchback hatch would have made a great Jetta to sell in North America. It’s a car known for it’s great build quality, value, reliability, attention to detail, and fairly good drivability. The Octavia is based on the Golf, and replacing some badges for export is not a difficult exercise. VW had other ideas, and, well, they were bad. As good as the Octavia is at being a bit roomier and possibly better built Golf, the Jetta is the antithesis. It may be bigger, but not in a really usable way.
You might be wondering why the Jetta is so bad, and yes, part of it may be the fact that I expect more from VW. However, the facts still do not change; this car is a decontented piece of shit, not worthy of a VW badge. Volkswagens have traditionally had great interiors with high perceived-quality; my mother drives an eight year-old VW convertible that could still pass as new in that regard. The Jetta, however, looks and feels as if the Rubbermaid Company was the low bidder. Wait, no, Rubbermaid would be a step up from this; the Jetta’s interior has a level of refinement on par with Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. The sea of cheap plastic, pervasive wind noise, and piss poor seats, which lack the fine adjustments like the “worm-screw” recline that have been VW hallmarks for decades, all add up to mediocrity at best, yet it gets worse. Gone are the hydraulic struts on the “trunk lid”; in their stead is a pair of space robbing gooseneck hindges and no metallic plate to protect the bottom of the opening. Therefore, your Golf with a boot holds less stuff than, well, a Golf.
The driving experience is even worse than the interior. Volkswagen makes one of the few electric power steering systems that truly doesn’t suck, but that’s not the system present in the Jetta. No, an old-fashioned hydraulic assisted steering rack has been used, which I a system that I generally prefer. Not here thought, the Jetta’s steering is over boosted like a 1990’s GM product, and even General Motors gave up on that sort of thing. If you add to the not so great steering a crap engine, notchy transmission, and brakes unbecoming of a “German” car, then you get a car that even the Koreans would never have bothered producing. That doesn’t mean that VW isn’t currently rolling such a car off an assembly line in Puebla, Mexico; it’s called a Jetta. If you’re considering the Jetta, buy a Golf or a Focus; they don’t suck.