Can the improved model with better driving performance and fuel efficiency shine brighter this time?
IT IS fun. It is fast. It is spaciously accommodating and more importantly, it has gotten a little more refined.
That is what the latest range-topping Volkswagen Jetta Highline is all about after a quick 218km run down to the historical state of Malacca.
Firstly, the Jetta looks... like it did when it was first introduced in Malaysia in 2011 as a fully imported completely built-up unit (CBU), before becoming a locally-assembled completely knocked-down (CKD) unit and inheriting some stiffer suspension and loosing the paddle-shifters to name a few, while gaining some ride-height and other bells and whistles.
Although the Jetta is not something to shout about in terms of its simplistic looks, it still manages to attract, mainly with its practicality and capability.
For one, the Jetta offers a decently sized cabin that is good on its shoulder width and length for knee-room.
There is also 510-litres of boot space, a 55-litre fuel tank and an engine that will have many mistake it for a 2.0 or 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine lurking under the hood.
Instead, it has a little turbocharged 1.4-litre (1,395cc) engine producing 150PS from 5,000 to 6,000rpm and 250Nm of torque from 1,500 to 3,000rpm, while being able to provide 5.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Not too shabby indeed.
Yes, the Jetta’s sheet metal has not changed (at all) and it is still a CKD, but it now comes with three options – the entry-level Trendline, Comfortline and range-topping Highline, all priced with GST without insurance at RM108,990, RM117,990 and RM128,990 respectively.
Compared to its lone CBU predecessor, only its list of bells and whistles have been altered.
But, now with its new 1,395cc engine marking a departure from the previous 1,390cc twin-charged (supercharged and turbocharged) engine, we take a closer look at how it fairs.
For this drive, only the Highline model was made available with its 17-inch Queensland alloy wheels wrapped with 225/45 Continental ContiMaxContact MC5 tyres as well as the Bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights to project a more sophisticated character.
Getting in with the keyless access system (KESSY) and having the Engine Start-Stop button was certainly an added convenience and the Black Vienna leather upholstered seats felt comfortably plush for those long hauls.
Furthermore, the driver gets a 12-way electrically adjustable (including lumbar support) seat, which allowed us to dial in our preferred seating posture, but there wasn’t any memory function, so changing between dimensionally-different drivers can be a pain.
Also, there is now a flat-bottom steering wheel that’s lost some girth to it and the interior now sports Zebrano (dark wood-like) inserts that try their level best to fit in within the dark confines of the cabin by adding some mature appeal to it.
But, as time progressed, the inserts seemed more out of place than before, reinforcing the fact that the Jetta has a knack for attracting a younger crowd instead and should prefer something more along the lines of faux-carbon fibre reinforced plastics instead.
The entertainment unit, with its eight speakers of clarity, makes use of a rather small 5.0-inch RCD 330G colour touchscreen display, which happens to come with USB, iPod interface, SD card slot, AUX-in, Bluetooth connectivity and MirrorLink for Android-based smartphones, but still lacks a reverse camera.
Soon we were puttering about in heavy stop-go traffic and a major surprise was how the gearbox felt “uber” smooth and refined for a judder-free experience.
The brakes too now felt more direct leaving behind its nervous over-bite from before and not to mention the start-stop functionality did feel relatively smooth.
A while later, we were finally cruising along on the highway (at legal speeds of course), and it was at this point that we realised that the Jetta’s noise vibration and harshness (NVH) levels for the cabin was getting a pounding and subsequently robbed of the comfort levels accorded by the leather seats.
To explain, the suspension has been carried over from the outgoing CKD variant, which is stiffer and carries the car higher than the CBU before it.
Now add on the larger 17-inch wheels fitted with thinner and wider 225/45 tyres and voilà – a harsher ride.
It will pick up quite a lot of notes and nuances from the road and ranges from the reflectors to pebbles.
Move to the rear, which is directly above the rear axle, and those notes and nuances become even more pronounced.
During our attempts at over-taking, the engine seemed to lag behind in response and needed a moment to put the power down.
Instead, it was due to another fuel-saving technology that’s been included – coasting function, which decouples the transmission and puts the engine on idle while travelling at a constant speed.
Pushing the accelerator pedal deeper to demand for more power, will have the engine’s speed climbing back up to a point where the transmission can be re-coupled before the power can be smoothly delivered and then the speed increases.
Although this function does help to improve fuel economy, the process does take a moment and can delay the sudden need for some defensive driving.
In order to get to know the engine a little better, we de-activated it and from that point, the Jetta was delivering on our addictive demands for more power, thanks to the added 10Nm of torque for a total of 250Nm, although it is now down by 10PS at 150PS from the outgoing model.
There’s not much that can be said about comfort levels, except to drive it slower or get up to exorbitant speeds and go around tight bends, because that’s where the added stiffness can be properly appreciated for its high-speed and cornering stability – which did well to keep it firmly grounded and composed as much as possible.
Shifting in to S (Sport) mode gets the engine speed wanting to stay closer to the redline, and there is no qualms about its ability to deliver what is being demanded with the right foot, while paddling through the gears for a confidence inspiring drive.
The only chink in its armour is that it lacks some of the bells and whistles found in some of its similarly-priced C-segment competitors, even though it does come with a few fuel-saving tricks up its sleeves, such as the regenerative braking system, stop-go functionality and coasting function.
Instead, the real value remains in the way the Jetta is able to spur that joyful driving experience when behind the wheel and for some this is what’s most important and may even find it to be absolutely irresistible, even though it lacks “loudness” in the looks department, but it will be accommodating to say the least.