First drive: Volkswagen Jetta 2011 in Dubai
Our long-time readers might know that our VW coverage bordered on farcical since 2006. However, things change over time, and we were pleasantly surprised to receive an invite to the GCC launch of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta in Dubai. The new Jetta is the car VW expects to crack the compact segment with in the GCC.
The VW Jetta has always been a conservatively-designed car, and the new one takes that to the extreme. A non-descript grill, basic three-box profile and a common tail, it seems to be a car that looked good on the drawing board but didn’t translate well in real life. There are flashes of style though, such as the pointy chin on the lower front bumper, the smoked headlights and the general clean look, and while we weren’t wowed by its looks, we met journalists at the event who seemed genuinely fond of the car.
Moving on to the interior, it looks like a mild variation of the dashboard design template that’s been in use among Golf and Bora models for generations, much to the delight of their buyers. VW had admitted earlier that they were cutting costs to bring down the price of this new Jetta, but it isn’t as extensive as one would think. The Jetta still retains the soft-touch dashboard materials, the padded armrests, the three rear headrests, the six standard airbags and even the cloth on the front A-pillars. However, the upper door sills are now hard plastic, while the cloth door inserts aren’t padded.
The real revelation is the abundant interior space, with good all-round headroom and sizeable rear legroom, almost as much as some midsize cars. With a huge boot as well, the Jetta might be the new class leader in space. The a/c was pretty good too, and comes with rear vents, although don’t expect much from the stereo.
During the themed event, which involved a concocted story of three “thieves” stealing three Jettas for various reasons and them then getting “caught” at various checkpoints around Dubai, we got a tour of the engine compartment. It has a dated 115 hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, mated to a modern 6-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive. VW highlighted design elements such as a cover for the battery and the padding under the bonnet, things not generally found in entry-level compact cars.
The trip involved breakfast at the Pavilion restaurant opposite Burj Khalifa, then a drive to a coffee break at Bab Al Shams, then a drive to the edge of the Palm Jumeirah from where we went on a catamaran boat-ride from to the Royal Mirage hotel on Jumeirah beach for lunch, after which we had the cars ready outside for a trip back to the Pavilion for, and then on to the Palace-Old Town hotel for dinner. VW sure knows how to throw a party for the media.
We were three in one car, ours being a mid-range “Comfortline” model, and I riding with the crew from Arab Motors TV. There were GPS units stuck to the windshield so we wouldn’t get lost on the way to Bab Al Shams. When we drove off, it was expectedly noticeable that the car is slow, especially with three riders and a TV camera. However, despite what the specs may suggest, it didn’t feel too slow, likely due to the 170 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm and six speeds to shift though, or maybe just the illusion of power from the refined growl of the engine.
And that pretty much defines the Jetta. It seems to be built for cruising long distances, because we were doing 140 kph with only moderate wind noise and a not-too-stressed engine, as the suspension smoothened out bumps like a larger car. Around corners, body roll wasn’t excessive, grip was seemingly good from the 205/55 tyres on 16-inch alloys, and the mildly-firm steering provides just enough feedback to safely direct the car quickly.
The Mexican-built Jetta may not be spectacular by any means, but it seems to do some things pretty well for a car competing against Civics, Cruzes, Focuses, Lancers and Corollas. If the staid looks, door plastics and sleepy power doesn’t bother you, the Jetta appears to lead the class in almost every other area. The base model is priced at Dhs 69.400 in the UAE, for which you get most of the features found in our mid-range tester. VW believes it is priced competitively, although we feel the competition is fierce at this price-point. But if the VW badge is important to you, you should be happy with this near-midsize sedan with a near-midsize price.