Test drive: Volkswagen Jetta 1.4TSI HighLine

The sixth-gen version is now six years old. Does the B7 Passat’s grille and Mk7 Golf’s engine breathe new life into it?


Volkswagen’s transition in the past decade from a brand many knew to a brand many own in Malaysia can be attributed to the Mk6 Golf and the fellow TSI stablemates of its generation. While many of the cars from this golden generation have taken new life in the form of MQB reincarnations, one model bravely soldiers on without the group’s new underpinnings. Jetta, we meet again.

At first, the Jetta’s facelifted elements may take some effort to spot due to their aesthetic similarities with other Volkswagen models. We say this with our eyes fixated on the new grille that gives the Jetta a more grown-up look nearly identical to that of the B7 Passat. The new tail lights have an Audi vibe about them – more upscale, but familiar nonetheless. However, déjà vu isn’t the universal theme with this updated, booted ‘Mk6 Golf’.

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Under the hood is an engine cover with the letters TSI emblazoned on it, but this hides the newer single turbo unit used in the Mk7 Golf as opposed to the Mk6 mill which incorporates a supercharger as well. Power is down slightly to 148bhp, but there’s an extra 10Nm of twist, bumping things up to 250Nm from 1,500rpm. This output is channelled to the front wheels via a familiar DQ200 7-speed DSG (dual clutch transmission), which Volkswagen claims is more robust than the bug-troubled examples of yore thanks to improved materials, software and mineral-based lubrication.

Just like in our maiden drive of the Mk7 Golf, the removal of a supercharger accentuates a hint of lag right off the bat. The 1.4-litre four-banger recovers quickly with plenty of punch as momentum builds up, with the slick shifting gearbox doing a splendid job of prepping generous amount of torque at all times. C-segment rivals such as the Honda Civic and Ford Focus may have closed the performance gap with turbocharged engines of their own, but the Jetta’s DSG still edges Honda’s CVT and Ford’s new 6AT by a whisker in terms of driver engagement, past controversies aside.

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The facelifted Jetta impresses even more around the bends than in a straight line. Bigger rims – our Highline tester rode on 17-inch ‘Queensland’ alloys – add a dash of tautness to the compact sedan’s already nicely balanced chassis. A tinge of comfort may have been sacrificed in the process, but the corner hugging ride setup strikes a joyous partnership with the communicative, thin-rimmed steering wheel for a fun-biased drive rarely experienced in this segment.

Unfortunately, passengers won’t be having as much fun as the driver due to the lack of toys in the cabin by current automotive standards. The ‘Highline Package’, which bumps the Jetta’s price tag up to RM130k, lists bi-xenon headlights, a five-inch touchscreen display and Bluetooth connectivity amongst its list of extras. These do add a touch of glam missing in the pre-facelift, but they feel inadequate at a time when LED headlights and seven-inch touchscreens that are Android Auto/Apple Carplay compatible are being fiercely marketed in the B-segment. And we haven’t even got to things like remote ignition and self-parking, which you’ll obviously not find here.

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Granted, the Jetta Highline’s arsenal of selling points doesn’t cut off there. But age is an issue it can’t escape – its overly familiar design cues and certain tech limitations draw attention to the fact that the car gracing these pages is essentially 2011’s breakthrough artist trying to stay relevant six years on in the face of hipper competition. The Jetta is bound to struggle once the inevitable brochure comparisons are conducted.

But let’s not judge something for what it isn’t. Feature starved as it may be in the eyes of cash strapped, tech savvy millennials, the Jetta redeems itself with honest and rewarding driving dynamics which owe a lot to a competent powertrain which Volkswagen conceptualised way ahead of the competition. The TSI/DSG novelty may not last for much longer now that everyone else is barrelling at speed on the downsizing bandwagon, but we believe this facelift has what it takes to hold its own until a new one comes along.

Ford Focus 1.5L EcoBoost
Another worthy C-segment option for the anti-establishment buyer with a ‘look west’ policy

Engine: 1,395cc, 4-cylinder turbo, 148bhp, 250Nm
Economy: 5.0L/100km
Performance: 0-100kph in 8.6 secs, 220kph
Weight: NA

Beginning to look dated and lagging in features. Makes up for it with good old driving dynamics unimpeded by fancy electronics.

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Author: Daryl Loy