The past few years have been tough ones for Volkswagen. What with Dieselgate and various other management shenanigans and miscues, the company has taken some pretty hard hits. Only its massive size, it could be argued, has saved it from oblivion.
But through it all, VW has continued to pump out two models that are, in my opinion, still among the best in their categories: Golf and Jetta. They are, of course, built on the same platform, and, in the case of the former, essentially established the econobox market in North America. When the Golf’s predecessor - the Rabbit - hit the streets in – what - 1975?....it started a marketing trend that is still going strong….some forty-odd years later. Especially in many other parts of the world, where thrifty, lively hatchbacks are still preferred over SUVs and four-door sedans.
Slide behind the wheel of the Golf and you are in a car that is a cut above its Japanese/Korean/North American rivals. This is still the benchmark for the lower end of the market, VW’s travails notwithstanding, and as enjoyable to drive now as it was back in the 1970s – 80s.
Golf first. Offered, as always, in three trim levels: Trendline, Comfortline, and Highline, the Golf utilizes a 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8 litre four cylinder engine. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic, which is what my tester had. All things considered, I’d stick with the manual gearbox. It enhances the driveability of the car and returns better fuel economy.
Volkswagen offers the Golf in two and four-door configurations, plus a nice little station wagon that was, once upon a time, a Jetta. My test car was a four-door hatchback, with the Comfortline package. It had the optional “convenience package”, which includes a revised centre console audio display screen, back-up warning, and a huge sunroof. This added some $1310 to the price tag, and, if you’re in this market, you probably don’t need extras like these….still, nice to have, all the same. Standard equipment includes an eight-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, 15-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, a 5.0-inch display audio system with USB, reverse camera, Bluetooth, and heated seats. In every respect, a well equipped automobile.
Moving on to the Jetta. My tester was the Wolfsburg version, which includes heated front seats, 16-inch wheels and tires, climate control system, keyless entry, power sunroof, upgraded stereo, and my personal favourite: a “cooled” glove box.
Unless you step up to the top of the range Highline model, your garden variety Jetta has a smaller engine than the Golf - a 1.4 litre turbocharged four cylinder - and delivers less horsepower: 150 hp. Again, transmission choices are a five-speed manual and six-speed Tiptronic….I drove the latter, and, this car is definitely NOT a pavement scorcher. This gearbox is, as far as I’m concerned, the car’s weakest link.
But in every other way, the Jetta ticks all the boxes. For example, the trunk is an impressive 510 litres in size….by way of comparison, a Toyota Corolla has just over 360 litres and a Hyundai Sonata, 460 litres. No exaggeration, the trunk in a Jetta is huge.
Sticker price is equally impressive. My tester comes in at $25,195 before extras, which is actually less than a Golf Comfortline, and the base Jetta starts at well under $17,000. As far as new cars go, this is a bargain.
How about that great intangible: what’s it like to drive? Aside from a serious lack of punch and reserve power, it’s a pleasure in every way. Excellent seats – far and away more comfortable than those found in the Honda Civic, for example – and modcons everywhere you look. The assembly quality and fit and finish of VWs has always been top drawer and this iteration of the Jetta is no exception. NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is excellent and, during highway driving, you can actually carry on a conversation without having to raise your voice. For a car with this price tag, the Jetta feels much more expensive than it actually is.
How much do I like the Golf/Jetta? Were I in the market for a new car, I’d buy one.