Quick, name a German four-door sedan at the top of your head.
If you answered some form of BMW or Mercedes-Benz model, I wouldn't blame you. After all, they have made their presence felt in the local market for over 20 years. Of course, there are other options out there and that brings me neatly to the Volkswagen Jetta.
When it first came out in 2014, we rated it good, but it could have been be better. Volkswagen Philippines has since rectified that with the facelifted version. With more standard equipment and a much-needed automatic transmission (a dual-clutch in this case), the Jetta is an enticing option when you take a look at the spec sheet.
What the Jetta promises is to bring German feel and build quality without the luxury car price tag. The question now is this: Does it deliver?
Yes, the all-new Jetta made its debut during this year's North American International Auto Show but don't expect it to arrive here anytime soon. For now, we have this, the sixth-generation model. Looking at the car, the design is subtle and subdued. This shade of Platinum Grey makes it look rather upscale too, if a little sombre. Some say it looks pretty bland with its slab-sided doors, rectangular headlights and squared-off rear end. If you do want to liven up the exterior, you can get in a striking shade of red or, my personal favorite, 'coffee brown'.
Inside, it's pretty much the same story as the exterior. Rounded-off rectangular shapes are present throughout the cabin and it's all draped in dark gray trimmings and leather. What's good about it however is its simplicity. Clearly marked buttons and dials make it easy for making the jump from Japanese cars to European ones. As much as it looks conventional, it's uncluttered and straightforward to use. This particular test car did come with a miles per hour speedometer. Thankfully, there are also metric markings to keep you in check.
The cabin looks simple but it feels premium. Buttons and dials click and clack with a satisfying sound. No squeaks and rattles inside too. Even the materials used feel like they can last a long time. There's also the satisfying 'thud' when you close the doors on this sedan, as one would expect from a German (albeit Mexican-built) car. Outward visibility is good while interior room offers a decent amount of space, if not class leading.
This Business Edition + model comes pretty well equipped, coming standard with features that are normally associated with more expensive German offerings. It comes with dual-zone climate control, power seats for the driver, a comprehensive infotainment system with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink and a sunroof, to let a little more light in the dark cabin.
Pop the hood of the Jetta and you're greeted by a 2.0-liter TDI engine. It puts out 150 PS and 340 Nm of torque, healthy figures in the 2.0-liter class. It then shifts via a dual-clutch transmission (Direct-Shift Gearbox in VW speak) with six-speeds.
While it looks rather ordinary inside and out, the Jetta is, surprisingly, a joy do drive. Driving it up winding roads, the steering was precise and weighty. Handling is safe, secure and even involving. Turn the car in and it digs in to the corner with no fuss or drama. The suspension copes well with mid-corner bumps, never putting a wheel out of place and further enhancing the planted feel. Thanks to its torquey diesel mill, along with the willing and responsive transmission, uphill sections were dealt with ease and it never ran out of puff even as the road got steeper and steeper.
As one would expect from a car designed to take on the autobahn, the Jetta makes for a great cruiser as well. Wind noise is kept to a minimum, and crosswinds don't bother the solid-feeling body. Again, thanks to that engine, overtaking is as simple as giving the throttle a light squeeze. Quiet, comfortable and composed, the Jetta eats up the highway kilometers with little effort. Personally, I drive a European car and the Volkswagen's C-segment sedan definitely met, even exceeded, expectations.
So it's comfortable on country roads and on the highway, but what is it like in the city? In a nutshell: solid. Imperfect roads are dealt with a whispered thump, with no impact harshness being transferred to the seats. The ride itself has a hint of firmness but, again, it's not harsh at all. It's cozy inside and even long hours in traffic won't leave the driver or the passengers weary. If there is one blemish, the dual-clutch transmission could be a little eager to downshift to first when coming to a halt.
Of course, the main benefit of the diesel engine is fuel economy and the Jetta delivered on that front. According to the trip computer, the Jetta did 8.8 kilometers per liter at an average speed of just 13 km/h. A similarly sized gas-powered car would struggle to break 8 in the same conditions. Lighter traffic meanwhile saw 12.3 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 18 km/h. Out on the highway and it posted 17 kilometers per liter at an average of 90 km/h. Mind you, that involved a fair bit of overtaking too.
Unfortunately, this particular Jetta variant, the Business Edition +, just ran out of stocks at the time of writing. However, don't fret as the nearest equivalent model, the Highline, is nearly as well equipped. If anything, the feel of the car shouldn't change much as it has the same suspension, engine and drivetrain as this test car. So what do you miss out on when you get the Highline? It drops the adaptive cruise control but keeps the vital safety systems such as stability control and the myriad of sensors.
This Business Edition + retails (or should I say retailed?) for Php 1,300,000. For that price, you get a car with a high-quality feel, good driving dynamics and loads of standard equipment. If you're curious, the nearly equivalent Highline is Php 100,000 less at Php 1,200,000. The interior and exterior design won't set the world alight but the Jetta makes up for it by impressing you with its capabilities.
So if you're looking for a European sedan that retains the solid feel without breaking the bank, you're likely looking at the only option in the market today. It's a pretty solid choice too.