For our weekend trip to New York for a wedding, we rented a 2007 Volkswagen Jetta from Enterprise. I was very surprised that they would have a European vehicle as a rental considering the higher price of these vehicles. It turns out that they have a deal with the VW dealership across the street, so it’s a local thing.
Our VW was the 2.5 liter, 5-cylinder with 150 horsepower. Surprisingly, the Jetta had a 6-speed, sequential sports-shift transmission, which is very unusual for a compact car. Who puts 6 gears in a compact? I tried to use the “manual” mode of this automatic tranny, but there were just too many gears for such a small engine, so I just left it in fully automatic mode for the 500+ miles we put on the Jetta.
I found a few other features of the Jetta to be unique and welcome. First, all four windows had an auto-up AND auto-down feature, which is unheard of in most vehicles, much less in a compact. Second, the Jetta has turn signals on the side mirrors, which I’ve always wanted on my vehicles. I just think it’s much safer, when you’re driving in 3+ lanes of traffic, to let the cars 2 lanes over know your intentions. I think all vehicles should have this feature. Lastly, the car had heated side mirrors. Boy, I wish my truck had those because they constantly fog and ice over in the winter!
The price for all this? As I configured the Jetta on VW.com, the price rolled out at $21,185. This is no longer in the compact category! However, to get a new Honda Civic with the same features (which you can’t), you’ll run close to the same price. And yes, domestic vehicles such as the Cobalt, Focus, and Caliber (if you can call Dodge domestic) cost less, but they’re not even in the same class as the Jetta. Oh, and the Jetta has 1 more cylinder than these other cars.
Quality and Benefits
The Jetta is a very solid vehicle, and drives as such. I had no problem accelerating to highway speeds, and I was greeted with a nice growl from the engine when speeding away from the toll plazas on the way to and from the city. I was fully confident turning, passing and braking because the suspension and steering were stiff and the brakes were responsive. The Jetta has electric steering (vs hydraulic steering), which was a major flaw in our Chevy Malibu. However, the electric steering in this Jetta was tuned almost perfectly, and the car went where you told it to go.
One thing I couldn’t get out of my mind when driving the Jetta were those commercials. You know, the ones where two people are riding and talking, then someone slams into the side of the Jetta. Everyone walks away from the accident, but it really sticks in your mind. Personally, I don’t think this is a good ad campaign for any vehicle. It just sounds like the car is a magnet for t-bones. However, the Jetta had us fully covered with airbags and safety systems galore.
Lastly, at no fault to Volkswagen, we couldn’t test out the CD player because a prior renter’s CD was stuck inside. However, the stereo sounded wonderful, but the radio reception could have been better.
Looking at the Consumer Reports ratings report, the Jetta is expected to have a worse than average (2 out of 5) reliability. Our 2004 VW Passat GLX was listed at the bottom of sedans in the reliability category, so I can understand the skepticism. We’ll see if VW can prove their credibility. However, VW does provide a 4 year/50,000 mile full warranty, and a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Some complaints I had about the Jetta:
- The lumbar support was useless. My lower back was exhausted after an hour of driving. Consumer Reports said the seats were supportive, and I would agree on the side-to-side motion, but I need more lumbar support when driving for 5 hours!
- For having so many features, I was annoyed that the Jetta only has 1 tripometer. If I wanted to track my mileage on one, and my fuel economy on another, I couldn’t. Also, even the base Chevy Malibu had a mileage computer, but the Jetta didn’t.
- I didn’t get to calculate the fuel economy given our filling schedule, but Consumer Reports, as well as VW, rate the Jetta at about 23 city/30 highway. Volkswagen is going to have to do a bit better with their gas mileage in this segment.
- Wind and road noise. Again, I’m going to disagree with the Consumer Reports assessment and say the Jetta produced too much wind noise around the side mirrors. The tires also put out a bit more noise than I’d like, but it seems about par for the compact segment.
- I couldn’t get the vents any lower than my face. In 95 degree weather, I really wanted to cool my whole body. However, the floor vents didn’t spit out enough air, and the top vents wouldn’t go low enough. For 11 hours of driving, my eyes were as dry as the Sahara! (and this is one of my major complaints about my Ridgeline truck too).
- I kept confusing the turn signal and cruise control sticks. Consumer Reports also reported this problem with other drivers, and I remember this was a problem in our old Passat as well. It’s just not safe to accidentally accelerate when you’re trying to move to the right lane instead.
I’m rather stuck on this one. If you’re looking for fuel efficiency, then you’ll find better choices elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a small car loaded with options, then check out the Jetta. It’s a solid car with many features you can’t find on other cars in the same price or size range. Just keep an eye out for tech bulletins and consumer complaints about the Jetta, considering its reliability history.