All of the German luxury automakers are striving to keep an entry-level car around $30,000. We're talking about the Mercedes-Benz CLA, Audi A3, and BMW 1-Series. But, you don't have to cross $20,000 to buy a compact sedan with authentic German pedigree that can lounge at high speed all day long in the "Autobahn lane."
Want proof? Sample the Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T SE.
I'd take a big sip of the Toffee Brown Metallic paint, but the rest of the car is less than exciting even if it looks like it could have been designed by VW Sibling, Audi. Still, it looks expensive with its trademark chrome bar grille, edgy bumpers, sharp tailored bodyside creases, and 16" alloy wheels. In the wind tunnel, the car is actually pretty aerodynamic. Open the big trunk, flip down the seats, and toss in a bicycle, stroller, or camping gear ‒ it all fits.
Move into the passenger compartment and the theme of affordable luxury continues. Forget about leather seats, leather steering wheels, or touchscreens because the SE has none of them. That doesn't mean it is cheap, though. The cloth beige-and-charcoal two-tone seats with waffle pattern center sections are elegantly stitched and supportive on long drives. There's a toy factory's worth of hard plastic on the dash, doors, and center console, but the beige panels on the dash and doors accent the darker trim as if the Jetta were channeling Bentley. Metallic-look dash and door accents add character.
Although there is no touchscreen, the radio is easy to use, with proper knobs for volume and tuning. It has satellita radio, AUX jack for audio players, iPod connector in the armrest, and Bluetooth. Cruise control and heated seats are also included. A leather-wrapped steering wheel would have been better, but the rubber grip was perfectly sized and enjoyable to grasp. I wouldn't even mind riding in the back as there's more than adequate legroom.
Jetta's base engine is a 2.0-liter non-turbocharged four-cylinder that conjures just 115 horsepower. You can also get a TDI diesel engine that delivers 31/46-MPG city/hwy or a hybrid achieving 42/48-MPG. My favortie, especially with the five-speed manual transmission, is probably our test car's 1.8-liter turbo-four that generates a potent 170 horsepower and 25/37-MPG city/hwy for the best combination of performance and economy. It always feels smooth and adequately powerful ‒ a joy to exercise with the manual transmission.
True to old-world German tradition, the chassis was engineered to soak up bumps on city streets and flat-footing it down the highway, but not heave over in corners. Light, but quick, steering combines with the suspension to give drivers a sense of conficence the car is always two steps ahead of them and will respond as directed. It seems the faster you go, the happier it gets.
I'd love to have one of the new German luxury cars, but they are far from inexpensive. Some might criticize all of the hard plastic and less than premium feel of the cabin, but given the Jetta's price, it adds up to a very nice package that should cause concern for competitors like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Cruze, Dodge Dart, Mazda3, and Ford Focus. A base price of $17,325, or $19,815 as-tested, make it an affordable way to enter the Autobahn lane.
Be sure to check out Casey's video review of the VW Jetta SE TSI.
2015 VW Jetta SE TSI
- Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
- Powertrain: 170hp 1.8-liter I4, 6-spd auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels: 16"/16" alloy f/r
- Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr
- Must-have features: Price, Performance
- Fuel economy: 25/34-MPG city/hwy
- Assembly: Puebla, Mexico
- Base/as-tested price: $17,325/19,815
Follow auto correspondent Casey Williams on Twitter @AutoCasey