The plan was to take the long-term Jetta on a 3,600km Mumbai-Kerala round trip for my Christmas break. I figured it would make for a nice sleigh ride home, and I wasn’t wrong.
Thanks to the Mullaperiyar Dam issue, I had to take the long way round through the town of Sultan Bathery, north Kerala, because the regular, four-laner had become quite a conflict zone. So my route was a brilliant 1,000km of Golden Quadrilateral to Bangalore on the first day, followed by Wayanad district’s infuriatingly narrow roads and traffic on the second day. Good thing I was in the Jetta, then.
It’s on the dual-carriageway NH4 that the Jetta came into its own. Allow it to get to triple-digit speeds (it doesn’t take long) and it will maintain an easy, loping gait in sixth gear all day long. And, on the broad NH4, there’s little reason to slow down, except when you come up on trucks blocking all lanes in a bid to overtake each other. My finesse-laden technique to get around them involved a long blast of the Jetta’s powerful horn, a flash of the lights and a tug on the left paddle as soon as there was space to resume an unflustered cruising altitude.
My companions couldn’t drive, so I was behind the wheel for the entire 1,000km to Bangalore. The Jetta is so comfortable and so settled at high speeds, we demolished the entire distance before the sun set. In fact, I was so fresh when we got to Bangalore, we even toyed with the idea of driving through the night to Kerala. Common sense prevailed.
We left Bangalore early next morning, passed through Mysore, and went on to Gundlupet through narrow, crowded state highways. And, just as we approached the Karnataka border, the landscape turned lush green, the surface improved exponentially and the traffic disappeared. The road we took passes through the Bandipur sanctuary into Kerala, and believe me, driving through its beautiful corners and cool air was more refreshing than a cup of strong filter coffee. The Jetta’s phenomenal grip and unflappable poise was utilised to the fullest on this road, but this was short-lived.
Soon after the town of Sultan Bathery, the road turned into something prehistoric. The Map My India GPS unit I was carrying along was set for the shortest route home, and so, took us through the worst roads Kerala has to offer. In a lesser car, I might have pulled my hair out, but the Jetta’s DSG, its comfy seats and strong air-con kept me calm. Still, I found myself at home after an absolutely exhausting 18 hours behind the wheel.
I drove straight into the Christmas wedding season, so I had to ferry my parents all over Kerala for about 73 weddings. The big boot was more than happy to accommodate the family’s luggage for out-of-town ceremonies and the car was such a soothing traveller, my dad used to fall asleep minutes into the drive (He is usually wide awake when I’m driving).
Now my mother has a serious case of motion sickness, and the only place she is comfortable travelling in is on the high seat of my dad’s Wagon R. Sure enough, five minutes in the Jetta’s low seats and she wanted out. The solution came in the form of two cushions placed on the seatback which somehow cured her aversion to road trips. Try it out if you have the same problem – Dr Chacko guarantees results.
I learnt a few things about the automatic Jetta on my two-week stint in it. The engine’s got this irritating drone at around 1200rpm, and this isn’t present on the manual Jetta. Maybe it’s only our car. The ride isn’t great at low speeds too – the suspension can toss you around on lumpy surfaces — and, when you load it up, the tail drags itself on the way off speedbreakers and into potholes. Also, you need to be decisive with the throttle, or the gearbox won’t downshift quick enough to blast safely past trucks.
Another irritant was with the iPod connector. I loaded my iPhone up with music and didn’t carry an aux-in cable, only to discover an irritating disturbance from what is, I presume, a loose contact at the connector.
A small point here – at the steady triple-digit speeds that NH4 allowed, the Jetta would gobble up about 850km on one 55-litre tankful, which is quite phenomenal. But, as soon as we entered Kerala’s messy, unruly roads, the range readout dropped drastically to around 450km. So, I must assume from this little nugget of information that Kerala is generally a more expensive place to drive thanks to poor infrastructure.
On another note, everyone who sat in the Jetta loved its understated, handsome styling, its ‘solid-as-a-tree-trunk’ build quality and the general feeling of well-being it doles out. Sure, the Jetta may be more expensive and less well equipped than some of its rivals, but there’s a reason for this. You pay extra for the phenomenal attention to detail and the painstaking development process that goes into making the Jetta what it is. You won’t find its unflustered high-speed manners or its solid build in any of its rivals (except for the Laura, but that’s a close relative anyway).
The Jetta may not be particularly engaging to drive and is a bit too ‘stoic German’ in its character, but as an effortless, comfortable, cross-country Rs 20-lakh saloon, I would pick no other.
Over my two-week break, I put 6,000km on its odometer. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every kilometre behind the wheel.