It may seem suicidal to launch a petrol car right now but clearly, VW thinks otherwise. VW thinks the new 1.4 TSI engine's cutting edge technology and better fuel efficiency will appeal to those who want a big, classy, saloon with the refinement only a petrol can give. Powered by a 1390cc, turbo-charged, direct-injection petrol engine that makes a reasonably healthy 120bhp and 20.4kgm of torque, the TSI is available with only a six-speed manual and no automatic option.
As is quite obvious by now, VW likes doing things differently and our 3am drive through Mumbai (which included a closed high-speed section in the Bandra-Kurla complex) confirmed this. VW rightly figured the best time to experience Mumbai's roads is in the wee hours of the day and so, we set off to make light of this new Jetta.
But, before we get into the nuts and bolts of it, allow us a tiny digression -- Skoda was the first to bring TSI tech to India, and the 1.8-litre unit under the hoods of the Laura and the Superb have always impressed us with their buttery smoothness and athletic 160bhp-derived performance. So, we're expecting a lot from the Jetta's engine as well.
Initial impressions are good. It's so quiet and vibe-free at idle speeds, you need to glance the rev-counter to convince yourself that the engine is on. Slot into first, get of the progressive clutch, and you'll see the engine responds rather well past 1500rpm and pulls well right upto 5500rpm after which power starts tailing off. However, there is some turbo-lag and you will need to snap down a gear when you need to pull away quickly. There is no replacement for sheer displacement, so the 1.4-simply doesn't have the bottom-end torque of the bigger 1.8 TSI. Also highlighting this deficit is the rather tall gearing. Still, performance is more than adequate and the strong mid-range helps the Jetta TSI hit 100kph from rest in around 10.5sec. Gearshifts are snappy, the clutch is light and there's fun to be had in rowing up and down the gearbox as well.
As for refinement, the engine is smooth and quiet for the most part but post 4000rpm there is some thruminess from the four-cylinder motor and it gets pretty vocal. It is nowhere as quiet or creamy as the 1.8 TSI in the Laura though.
The Jetta TSI weighs 42 kilos less than a the diesel Jetta, and this shows up in the way it handles. It feels more slightly more eager to change direction and this combined with the Jetta's shattering grip makes for quite an entertaining drive. It rides quite well -- there is some low speed stiffness and the suspension thumps over sharp bumps, but it's not too bad. At higher speeds, the Jetta is simply phenomenal -- the ride is absolutely flat and stability is mind-blowing.
Other desirable Jetta traits remain. It feels like a mini-Passat on the inside with with top-notch plastics, and exemplary fit and finish. The front seats are generous and the rear seats are the most comfortable in this segment. If there is a fault, it’s with the cushioning which is a touch too hard and the backrest that’s a wee too upright.
The Jetta TSI is available only in the base Trendline and mid Comfortline spec. Our Comfortline spec test car was missing some essential equipment like powered seats and climate control, but it does have six airbags and a CD player with an aux-in port.
While the Jetta is better equipped even in the base Trendline model in comparison to its rivals, Volkswagen is charging a premium for all the goodies it includes in the car, not to mention the premium it already charges for the badge. The Jetta is significantly more expensive than the Altis and a good Rs 70,000 more than the Laura Classic.
Given the fact that people have fallen out of love with petrol engines thanks to steep fuel prices, the Jetta’s pricing seems quite steep. The Laura in comparison, despite being older and having fewer goodies, offers better value largely because of its 1.8 TSI engine which is smoother and sprightlier to drive than the Jetta’s 1.4-litre unit. In the current scenario, Volkswagen may have its work cut out in trying to lure buyers towards its petrol Jetta.