We are mad proud of the Jetta here in Mexico, oh do our minds fill with pride every time an underpaid factory worker in Puebla superglues the fake chrome plastic emblem to the noses of various vehicles. An emblem that has come to characterize the city if not the state of Puebla. Oh the hubris with which we look at the metallic paint sparkling and the alloy wheels shining as a sleazy dealer in an ill fitting suit approaches us and says, because they always fucking say it:
“Usted sabe que este coche se fabrica en Mexico?”
“Usted sabia que Volkswagen fue de las primeras automotrices de Mexico?”
Yes. we know. we know VW was the first of the many that eventually settled here, we know its a Mexican car, we know everything you told us because everyone is so fucking proud about it!
Yet, it’s difficult to think of the Jetta objectively unless you remove it from its environment, but how can you remove a car from its market and the popular conception of it?
Removing the Jetta from the context of Mexico and the year 2017 in one of the more competitive markets: it wasn’t a bad car when it came out.
On the contrary! its an elegant if not forgettable sedan, it shows almost perfect determination to do one thing and one thing only: being a car. Its not specially fast or specially slow. It wont stand out in a beauty contest, and that is both good and bad. Its not luxurious but its not austere by any means, while yes the dash does feel like hardened play doh, it serenades you with bluetooth audio that is surprisingly fast to connect to your phone.
VW Jetta: for the Republican that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016: while its not everything this person wanted he/she understands that its a good compromise that will ensure stability.
This isn’t a car for someone worried about the new ECU tune getting on time on the mail, but then it couldn’t be because the twist beam suspension ain’t helping getting those lap times on the board yo. But then again, its not a car that would amass Camry dents either.
VW Jetta: what Ralph Nader would’ve designed if he was part of the Corvair design team.
This is a car for people so aggressively reasonable that after going on a date with them you don’t hate them or love them, you just like them. You don’t quite understand what moves them but something is definitely ticking, even they can’t kill the impulsive and trivial behavior we evolved to have.
VW Jetta: The Cosmopolitan’s interpretation of what the proletariat wants.
About the ticking thing, again, nothing impressive, its a twenty valve, multi-port-fuel-injected straight five in a transverse position. Generating a not very massive 170HP and 177 ft-lb the Jetta is hurdled to sixty in about eight seconds thanks to a six speed automatic transmission and its not quite considerable 3200 pound heft. Absent is any good sound as the engine is tuned to be quiet: it normally sounds like a broken vacuum cleaner through a pistol silencer.
VW Jetta: as forgettable as the names of character actors in an NBC police drama.
You could buy the GLI version with the old GTI engine making 200 horsepower, which would come with four corner independent suspension but that would be like using the $20,000 Josper charcoal oven to cook hot pockets: its simply something that shouldn’t be done. All this because the Jetta wasn’t meant to be a quick car, it was meant to be a car, a simple good car.
VW Jetta: We... we know....
But lets go back to Mexico City and this unforgivingly cold morning outside my friend’s apartment. As I drive she explains that she doesn’t care about the car, and that’s why she can live with it, it wont make her feel good, or bad... See she somehow surpassed the imagery of the Jetta and ran past into the no-fucks-give zone. She doesn’t seem like the average Jetta owner, after owning the car for almost five years, she’s not wanting to change it for another VW and I can understand why.
How does the Jetta drive?
The engine, much like someone pleading the 5th in federal court, isn’t willing to cooperate, but push it past 4 grand it starts sounding nicely if not muted. The gearbox (and for this analogy its lawyer) is to blame for the engine’s unresponsiveness: not exactly slow in manual mode, but in automatic it is often unwilling to kick down, showing it’s economy-based tuning. The Jetta accelerates the most in the mid upper range but it doesn’t like running any faster than 2500 RPM , I don’t imagine it’d be a particularly willing highway cruiser, but then again, sometimes you need to go the GTMO way.
The car has soft dampers and suffers a good amount of squat on braking; much more than I’d expect in a car its size or weight. However soft the dampers are, the springs are quite harsh. This translates road imperfections weirdly, the more common ones are, well, dampened. Otherwise you can expect a harsh response when falling into potholes, riding through expansion joints, or going over speed humps.
The brakes are OK, this is the version that comes with four wheel disks after all (you could get the Jetta with rear drums pre-facelift), but not anything I’d show off or trust above 150km/h.
Quick stereotype: I don’t understand how JETTA owners feel comfortable driving like fucking animals in the highway with these brakes.
The pedal has medium travel and felt linearly progressive, something BMW could learn from.
The interior and switch gear is tightly held and doesn’t rattle despite this Jetta being the old the pre-facelift model. The seats aren’t uncomfortable, but their plushy nature makes me fearful of backaches during long trips. Even at 6'2" I felt like the seat better adjusted to my dimensions than in larger cars like my Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, I’ll have to pray for whomever seats behind me because there is absolutely no room, yet, we need to admit this is a common issue in any car smaller than a five series.
The Jetta was recently facelifted (its a 7 year old car now), VW dropped the drum brakes, the twist beam, and it now comes with DLRs and a few light redesigns here in Mexico. Otherwise, the Jetta much like Mexican university students, behaves conspicuously better outside its home country. Despite being in company of better students, Jetta now also gets better grades, a newer engine helped improve its failing GPA. But it seems to leave those in the dorm because in Mexico its same old five pot: This makes me go nuts.
But because everyone in Mexico loves the Jetta I caught this post facelift one in the parking garage; its black so you really can’t tell the redesign much, perhaps the lamps...
I have 253,000-367,000 pesos (13,300-19,300 USD) to spend on a car, should it be the Jetta?
GOD NO! Go and buy a Golf, or an Elantra, or a Cruze, or a Mazda 3, literally any of those is more technologically advanced, economical, and safer. The Jetta was merely average seven years ago and it hasn’t changed a thing here in Mexico. Its an old dog and the owner in full confidence that we, the Mexican people, wouldn’t give a shit decided its dog wouldn’t learn any new tricks for this year’s derby.
And Volkswagen de Mexico was right, we don’t give a shit. We don’t give a shit that the Golf is better, we like the aesthetic of the Jetta because of everything it stands for. The Golf is a better car and its not significantly more expensive but its not Mexico’s car (even though its made here). Its weird shape is foreign to us lovers of the sedan cars of years past, we can’t stand that its better than the Jetta. But it’s not Jetta’s fault, its just how aging works.
But I can’t be happy with VW, even with the Jetta set to be using the MQB platform soon. I can’t because this current facelifted but old engined Jetta and the NMS Passat, and the Atlas, and the lack of Artheon, and the old underpowered engines just proves to me that VW doesn’t love us anymore, did they ever actually love us? Mexico became so consumed by the notion of foreign approval that we forgot to expect and ask for a certain respect from our germanic overlords. VW isn’t bad, they just made a marketing decision based on how the market is: Complacent.
And boy did the get it right.