Pulling on a pair of gloves to combat the early winter morning cabin chill ahead of starting the ignition, it crosses the mind that the Volkswagen Jetta could be the perfect car for a contract killer.
Finished in grey, our appropriately middle-of-the-range SE spec diesel test vehicle is about as interesting to look at as a fog bank. Ideal for any nefarious type who places a high value on anonymity.
The Jetta is in for review not because we’re planning to bump off the opposition, but because a revised version has just arrived in the UK following its debut at the 2014 New York motor show in April. It’s just a Golf with a boot, right? Not quite…
So what’s different about the revised 2015 VW Jetta?
The refreshed Jetta features a new front end design with revised bumper and grille, moving it closer to the look of the latest VW Passat. This distances the Jetta from the Golf, but given the Jetta is a four-door saloon rather than a hatchback, this only makes it blend in even further. Perfect for confusing the witnesses.
At the back, things get a little more interesting from a nerdy perspective, as a new lip runs across the top of the boot lid and down into the wings – not quite a Kamm tail, but enough to add some extra definition. Below this sits a new set of taillights and another revised bumper. Easy now.
Overall this is enough to bring a 10% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency, which should help real world fuel economy, not just the on-paper figures.
Oh, right. Does this make the new Jetta particularly efficient?
By modern standards, not really. Every version is now badged ‘Bluemotion Technology’, which means stop-start, brake-energy recuperation and EU6 emissions compliance. But not only is this car based on a variant of the old ‘PQ35’ platform, rather than the lighter, more flexible MQB that underpins the latest Golf, A3, Leon and Octavia, the Jetta is also lumbered with a reduced range of engines.
Choice is limited to 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol with either 123bhp or 148bhp or 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel with 108bhp or 148bhp. We’re testing the lower-powered diesel, an output that’s covered by a newer 1.6-litre TDI elsewhere in the VW catalogue. As a result, instead of the sub-100g/km CO2 output you might expect, the Jetta returns 110g/km.
Still, a claimed 70.6mpg isn’t exactly to be sniffed at (expect more like 50mpg in reality – but a fair old range before you need to stop for fuel and risk getting recorded on those forecourt cameras), and VED tax is just £20 a year.
Basically, the new Jetta is just… dull, then?
‘Functional’ is perhaps a better term. There has even been an attempt to jazz up the interior with some Zebrano wood trim, but this is so dark that during the winter commute it’s barely discernible from the overwhelming ‘murdered-out’ dashboard and door panels (no pun intended). That means largely finished in black, incidentally.
At nearly 4.7m long, this is also a deceptively big car, so there’s room enough inside for four adults (five will be a bit of a squeeze), while the separated nature of the 510-litre luggage space makes it ideal for transporting large and potentially pungent items, which may or may not need careful disposal. You’ll need to lean right in to reach the furthest corners, though, so use your tradecraft first to check for possible ambush.
As for the driving experience, it’s again bereft of distinguishing features. While both the ride quality and the handling are less assured than in more recently engineered Volkswagens, the Jetta remains steadfast and surefooted in greasy conditions. True, it pushes on into understeer relatively early, but that’s probably better than telegraphing your getaway with lurid lift-off oversteer.
The manual gearbox is mechanically precise in typical VW fashion, and despite only five gears and such limited power this variant goes surprisingly well on the motorway. And the refinement is good enough that you should still hear sirens approaching; you’d also have no trouble enjoying the standard-fit digital radio, if it wasn’t for some of the worst DAB reception we’ve ever experienced.
The optional RNS 315 satnav (£525) isn’t VW’s latest but it is one of the firm’s most user-friendly set-ups – ideal for hasty destination entry ‘on the run’ – while Bluetooth connectivity standard on the SE will come in handy for those emergency phone calls from The Company. Blindspot monitors and rear cross traffic alert is a new Jetta option, but a person of your observational acuity probably won’t be needing those, and they weren’t fitted to this example.
The Jetta remains exactly what it always was: a car for VW saloon fans who don’t want to stretch to a Passat – which given how much we love the hatchback in this country makes it a minority choice to say the least. Especially since the Skoda Octavia offers a more modern alternative at a more competitive price. Don’t shoot the messenger. So to speak.