Volkswagen is back in the Philippines in a big way. The new official Ayala-owned distributor, Automobile Central Enterprise, Inc. (ACEI), has brought in a wave of new models big and small, though they have opted to not initially introduce models like the Golf, the Beetle, the Scirocco or any of the gasoline engined versions.
For the meantime VW chose to bring in diesel powered TDI models. Initially that decision was primarily a result of local fuel quality (for gasoline) but in my opinion fares better for VW as it introduces the outstanding efficiency of the German brand... like this new Volkswagen Jetta.
The Jetta is technically the sedan brother of the Golf, though the Jetta is about 2 years behind in the model cycle compared to the Golf. The Jetta we're testing is already the sixth generation of the nameplate, and has already been available in other markets since 2011. The Jetta that VW Philippines is offering hails from their plant in Mexico.
For looks, I'd say that the Jetta is simplistic but effective; if anything, form follows function with this car. The lines are clean and minimalist from front to back. The version that ACEI sells in the Philippines gets multi-reflector halogen headlights with daytime running lamps, a neatly detailed pair of taillamps and 16-inch alloys.
Looking around the cabin, everything is pretty much laid out symmetrically and in neat, right angles. All controls and buttons that are either round or rectangular. As you can tell, the same, minimalist theme continues into the cabin. Materials quality is quite good.
I know what you're thinking; I must be a little underwhelmed with the Jetta's design. Honestly I am a bit, especially when just around the block from the Volkswagen dealership in Fort Bonifacio is the Audi center; the VW Group's more upscale brand but locally distributed by another company. The Jetta looks neat and tidy, but I would say that the car's design could benefit from a bit more imagination, particularly when Japanese, Korean and American auto brands are making great strides in creativity with their production models.
Settling into the driver's seat, I get familiarized with the Jetta. The seats are quite good in terms of cushioning and support, and there's decent legroom in the back. The A/C is still a manual affair, but that's no problem; I generally prefer that anyway. The good bit is that there are A/C vents for the rear passengers as well; a definite plus in a tropical country.
The clean, logical layout means that hopping in from another car to VW's sedan is easy; the only notable difference in control is that you'd have to push down on the shifter to be able to engage reverse gear. I particularly like the shape of the steering wheel's rim, as it feels like it could have come from the guys at Momo or Sparco. There are also controls on the spokes of the steering wheel for the drive computer (fuel eco, mode, etc.) and for the audio.
The audio system in the Jetta has good sound with very good bass and clarity. What was peculiar was the interconnectivity and interface for an iPod and Bluetooth. I tried connecting either of my two iPods via the USB slot, but the Jetta wouldn't read either of them. I tried connecting my iPhone via Bluetooth, but for some reason the procedure for doing so wasn't in the extensive manual. Browsing through the settings menus fared no better either.
Eventually I learned how to do so via Volkswagen USA's official YouTube video on the Bluetooth matter (apparently you can only connect within a 3-minute window after starting the car), but still it wouldn't work after repeated tries. Eventually I gave up and copied songs onto a simple flash drive; you can also use an analog 3.5mm jack.
Firing up the engine, there's that familiar shake from the diesel engine coming to life because at the heart of the Jetta is a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine mated to a 5-speed manual. I was actually a little excited to try the Jetta out with its manual gearbox, so I took it out on the open road. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint.
VW's TDI performs pretty well as the engine makes a healthy 110 PS and 280 Newton meters of torque. The engine of the Jetta gives it a nice surge through the gears when the turbo responds, and there's a good break between each gear. It's easy to hit 100 km/h in the Jetta, and when it does, the speed-sensitive electronic steering firms up for better control. Noise suppression and the suspension's ability to filter out our bad, corrugated concrete roads is quite impressive. Handling and agility of the Jetta also makes for an exciting drive on an open road. The gearstick slots in to every gate perfectly; very precise, very German.
The best part about the Jetta, however, is the fuel economy. On the highway we were getting upwards of 28.4 kilometers per liter at a 65 km/h average (no passengers, no traffic, feathering the throttle). When you're doing about 100 km/h and performing overtaking maneuvers that goes down to 17.8 km/l (1 passenger, light traffic, casual driving). In the city, the Jetta does deliver the economy expected of a modern diesel; 9.8 km/l with moderate to heavy traffic (1 passenger) and up to 14.3 km/l if you've got light to moderate traffic (1 passenger). Of course all these readings are from the onboard computer, but judging by the refusal of the fuel needle to move towards E, it seems accurate enough for now. It's Euro 4 compliant, so you should steer clear of the cheapest diesels around.
There was one issue though: the Jetta 2.0 TDI with the 5-speed manual is really easy to stall. I actually had to keep count of how many times my feet stalled the Jetta's engine in traffic: 10 times over the first 2 days. Even when learning to drive as a teenager I had never stalled that frequently. I asked a colleague who had the car afterwards and it seems he had the same issue as well.
After browsing the VWVortex forums, the stalling appears to be a common problem; the ECU has a strong tendency to shut off the engine if the needle dips to around 800 rpm. It's particularly unusual since this is a diesel, and the torquey nature of these engines make stalling uncommon. After a few days of readjusting my own pedalwork the Jetta worked fine, as you end up applying a bit more throttle pressure than usual to get the car going when engaging a gear.
There's definitely great potential in the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI from ACEI. The engine has power and efficiency, the suspension and noise suppression both work fine and the car looks neat and, well, German. That said, at an introductory price of PhP 1,098,000 (which will later go up to the regular price of PhP 1,295,000), this particular spec of the Jetta has a bit of an uphill battle to overcome.
In all honesty if this Jetta came standard with VW's superb Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) dual clutch transmission, the 140 PS version of the same 2.0 TDI engine, leather seats, foglamps and a more user-friendly audio head unit, the story you just read would have been different... even if it was priced at PhP 1.295M.