Now that I have driven 1000 kilometres on the road with the Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI Highline with 7-speed DSG gearbox, it’s time to pen down my opinions about this new ride.
Without a doubt, it has taken me some time to get used to the new driving technology and a modern machinery. After all, I have been driving a 10-year-old car, which is really hard to imagine for a techie like me. But unlike mobile phones, one cannot afford to upgrade a motor vehicle every 12 months.
On my old Chevrolet Optra, there is nothing much to talk about other than the driving experience. The interior is just so basic and functional, but they are good enough for me.
On the new VW Jetta, I am swamped with smart features that, on one hand leave me impressed, while on the other hand make me worry whether the electronics can last a decade.
When I went through my selection process for my next car, in-vehicle gadgets are never in my list of criteria. I do not care that it comes with keyless entry or start/stop engine. Nor that it comes with GPS navigation system or intelligent park assist. Hence, I was pleasantly delighted with all these features as I uncover then AFTER I got the car on 28 May.
As the only other modern car I have experienced on-hand is the Volvo S60, that is going to be my benchmark for comparison, so forgive me if I find some of the features I am about to list down as “amazing”, though I am quite sure there are a handful of readers who will be as ignorant or outdated as I.
OK, enough of my opening passage. Time to get into the meat of my experience.
Balance of Analogue and Smart Tech
Surprisingly, VW Jetta has quite a fair share of analogue controls, which I appreciate, because computers are hardly fail-safe. So I was glad that Jetta is not too advanced to take-over human controls.
I do enjoy the keyless system, where the car unlocks magically by simply reaching my hand around the door handle with the car key in my pocket. After I entered the car, I simply reached towards the engine start-stop button and held on to it to initiate the engine. Once I reach the destination, press the engine button to stop the engine, but the radio is still on, and automatically turns off the moment I open the driver door. This is great in case you wanted to stay in the car for a little while longer.
Although you start the engine with a button as opposed to cranking the key, the engine button is mechanically driven. The engine starts only if I press and hold, just like when I crank and hold the key in the older cars. If I do not press the button long enough and released it as the engine is starting, it may result in a failed ignition. This is quite unlike other cars where a press, however long or short, will make the engine initiate all the way. If I do not want to start the engine and merely wanted to power up the in-car radio system, I just press and release the engine button promptly. Repeat the action will turn off the system, or press-and-hold to start engine.
I like that VW Jetta has many features that are manually operated, as opposed to electronically programmed. For instance, it still uses hand brake instead of electronic brake. Also, I get to control how the side mirror behaves, whether I want to retract or not, whether I want to tilt down during reverse parking or not. And I do so by turning the side mirror control knob to the desired mode instead of via electronic menu setting. “Smart”-centric drivers would bemoan at the lack of automation but I like it that way.
The way the car locks and unlocks is also customisable, a feature that I believe most modern cars have it. So for instance, I can decide whether the car auto locks after it reaches certain speed. I disabled that, because Singapore is safe, and because it’s a hassle to remember to unlock the car manually when picking up passengers. I can also decide when I unlock the car from my door, whether it also unlocks all other doors or just my door. Again, I set to enable all doors, just like my old car. These options are certainly useful in other countries to prevent intrusions, but not practical in Singapore. I did read the manual that if you enabled this feature and still want to unlock all doors, you can press the unlock button twice on the remote car key.
The parking assistance system with reverse camera feature is surprisingly easy to get used to. On the old car, I stuck 2 wide-angle mini-mirrors on the side mirrors so that I can see the lower rear bumpers. Sometimes I even opened the driver door to see clearer – very uncle style of parking! On the Volvo S60, I had problem parking the car because there is no reverse camera and unlike the older Chevrolet Optra, the rear windscreen and passenger doors are high hence harder for me to turn my head behind to gauge my parking.
The Jetta offers several parking assistance features. First, the left side mirror can be tilted down so I can see the left rear wheel area. Secondly, the parking sensor covers both front and back of the car, which is beneficial when doing parallel parking. It even displays the distance of obstacles on the infotainment system display. Finally, the reverse camera aids me in getting the car parked straight and at the right depth without bumping into any obstacles.
The Park Distance System Control feature can be auto activated as long as the car is traveling below 15kmh, forward or on reverse. Very useful if are doing parallel parking or head-on. But it can be irritating while the car is in queue. The Park Assist will start to beep at the front if you are too close to the front car, while the rear will start to beep when the rear car inches towards you. So after a few days of trying it out, I disabled the auto feature, and activated only during reverse gear. I can easily turn it on by pressing the button in front of the gear stick.
The Jetta front lighting system is rather sophisticated. There are xenon lights, LED lights, halogen lights, all for different purposes. The main xenon headlights calibrate every time you start the engine. The LED running lights are always on as long as you start the engine, while the halogen lights are for cornering which lights up whenever you turn on the signal or when you turn the steering wheel. The running lights intelligently turns off when you turn on signal lights. And while it makes sense to set the headlights as “auto”, I still like to manually control whether I want to turn on my headlights or not. Fortunately, it is easy for me to know whether I indeed turn on the headlights, because the dashboard backlight would be dark when they are not on, unlike other brand cars where the dashboard lights are always on, especially those with digital dashboards. And I am glad the dashboard is the traditional analogue display with just a small panel for digital information. I cannot imagine how disastrous it could be if for unknown reasons the digital dashboard turned buggy or crashed.
Another safety feature is on the brake pedal. You cannot start the engine until you step on the brake. Similarly, you cannot change the gear stick position unless you step on the brake pedal. This is to prevent accidental gear shifts resulting in the car moving without a driver in control.
So on the whole, while VW Jetta has loads of tech, they are easily accessed through traditional hardware buttons or knobs. The Jetta’s menu setting screen has very few options to configure compared to Volvo S60.
Infotainment Navigation System
The infotainment system on the VW Jetta is another unexpected bonus. After experiencing the Volvo S60 and my friend’s Mazda 3, once again I prefer the Jetta’s, not because it is more advanced. On the contrary, it has the right balance of traditional controls and tech.
Firstly, touchscreen! The Volvo S60 doesn’t have it. Next, the screen does not disable when driving! The Mazda 3 is so “smart” to prevent any on-screen action. Similarly, Volvo S60 stops displaying some content while the car is moving. But they did not consider that the infotainment system could be used by the passenger.
As you can see, the infotainment system has clear hardware buttons on both sides of the screen, which is so convenient. I do not have to turn any cursor knob or access any on-screen menu to get to my radio, or switch media, or turn on navigation map, or the phone screen.
The small volume button is positioned on the left for passenger use. After all, I can also control the volume from my steering wheel, so there is no need for a large volume button in the middle like many car systems. The similar-sized knob on the right is the cursor knob, in case you do not like to use the touchscreen to swipe and tap.
In comparison, the air-con control knobs below the infotainment system are a lot larger, and logically so because these are the only knobs to control air-con. The left is for the passenger’s side to adjust the temperate, while the right is for the driver. The middle is the fan power. Split buttons on the air-con knobs provide additional air-con settings.
Back to the infotainment system, one smart feature is the proximity sensor. When it senses your hand is near the screen, the menu icons get enlarged with text to help you select the options easily. When you move your hand away, the icons shrink to display the main content. These little things make such positive user experience.
I am not a fan of built-in road navigation system because firstly, they get outdated fast, and secondly, entering address is a pain. This particular VW navigation software requires me to enter the city (e.g. Paya Lebar), then street (e.g. Ubi Ave 1), then house number. It does not allow me to enter postal code. But when you do set the destination, you get some useful on-screen display on the dashboard to guide you with road markings, turn-by-turn display, and estimated time of arrival. The infotainment screen will also display the map, and you or your passenger can pinch and zoom or swipe around the route even while the car is in motion (no screen locking!). And since this version of infotainment system does not support video playback, I often turn on the navigation screen just to make the display a little more colourful and animated.
About the radio, setting radio stations is easier than I thought. Turning the cursor knob will auto-search to the next available station. Press-and-hold the preset slot to save the station.
About the media player, it supports major audio formats, even FLAC (a popular lossless audio format)! You can play media files from multiple sources: from the SD card slot, USB slot, AUX slot, and Bluetooth connection from the smartphone.
About the phone, upon pairing, the infotainment system will sync a maximum of 2000 phone contacts from your smartphone. The infotainment system always displays the mobile network signal bar and battery level at the top, like a tablet, just to remind you that your phone is connected. Through the dashboard in front of the wheel, you can also select contacts to call, to answer, hang up, or change to private mode (i.e. talk through the phone direct). Based on feedback from the other end, audio quality is good, it picks up voices from every one in the car, not just the driver.
The infotainment system would be even more perfect, if only all the functions are enabled. Traffic mode does not work, Voice control requires key, and so does App Connect, which potentially allows you to mirror your smartphone onto the infotainment screen. Plus it supports Apple CarPlay and Google Auto! Alas, not activated!!!
Engine and Drive Performance
The main thing that impresses me on the VW Jetta is the drive performance, which to me is the most important factor in a car. The Jetta dual-clutch DSG (direct switch gearbox) has the ability to run efficiently at low engine power, as well as responsively when I hit the pedal.
Let’s start from the beginning. Once the engine is fired up, and with speakers on, it felt as if the engine never started: it ran quietly and without much vibration. As I shift the gear to “D”, once I release the brake pedal, it takes a moment before the first gear engages before the car begins to roll rather unwillingly, unlike my old car. And if I did not step on the accelerator to pump some fuel to the engine, it would choke a little, feels almost like a manual car. Even if I were to step the accelerator promptly at stationary position, the engine would take a brief moment before kicking in and accelerate confidently. Some people might not like this lag but I can adjust to that. This behaviour seems to be due to Jetta engaging in brake mode, which helps in slope driving.
Once I get past N to D1, the Jetta gear shift is very short and amazingly smooth. If the car travels slow, say in small roads, the gear shifts to D4 after a while even if the car maintains at 40kmh, and shifts up to D7 when traveling at just 60kmh. And when I needed to overtake, I just step the pedal harder. The gear shifts from D7 to D6 to pick up, while the rpm increases slightly. If I step a little more to indicate my intention to “want more speed”, the gear downshifts again to D5, and rpm picks up further. Usually under urban conditions, I can get enough pick up with 2 gear downshifts. So unlike my old Chevy where the gear downshifts from D5 to D3 results in engine rpm shooting up the roof, the Jetta engine power is more optimised and reduces power waste.
Another nice experience about the Jetta over-taking performance is that the momentum is still there even after I lift off the accelerator. Hence, what I do when I needed a boost in speed is to step the pedal firmer, then once the Jetta picks up speed, I lift off the pedal to let it cruise at the higher speed, instead of keep stepping on the pedal. Even without stepping the accelerator, the gear continues to shift up as long as the speed is right. It makes the drive so fuel-efficient.
Obviously, if you are a more aggressive driver, you can floor the pedal harder, and Jetta will respond to your command. And if you really want Jetta to fly on the roads, shift the gear stick further down to “S” – for Sports. The difference is that the car will drive at higher rpm before shifting to the next gear. As I have been driving a conservative-performing car for nearly a decade, I am not accustomed to aggressive driving styles, and hence I cannot comment on how good the Jetta performs in that aspect.
As for slope handling, the Jetta will not slide back during up-slope when brake pedal is released. The car will also descend the slope at low speed without having to step on the brake or manually shift to lower gear, which was what I always do on my old car.
I tried driving using manual geartronic shifting, and it’s quite fun. The car will display gear recommendation on the dashboard if it feels you should be up-shifting. It will also shift down automatically to prevent engine stalling. But I don’t find the need to use manual gear mode because the auto mode is already very efficient.
Honest Opinion from a 9-year-old
Here’s what my daughter likes about the VW Jetta.
- keyless entry
- reverse camera
- car plate number retention
- new Blackvue car camera included in the purchase
- more comfortable than previous car
- new car smell
- electronic driver seat adjustment
- easy to open the boot with the press of a button (the old car doesn’t have that)
She also wrote a list for the Volvo S60 test drive unit last year. Simple likes for an innocent mind. :)
Conclusion at 1000km
It’s hard not to like the Volkswagen Jetta. The interior design is practical and good-looking. The buttons on the centre panel, the wheel, and the driver side are well-positioned and it did not take me long to familiarise. The aircon vents are large, allowing more air to blow out. The boot space is huge, with built-in compartments and spring hooks to hold shopping bags upright. The front doors can swing wide open to almost 90-degrees. There are entry lights near the doors. The engine is responsive while maintaining cabin comfort and with balanced fuel economy. The car maneuvers with such ease and comfort that I don’t feel tired driving it for long distances. The wheel base is identical to my old Chevy so I drive without major adjustments. Maybe the exterior design is not so aggressive and stylish, but I have to say this latest Jetta 2015 facelift is the best.
For the price I paid, I have to say, the Jetta is a fantastic German-tech sedan car. The engine technology and design might not be the absolute latest, but it will do for my humble use especially in Singapore urban roads.