Nobody disputes that Volkswagen comes extremely close to being included in the entry-level luxury class, if it doesn’t qualify already. The segment boasts such brands as Acura, Saab, Volvo, and I suppose Buick now that the domestic brand is finally putting out product that’s worthy of inclusion. While Volkswagen dips down a bit further in price than most of these contenders, its premium-level quality and technology is always present, and in the case of some of its models, top-tier fuel economy.
Recently I had the chance to spend a week in VW’s Jetta TDI, and by so doing enjoyed an extremely thrifty seven days of luxury motoring. Thrift and luxury together? Yes, while feasting on the premium plastics, playing with the top-grade switchgear and fully supported in light gray leather enhanced with multi-level seat heaters, not to mention an attractive woven headliner overhead that wraps down each pillar like only premium cars do, I was feeling rather smug at my TDI’s ridiculously stingy 6.7L100km city and 4.6L100km highway fuel consumption rating. It pulled me along by VW’s stout little 2.0-litre turbo-diesel making a moderate 140 horsepower at 4,250 rpm yet a positively spirited 236 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,750 rpm up to 2,500 rpm. All that torque gets fed to the front wheels via Volkswagen’s ultra-advanced six-speed DSG dual-clutch sequential automatic transmission with manual mode.
The TDI comes standard with a six-speed manual, while I should probably also mention that base model Jettas come with a five-speed manual connecting through to a torquey 2.5-litre five-cylinder while a zippy 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is also available. I prefer the Jetta the way Volkswagen fitted my tester, in drive train and trim level.
As mentioned, my example featured leather seats and therefore Highline trim; Trend line is base and Comfort line in between. New for Jetta this year is a Wolfsburg edition, which replaces last year’s GLI model. The Wolfsburg is the sportiest iteration, and while my heart would naturally gravitate towards this model, fuel prices over a dollar per liter has my mind winning the inner battle of passion versus pragmatism. And like I mentioned earlier, with 236 lb-ft of torque on tap, it’s hardly like we’re asked to give up much for such stellar fuel economy.
Over and above the leather upholstery, the Highline comes with a few unique features overtop the Trend line and Comfort line, such as a power sunroof, a multifunction steering wheel, iPod interface and Bluetooth connectivity, plus a digital compass, multifunction trip computer, rear seat centre armrest with pass-through, rear side airbags and also on the safety front, rear seatbelt pretensioners. Consider that these items get added onto Comfort line features, which include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver's seat with power recline and a premium 6-CD stereo with Sirius satellite radio, plus the base Trendline features that include air conditioning, auto up/down powered windows, powered locks with keyless entry, heated power-remote mirrors with integrated turn signals, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, auxiliary input jack for the audio system, eight-way manually-adjustable seats, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, it’s a pretty impressive package.
Out on the road the Jetta TDI feels solid and secure, with a quiet interior benefiting by minimal road, wind and engine noise. The ride is good, but should be categorized on the firm Germanic side of the equation, which makes handling better than average for this class, a Volkswagen trademark. Excepting the sportier Wolfsburg, all Jettas get 16-inch wheels riding on 205/55R16 all-season tires, but the Comfortline and Highline get alloy rims. Electronic stability control, traction control, and ABS-enhanced disc brakes all-round with standard brake assist come standard on Highline.
One of the big features that came as part of the Jetta’s fifth generation upgrade was the trunk, increased to a staggering 500 liters’ (17.6 cu ft)! That puts this smaller than average midsize model in the Lincoln Town Car class for luggage space, and the rear seat accommodations aren’t too shabby either.
You luggage and more importantly occupants will be safe inside, not only thanks to the most side airbags in its class, but also because the current generation Jetta uses extensive high strength steel in its body structure, plus the laser welding of body parts went up from 5% to 35%. This resulted in double-digit increases in both dynamic and torsional rigidity. Volkswagen included other body innovations such as an impact-absorbing front bumper that yields slightly in the event of a collision with a pedestrian, reducing injury, while a new door design made it possible to remove and replace only the outer panel if damaged, rather than the entire door, reducing repair costs.
There’s so much more to the Jetta that’s worth talking about, but when it comes right down to it what matters more to most VW buyers is Teutonic attributes built into ever model. These include simple, straightforward yet stylish design, high-quality workmanship inside and out, performance-oriented road manners and superb fuel economy, and the 2010 Jetta TDI fits the bill in every respect, backed up by a premium-like 4-year or 80,000 km comprehensive and 5-year or 100,000 powertrain warranty, plus 4-year unlimited mileage roadside assistance.
Yes, the Jetta TDI is a premium experience for a pauper’s price, the Trendline starting at $24,475, the Comfortline for $27,175, and the top-line Highline out the door at only $30,875, plus $1,365 for freight and pre-delivery inspection. Is it an entry-level premium vehicle? It certainly feels like one, and made me ask why someone would want to spend more for premium badge.