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2016 Volkswagen Jetta review

Decent value for what folks want, but poor seats


The Volkswagen Jetta continues to be the alternative of note to the Honda Civics and Ford Focuses of the world; always feeling like a little extra thought was put in to styling, handling and overall creature comforts at a fair price. German engineering and all that. And while the Americans and Japanese competitors have done a lot to catch up with the "cool kids," this particular Jetta model shows you can still get a great combintion of German styling, connectivity features and creature comforts at a very reasonable price point.

Of course, some of those creature comforts were more comfortable than others. The seats, for instance, just aren’t that comfortable anymore. They're hard and flat, offering up almost no back support. I drove it for a few semi-extended periods of time over the weekend and ended up with a twinge in my spine. The seat heaters are strong, which is nice on a chilly November morning, and the wipers seem to do a good job of clearing off the frost; VW's latest touchscreen radio system is also good looking and easy to use. It's also nice to find a whole infotainment suite -- Bluetooth, satellite radio, rearview camera, touchscreen interface and App-Connect (allowing you to access your phone's apps on the center display) -- in a car under $25,000.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI SEL

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI SEL review notes

the auto-journo special


EDITOR WES RAYNAL: As with the other MQB platform-based Golfs I’ve driven, this is an excellent small car. The diesel runs about a $3K premium over a gas Golf wagon, and the SEL is the most expensive trim level with standard stuff such as touchscreen nav, dual-zone climate control, sunroof, rear camera, ambient lighting and so on. A base Golf diesel wagon runs about 24 grand and change, a good value in my opinion.

All the Golfs I’ve driven recently feel more mature now, more refined. The wagon looks better in person than in photos, and the class-cat interior is Audi-like in terms of build quality/fit and finish. Can’t think of another small car’s interior in the ballpark.

I like this engine/trans combination. The clutch operates perfectly for my tastes. There’s enough poke (above 3K rpm) and I routinely returned almost 40 mpg around town. No, it’s not a rocket. But as I said above, at 3,000/3,500 rpm it goes well and the diesel doesn’t make a lot of diesely racket. Besides, I’m not sure this car is about an exciting driving experience but more about practicality and efficiency.

Driving the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium is a pleasure due to the solid chassis and excellent handling. (Limited model shown)

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf review notes

Great car -- just don't go too far


EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The entire Golf lineup is outstanding. Is it the best small(ish) car available in the U.S.? I’d argue yes. It offers something for everyone: from the R, darn close to running with a 911, to the fuel-sipping diesel, to this zero fuel-sipping e-Golf.

The e-Golf drives like, well, a Golf, a really quiet Golf. Torque is instant, the ride and handling are outstanding, and the chassis is rock solid. The interior is the best small-car interior on the market -- comfy seats, tons of room, good materials.

Overall, the car is damn close to entertaining.

Range is within 75-100 miles, according to VW. When I left the office on a recent evening, the dash said I had 72 miles of range; when I got here the next morning, it said 60, so it’s accurate. There’s also a little dial on the dash that looks like it’s for the fuel level. That’s something that would at least look familiar to first-time EV buyers. Smart.

The 2015 Golf R is bigger, lighter, and more spacious than previous generations.

Wait for the manual? 2015 Volkswagen Golf R review notes


EDITOR WES RAYNAL: When we named the GTI our 2015 Best of the Best/Car we said things like “At the heart of automotive enthusiasm sits a pantheon of vehicles most can agree define our sport, so to speak. Among the vaunted council of the car gods the Volkswagen GTI is arguably the most endearing …” and “the GTI offers pure driving enjoyment geared toward, but not compromised by, its everyman intent.” And “I can’t imagine getting more for your money than you get with this 2015 GTI.”

So what of the R? For the R’s $11,800 premium over a GTI, you get 82 more hp (or 72 if your GTI has the Performance package), all wheel drive, bigger brakes, and an even more gussied-up interior (sport seats, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, ambient lighting, R instruments). Build quality is over the top. There’s also subtle but noticeable body changes, including R bumpers, side skirts, 18-inch aluminum wheels, bixenon headlights and four chrome exhaust tips. The 292-hp figure is the most VW has ever offered in a U.S. Golf.

The all-new Golf SportWagen replaces the outgoing Jetta SportWagen.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen first drive


What is it?

It’s not called a Jetta anymore, but Volkswagen’s new compact wagon is better than its predecessor.

The 2015 Golf SportWagen is to the new Mk. VII Golf hatchback as the 2014 Jetta SportWagen was to the old Mk. VI Golf. The difference, beyond a full generational makeover, is the name. After 15 years, VW has ditched the Jetta badge on its U.S. wagon in favor of Golf -- which is what the Golf wagon has always been just about everywhere else in the world, including Canada.

Why change now? Volkswagen notes that the U.S.-centric Jetta sedan has evolved onto a unique, slightly larger platform and will likely have less in common with the Golf going forward. With an overhaul of the Golf lineup for 2015, now seemed as good a time as any to get the names in sync.

The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta is redefined and redesigned, bringing with it a fresh new face and some important updates underneath.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SE review notes


SENIOR MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: Every time I fire up a Volkswagen Jetta, I think back to my 1999 gen-IV Jetta that I leased right out of college. I still see a fair number of those cars on the road today, and I always smile at recollections of how nice it was at the time, and I remember many people commenting that it looked like a baby Audi A4.

Subsequent versions haven’t caused anywhere near the same emotional response, either in me or, based on my experience, others -- I’ve not once been stopped on the street by anyone who wants to inquire about the newer Jettas I’ve driven.

This refreshed 2015 version doesn’t do much to change my feelings. A modified front end with LED-ringed bi-xenons looks, frankly, a bit silly and certainly more than a bit dated. You’re also riding on a retuned PQ35 chassis rather than the new MQB platform that has drawn many positive reviews within the new Golf line.

We drive the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R for the first time in U.S. trim.

2015 Volkswagen Golf R -- US-spec first drive


We can think of a few ways to improve on the competent seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf: Drop the well-loved 2.0-liter EA888 turbocharged inline-four under the hood. Offer the option of a smooth six-speed manual transmission. Add the understeer-fighting XDS-plus electronic differential lock system to keep this front-driver’s handling neutral. Give it quicker (2.1 turns-to-lock), variable ratio steering. Lower the whole thing a few fractions of an inch.

We’d call it the Golf GTI. People would probably have nice things to say about it.

Why not push things a little (or a lot) further? Take all the good stuff from the GTI but add more power: 292 hp and 280 lb-ft courtesy of a modified cylinder head, pistons and direct-injection system and a bigger turbo. Lower it even further -- down 0.2 inch over the GTI, and 0.8 inch over the standard Golf. Send power to all four wheels through a Haldex all-wheel-drive system while you’re at it. Let drivers turn all the electronic nannies off -- yes, off off, according to VW.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T review notes


ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: One of the things that everyone who rode with me in this 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T seemed to note was its size. Compared to its predecessor, the new (but not “New”) Beetle is bigger -- especially in the rear. Though it seemed to come as a surprise, perhaps it shouldn’t have; it’s on the same platform as the Mk6 Golf and the Tiguan, though its wheelbase is a few inches shorter than either. True, it’s a coupe, but it’s not a tiny car by any means.

Why bring this up? Well, I guess it’s another opportunity to point out that the Beetle has long since ceased to be a functional, frugal People’s Car and has transformed into a somewhat pricey style statement. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just that it’s not terribly fun.

2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T Sport review notes


DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: I’ve been relatively cool toward the Volkswagen CC since its launch -- it’s always seemed like the brand took a perfectly serviceable Passat, eliminated the back-seat headroom and made the rear doors long and pointy so they’re impossible to open when parked. Call me a stickler for function over form, but it all just came off as rather silly.

This time around, though, I warmed up to this 2015 Volkswagen CC 2.0T Sport. What’s changed? I suspect it has more to do with the variety of entry-luxury German cars I’ve driven lately, along with a recalibration of what constitutes value.

Existential arguments aside, the CC continues in the grand tradition of great-driving Volkswagens. The car gets handling, brakes and manual-transmission feel just about perfect, though I found the steering a little slow, particularly after a few days in the Mercedes-Benz C300. Still, for driving dynamics, the CC is head and shoulders above generic Japanese midsize sedan competitors and close enough to an Audi A4 to make those three extra rings look really expensive.

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium review notes


DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: It’s hard to accurately judge the merits of the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf as an EV simply because the new seventh-generation Golf platform itself is so darn good. Really, you could put a steam engine or Cadillac V8-6-4 in this thing and it’d still probably be a better driver than half the compacts on the market. The aluminum-intensive MQB architecture used here (and on the Audi A3, etc.) really is that good.

Fortunately the V8-6-4 is dead and buried and VW has instead opted for a 115-hp electric motor and single-speed transmission to motivate the e-Golf. If you’ve read much of our EV coverage, you know that the instant torque and smooth, silent operation makes electric cars entertaining drivers. Add brilliant chassis control, a VW premium interior and competitive range and the e-Golf replaces the Ford Focus Electric as my new benchmark in EVs for the common driver (yes, the Tesla Model S is better; it’s also three times the price).

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