Reader iMatt shares his experiences with the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 “Quebec Special”
Is the old 2.0L engine really as bad as the internet believes?
I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d need to buy a second vehicle to compliment the Honda Fit shared by my girlfriend and I. That time finally came with a forced relocation at work and after taking many months to decide what I wanted in my next vehicle, I decided my top two priorities were value and comfort, neither of which being the focal points of the Fit.
I opted for a base model 2015 Jetta with the 2.0 L engine and 5 speed manual transmission with nary an option, not even A/C (ironically). Price after fees and taxes came to just over $17 000 CAD. Standard equipment did include amenities that were once optional such as cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a trip computer, a back-up camera and a touch-screen head unit.
The plain exterior is a familiar sight nowadays, even with some minor tweaks for 2015. I appreciate the understated styling compared to the more stylized competitors such as the Mazda 3 or the Corolla. The Jetta just seems to have a more mature and refined air to it. My biggest complaint is that the base steel wheels look cheap and a tad undersized, luckily that’s easily remedied should I choose to do so.
The interior design reflects that of the exterior. I have to say though, I was surprised at how nice it feels. Hard plastics abound (don’t care) but materials are nice where they count. The instrument cluster and center stack are a joy to use on a daily basis, although I do lament the lack of an engine coolant temperature gauge. The gear shifter and steering wheel have nice shapes and so-so plastics but don’t offend. The 6-way adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable for my smallish frame but provides less thigh support than I would like. On the other hand, there is a fair bit of side bolstering. Larger people may find the narrow seats uncomfortable. The trunk is large as is the backseat.
My favourite attribute to the interior is the driving position combined with the low cowl. It reminds me a little of older Honda Accords providing excellent forward visibility with easy access to controls.
When I was researching this car, I could hardly find any actual reviews of the entry level engine. Even still, in most summaries, auto writers have no issue labeling it as an outdated boat anchor and as the engine to avoid at all costs. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one to try it out.
Starting with the facts: Displacement is a tad less than 2000 CCs. Output is rated at 115 HP @ 5000 RPM and 125 lb-ft @ 4000 RPM.
Initial impressions on the test drive were that the old engine is entirely adequate for normal use in town – I would even dare to say more than adequate. There’s enough torque to keep you ahead of traffic from stoplight to stoplight if that’s your thing. I found you still have to be mindful of being in the optimal gear. This engine won’t pull you out of wrong gear situations like other more powerful cars will.
The bulk of the 3000 kms I’ve put on the car thus far have come from mountainous highway driving on single lane roads. The grades are steep, corners sharp and in this region of Alberta, the pavement beat to a pulp from the plentiful heavy industrial traffic.
On rare stretches of straight and level road, the Jetta has no issues maintaining speeds of 80 – 90 MPH in 5th gear running around 3000 RPM – something that I was entirely not expecting. Passing on two lane highways is also drama free and can easily be done in 4th gear. Obviously you won’t get the effortless blast of acceleration afforded by more powerful cars, but it’s not the real world slug “enthusiasts” would lead you to believe it is.
Climbing steep grades of 7% or more will require a downshift to 4th gear, if not 3rd in some cases. Under no circumstances was I unable to maintain the posted speed limits.
Under all driving conditions, the engine has proven to be quiet and relaxed, able to do it’s job at relatively low RPMs; quite the opposite from the rev happy and noisy 1.5 L in the Fit. It even has a pleasant and unique sounding growl to it that I don’t normally associate with a 4 cylinder engine. At idle and at low engine loads, you can feel slight vibrations coming through the steering wheel. Personally, I like to be reminded I’m piloting a machine with moving parts compared say to any modern V6 sedan with an engine so isolated, you can’t even tll if it’s running. The mechanical feel is part of the driving experience, perhaps explaining why I’ve been partial to older Hondas for so long. I honestly and surprisingly have not been disappointed by this “boat anchor” of an engine.
The gear shifter is easy to use with somewhat notchy shifts at times but is still substantial feeling unlike a Honda Civic’s for example. I was a little let own and liken the feel to that of an old and tired Mazda 626 I used to own (note: 5000 km later, it seems to have loosened up a bit with a smoother action). Clutch take-up is lighter than what I was expecting but still heavier than the aforementioned Civic’s. It is easy to use and provides for no surprises.
Back on the winding roads, the ride and handling of the Jetta don’t egg you on in a playful way the Fit or a Mazda 3 do. It turns out the Jetta drives a lot like it’s styling suggests it would. The ride is on the stiff side of smooth and composed. Only twice on a 200 km stretch of bruised and battered highway did I bottom out the suspension travelling at higher rates of speed. The car feels very stable in most conditions. The same trip in the Fit was always a white knuckled affair – in a more fun but sore back kind of way. To get the same thrills in the Jetta, you’d have to travel at a pace that could land you in a lot of trouble.
Approaching the Jetta’s handling limits is smooth and predictable. Body roll, while present, is minimal and mid corner frost heaves don’t upset the balance of the car. Steering inputs are met with crisp responses but like I said earlier, the car just doesn’t change direction as eagerly as some other sporty feeling cars. Pushing the relatively high cornering limits, you can feel the moment the front tire begins to rollover onto its sidewall, not exactly fun but there it is. The steering has a lighter feel than I was expecting as well, lighter than what I would like.
The upside to the more sedate handling is a very competent highway ride. On one occasion, on these same torn up and bumpy roads, I asked my partner how fast she thought we were going without looking at the speedo, she knew why I was asking ;). Her guess was a good 30 MPH less than what our actual speed was. Somehwat faint praise, but it gives you an idea this car doesn’t feel like a cheap econobox out on the highway. Adding to the experience is a low wind and road noise level.
The brakes work. I can tell you that moderate braking from highway speeds or down steep grades is smooth and drama free. I haven’t attempted any emergency stops in reverse yet so I can’t comment on whether the rear disc brakes feel like a noticeable improvement over the old drums.
Fuel economy has been reported by the trip computer at around 8.0 L/100 KMS (29.4 MPG). This was in a driving style as explained above at temperatures ranging from -10 C to -25 C (14 F to -13 F). In my opinion, that is fantastic.
As I wrap up this review, I’ve noticed a few patterns emerge from my thoughts and reflections. The words drama free and comfortable continue to pop up throughout. I would like to reiterate that although this car and powertrain are fairly comfortable, especially for the price, it may not be ideal for lazy drivers or people who simply don’t like to drive. The powertrain does require attention to ensure you’re always making the best of the limited power available. For example, if you don’t like to plan your passing maneuvers, have trouble maintaining a constant speed even on small grades or just all around don’t pay attention to your driving, I would suggest you step up to a more powerful car.
If you’re like me however and take pleasure in anticipating the road or traffic ahead, enjoy interacting with your vehicle (and no, I don’t mean having it read your emails to you) and will sometimes go for a drive just for the sake of driving, then this car can provide a great driver’s oriented compromise.
In this neck of the woods, people (men) are quick to tell me all the time I NEED a pickup truck out here – that I’m crazy to travel on any highway in a 2wd drive vehicle. Some go as far as to say that cars shouldn’t even be allowed on the highway. I gladly point out my girlfriend got by just fine this past winter commuting within the city limits in our winter tire equipped Fit without so much as ever getting stuck.
Point being that cars are far more useful and capable than people give them credit for. The Jetta’s measly 115 HP isn’t so measly on it’s own merits and suits my needs just fine. Could I have afforded the payments on a more powerful version or even a shiny new pickup truck? -Certainly, but aside from bragging rights and rollercoaster acceleration, I’ve got other priorities at this point in my life.