Joining the Jetta set...

Volkswagen’s latest generation Jetta is bigger and sleeker than before, offering customers a refreshingly different alternative to the Golf.

A big part of its promise lies in the fact that the Jetta now looks more like a model in its own right rather than a Golf that has grown a posterior appendage.

Stop me if I sound like I’m repeating myself. Every few years Volkswagen brings out another booted version of the Golf and each time commentators claim that this time round it’ll be a sales success in the UK. First the Jetta, then the Vento, then the Bora and back to the Jetta again; booted Golf variants have been big sellers in the US but have never found favour on these shores.

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. That applies to a certain degree to Volkswagen’s attempts to market the Jetta in the UK but this time round the company is banking on having done things differently.

The previous fifth generation Jetta model adopted a pragmatic tactic in ‘benchmarking’ the suspension of the rival Ford Focus and the results proved to be a big step forward in the handling department, something continued by this latest generation model. Hi-tech TSI and TDI powerplants, multi-link rear suspension and electro-mechanical power steering all promise a mature driving experience of the kind that prospective customers will be seeking.

The Jetta draws its inspiration from Volkswagen’s elegant New Compact Coupe design study, first shown at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. Most show cars are wildly indulgent, with flip-up doors, interiors that look like Zaha Hadid architecture and 22-inch alloy wheels shod with rubber bands for tyres. The Volkswagen NCC was different. It looked production-ready. It was a mature, cohesive design that smacked slightly of a better-resolved, slightly shrunken version of Audi’s A5. With some spy shots already in the bag of the prototype Jetta being durability tested, it was obvious that the NCC would spawn the next generation Jetta - the similarities were obvious.

And so it has proved. No body panel is carried over from its predecessor, lending the Jetta an elegant appearance that marks the latest evolution of a new phase of Volkswagen design. It’s a significantly bigger car than before as well, the overall length swelling by 90mm to 4,644mm. A 510-litre boot offers serious carrying capacity and a pragmatic layout. Styling is certainly subjective but has any recent Golf looked quite this good?

With a vast array of engines and trims to choose from, Jetta owners are spoiled for choice. Petrol-wise, Volkswagen have added the 105PS 1.2-litre TSI engine and the supercharged and turbocharged 160PS 1.4-litre TSI unit to the line-up and continue with the 122PS 1.4-litre TSI and the turbocharged 200PS 2.0-litre TSI as seen in the Golf GTI. Those looking for a diesel option have the choice of 105PS 1.6-litre TDI or 140PS 2.0-litre TDI powerplants.

Equipment levels are set to be strong. An all-new dashboard with aluminium highlights sits ahead of a leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel. Every Jetta model also gets an integrated multifunction display, air conditioning and a CD stereo system. Available as an option will be touchscreen satellite navigation. As you would expect from Volkswagen, a comprehensive array of safety features also makes the specification sheet, including six airbags, anti lock brakes and an Electronic Stabilisation Programme.

Volkswagen’s BlueMotion economy models have proven a big hit amongst those looking to shave their daily running costs and the Jetta’s BlueMotion model includes Start/Stop and battery regeneration and is offered with the 1.2-litre TSI and the 1.6-litre TDI engines. The changes allow the 1.2-litre TSI version to achieve 53.2 mpg on the combined cycle while emitting 123g/km of CO2. The 1.6-litre TDI variant is capable of returning 68 mpg and emits just 109g/km of carbon dioxide.

It is undoubtedly a very tidy piece of product design backed up by solid build quality and a range of very strong engines. Quite how large this body of customers will be returns us to the nub of the Jetta’s problem. It’s never been a big seller as the bottom line is that most customers in this sector prefer the practicality of a hatchback.

Given this constraint, however, it’s hard to see how Volkswagen could have done much more. One option would have been to undercut the Golf on price but risking killing a goose that has laid so many golden eggs would never be on the cards. If you are one of the minority who favours four doors over five, the Jetta is a smart pick. Volkswagen has sold 9.6 million worldwide since 1979, so perhaps it’s the UK who needs to play catch up.