Sunday, 11 November 2012

Volkswagen Jetta TSI : Road Test

With the venerable Volkswagen Jetta now available with a smaller 1.4-litre TSI petrol motor, have the boffins at VW made the right trade-off in order to get the best from this executive saloon? We find out

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI front

The Jetta TDI was literally the epitome of the perfect executive sedan – stylish, upmarket, well built, great to drive and very frugal to boot. So you’d naturally assume that when its petrol powered twin, the Jetta TSI, was with us for a couple of weeks for a shoot, the Ziggy Gang would have showered it with attention. But you’d be quite wrong.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI rear

Make no mistake, the Jetta TSI is a great car. But it does pale a little in comparison to its diesel twin. The problem I believe is that we were expecting too much from it. When the rumour mill was buzzing earlier this year that VW was bringing in the petrol Jetta, the natural conjecture dictated that what we’d find under the hood would be that delightful 1.8-litre TSI motor that makes us howl with glee when we put our foot down in the Skoda Laura.

But the Germans pulled a fast one on us and word got around that the Jetta’s petrol motor would in fact be just 1.4 litres in displacement. But no matter, VW’s 1.4-litre TSI twin-charged engine is a petrolhead’s wet dream. This engine is such a technological masterpiece that it has dominated the 1.0- to 1.4-litre category of the International Engine of the Year Awards since 2006 and has won the top ‘Engine of the Year’ prize in 2009 and 2010. And as if that wasn’t enough, it even ended the Toyota Prius’ Hybrid Synergy Drive’s reign by winning the ‘Green Engine Of The Year’ award in 2009.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI engine

The secret behind this engine’s success is that using a combination of two different types of forced induction, ie, turbocharging and supercharging, it can produce up to 179PS of power and 250Nm of torque, while providing great driveability, excellent mileage and low emissions. But sadly, for India, we lost the supercharger and received a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces just 122PS of power and 200Nm of torque. So you can imagine then, that looking at the facts and figures, we’d all be left a little disappointed. But then what does all this mean for someone who fancies buying a petrol powered Jetta in India? Well, since this is all about a new engine, let’s get straight to the performance game.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI driving

Just how much has the performance dropped?
Of course, with a smaller, and more importantly less powerful engine, performance is going to be on the low side. So don’t expect this to take on its diesel twin or its petrol powered cousin from the Skoda stables. Compared to the Jetta TDI, this is 18PS and a whopping 120Nm down while compared to the Laura TSI, the difference is 38PS and 50Nm. Now all this would be fine if the car was considerably lighter, or that engine was plonked into a smaller car.

But at a bit over 1.4 tonnes, it’s not exactly what you may call light on its feet. With just the turbocharger having to do all the work of force feeding that small displacement engine with mouthfuls of air, the run from naught to 100km/h takes 11.7 seconds, which definitely puts the Jetta TSI lower down the performance ladder in its class.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI gearbox

Zero to 100km/h times are just one side of the story though, and the side that doesn’t matter too much in the real world. What matters more is driveability, and here the Jetta TSI certainly impresses. Not because it churns out any class leading figures, but because it manages things that you simply don’t expect from a car that, at least on paper, seems underpowered. The tractability of this engine is surprisingly good, especially in the first three gears, and in third, this TSI can pull along from 60 to 80km/h in just 4.71 seconds.

Gears four through six however all offer overdrive ratios, which means that when you’re cruising along on the open road at highway speeds, they offer smooth and efficient driving, but you won’t find yourself reaching for the top three gears too often in the confines of the city. But then again, expecting that the ‘driving-about-in-a-single-high-gear’ antics of the TDI would be possible on this car would really be hoping for too much. Still, compared to the diesel, the TSI’s short-throw 6-speed gearbox shifts very slickly indeed and the light clutch pedal action ensures that changing cogs on the manual transmission never feels like manual labour.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI driving rear

If it’s not as quick, is it more efficient?
With the price of petrol at about 75 rupees across the country, suddenly mileage becomes an all important factor, even within a segment you’d think isn’t so concerned with penny pinching and squeezing every kilometre from that last drop of fuel. The TDI was a very impressive car in this aspect, churning out a combined fuel economy of above 15kmpl on the worst of days, and if you used your right foot a little more conservatively, we’ve seen this number climb even over 30kmpl! Expecting this sort of frugality from any petrol engine is really asking for the moon, and even the ARAI’s claim of 14.7kmpl is not too bad really.

Our own tests however run by ZigWheels’ chief road tester, Dilip Desai, saw the TSI under-delivering on the mileage front than what the company and the ARAI claims. On the highways around Pune, the figure was about 11.7kmpl, while in heavy city traffic, it dropped to a paltry 8.2kmpl. With the combined figure barely over 9kmpl, the downsized 1.4-litre TSI engine doesn’t really offer any significant fuel savings over the group’s 1.8-litre TSI motor doing duty in the Skoda Laura. However, Volkswagen’s techno-marvel of an engine is certainly what you can call ‘green’. With a CO2 emission figure of 144g/km, it is one of the least polluting cars in the executive car segment and getting yourself one of these cars is an express ticket to guilt-free motoring heaven.

Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI interiors

So what DO you get?
Well, the rest of the car pretty much stays the same, which is a really good thing. The same conventional, yet handsome styling on the outside, the same well put together interiors and overall top notch build quality carry over exactly from its diesel twin. The Jetta’s cabin is a wonderful place to be in, and while it might not wow you with gadgets galore, very few cars in the Indian market feel this good, especially from behind the wheel. And what about the Jetta’s legendary handling? Well, that’s almost intact. The 205/55R16 tyres provide plenty of grip in every imaginable driving condition, but with a lighter motor over the front wheels, the front end of the car feels a little floaty, though only at high speeds, and the feedback from the steering wheel isn’t as sharp. But this is still one of the best handling executive sedans money can buy.

But the real advantage the TSI offers over the TDI is the affordability factor. With the Trendline model priced at Rs 13.6 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) and the Comfortline at Rs 15.07 lakh, variant to variant, you end up saving over 1.3 lakh rupees, and that’s a pretty princely sum no matter how well off you are. On the other hand, the things you do miss out on are the top-of-the-range Highline trim level (along with all the little goodies that it offers over the Comfortline trim) and an automatic gearbox option. That being said, it faces stiff competition from its Czech cousin, the Skoda Laura, which offers pretty much all the same features, but with the larger 1.8-litre TSI mill, at an even lower price which undercuts the Jetta TSI’s by about Rs 70,000 to 80,000.

And after everything we’ve said about the car, the thing that we can take away from it is that it is definitely a brilliant machine in many departments, but sadly will always feel like it plays the ‘brat’ to its ‘good boy’ diesel twin. If it was a proper ‘bad boy’ (and we mean that in a good way – in the way that the Laura vRS is to the Laura L&K diesel), then it’d definitely have many takers. But the way things stand, it’ll end up being the Jetta for those who think the Jetta is too expensive. For the rest of those who want the Jetta and are willing to pay the premium for it, diesel is the way to go!

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