Good For: Das billig Auto. When the 4th generation Jetta was launched about 16 years ago, it boasted a distinctive and stunning upscale interior that set it apart from all other inexpensive compact cars in the United States. Some of the competition has played some catching up since then, but there is a distinctively German flavour to the execution of details that only Volkswagen has brought down to this price range. Even the base stereo has a wide, easy to use screen, which happens to also receive FM stations noticeably better than all the dozens of other cars I've driven up and down I-85. The 170hp 5-cylinder is also very lively and adds to the great handling of the 3000-pound car.
Compromises: While previous Jettas showcase super German engineering, the current one is beginning to reveal German frugality. Fit and finish of the seats and dashboard has dropped to Playskool levels, and is pretty much an insult to anyone who has enjoyed the former cars. All this cost cutting is supposed to help VW sell more cars, but cheapening a car without lowering the price may be the reason why they have completely missed their growth targets in the United States.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: At least the latest Jetta does a good job of maximizing interior space on the compact platform. Rear seat room is much better than previous Jettas, and is a significant selling point against Jetta wannabe's like the Chevy Cruze. VW is also still offering us the wagon, with a TDI engine option and manual transmissions at all trim levels. Perhaps VW is attempting to re-define the Jetta as cheap, practical transportation, and saving the nicer refinements for those willing to spring for the Passat. Thumb up to Volkswagen for boldly continuing to try to sell European configurations to Americans. The enthusiasts will continue to gobble them up, and one day it may catch on.
Thursday, 12th of February, 2015
Good For: Maximizing the subcompact. The little Opel Mokka rides on a GM subcompact car platform, and was great for maneuvering through the narrower European streets, parking lots, and garages. The parking assist sensors both front and rear were interesting, but unnecessary. In spite of the small footprint, the tall crossover body maximized interior space for passengers, and rear seat room is impressive for a car this size. Trunk space is more in line with that of a 5-door hatch, but the setup provides nice versatility. GM electronic toys also attempt to maximize efficiency and the driving experience. This is the first car I've driven with automatic engine start-stop. It works in conjunction with the manual transmission, and shuts off the motor when you have the clutch out in neutral sitting at a traffic light. As soon as you push the clutch in, the engine starts on it's own. Despite being a tall crossover, it is not too heavy and a fun little car to toss around, even with snow tires. This is also the first time I've been able to select a rental car with snow tires and a manual transmission. Rentaling cars in Europe is much more fun than in the US.
Compromises: It's too bad you can't select a manual transmission for this car in the United States, as usual. You see the Opel Mokka running around as a Buick Encore here, and a cheaper Chevrolet version, the Trax, is available starting this year.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: Introducing the subcompact crossover to the GM lineup makes sense. The extra comfort and versatility can easily soften the blow of downsizing to the newer, smaller, and more efficient cars. The Trax has way more room than the Cruze, despite being lighter. The only powertrain option in the US is the 1.4L turbo and a 6-speed, though there is nothing wrong with the less powerful naturally aspirated 1.6L in the Mokka I drove. It is good enough around town, especially mated to a manual transmission. On my first trip on the motorway, I picked an 80s VW to follow in the traffic flow and found myself doing 4300 rpm in top gear. This wasn't really an issue with this engine, and I was still getting over 30 mpg doing 130 km/hr. At least I didn't have to worry about downshifting on the motorway. Belgians have it right when it comes to safety. Instead of focusing so much on speed, they have laws requiring that all cars must be equipped refletive jackets, warning triangle, first aid kit, and fire extinguisher. Maybe this will motivate me to finally get around to mounting one in my car.