Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Bob McHugh

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Surrey, British Columbia – Not sold in the U.S., the Volkswagen City Jetta was intended as a stop-gap emergency measure by VW of Canada, like income tax – only much better.

Originally intended to fill a sales void left when VW discovered its diesel engine didn’t meet new emission regulations, the City Jetta is not only still around, there’s a revamped City Jetta for ’08.

Canadians are quick to spot a bargain, so it looks like the City Jetta and its cut-price brother, City Golf, are here to stay. On top of this, VW expects to have a new common-rail diesel engine in the fold later in the ’08 model year.

The base price for an ’08 City Jetta sedan is $16,900 and the City Golf, its hatchback sibling, starts at $15,300: quite a deal when you consider that a (city-less) base ’08 Jetta is $6,575 more and the base version of the new VW Rabbit is $4,875 more than a City Golf.

Granted you’re not comparing a Granny Smith apple with a Granny Smith apple, but they are apples. All are German engineered and made by the same company, all be it in different countries. Both Jetta and City Jetta are made in Mexico, the Golf in Brazil, and Rabbit in Germany.

Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Prior to launching its City cars, Volkswagen didn’t really have anything to compete with entry-level Japanese or Korean cars. Last year, its City cars accounted for about 16,000 of the 37,500 sold by VW in Canada, a telling statistic.

Mechanically, both City cars are the same and feature a 2.0-litre, 115-h.p., four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. New this year is an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.

On the safety front, side airbags are optional ($410) and so is electronic stability control ($450), which VW calls ESP. Well worth the extra investment, ESP also integrates an electronic differential lock, anti-slip regulation traction control and emergency brake assistant.

Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Compared with the Golf, extra content in a City Jetta includes standard power door locks with remote locking, an anti-theft alarm system, some chrome and aluminum-look trim and front floor mats. Plus it has the added security of a conventional sedan trunk.

The City Jetta also stacks up well against other sedans in the highly competitive econo-car class, where it’s up against cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra, Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac G5, and the new Ford Focus.

An optional Comfort Package ($975) includes power windows, heated exterior mirrors, cruise control and 15-inch aluminum wheels. A Cold Weather Package ($275) includes heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles.


Styling

The ’08 City still rides on the last-generation Jetta chassis, but apart from the roof and doors, almost every body panel has been redesigned. The most noticeable changes are the front and rear revisions, which include new headlights, taillights and grille. I particularly like the clever way that the large VW badge on the trunk also acts as a release handle for the lid. And the rear doors are surprisingly large, which helps entry and exits.


Interior impressions

It’s a familiar-looking interior layout, but a nice one. The cloth seats are typical of VW, on the firm side with very good lateral support on the cushion and back. It may be a low-price car, but the interior certainly doesn’t have a cheap feel.

Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

My test City Jetta came with a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and a height-adjustable seat cushion (both standard), which made it easy to find a good driving position. If you’re above average height, you’ll find the City Jetta a pleasant surprise, as the front seats offer excellent head and leg room.

Can’t say the same about the rear: it’s a comfortable seat but knee room is limited. Moving further back, a 60/40 split folding rear seat extends an already spacious trunk that’s fully lined.

The standard audio system features both an input jack and a USB port for an auxiliary digital music player. However, a better placement for these inputs would be inside a storage compartment, so that the player would be out of sight.

The Jetta has a good safety record. I would prefer to see side air bags and stability control standard, but at least they are available. There are no major issues with child-seat installation other than space. The seat in front needed to be moved forward to about the halfway position on its track, in order to accommodate a rear facing child seat.


Driving impressions

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine growls a bit as it works to get up to highway speed, but while cruising along, it’s actually fairly quiet. The 0-100 km/h in 10.4 seconds claimed by Volkswagen is respectable and fuel economy is excellent.

Test Drive: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta volkswagen car test drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

My tester came with the new six-speed automatic. It’s the most advanced transmission offered in this class and offers both a sport shift mode and a manual shift mode. The extra gears help provide fuel consumption numbers that are on par with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Fuel consumption with the six-speed automatic transmission is rated at 9.9/6.9 L/100 km (city/highway).

There’s a dramatic change in attitude when you switch from D (normal drive) to S, the sport drive position on the shift lever. The engine revs go up as it stays in each gear longer and the shifts are more abrupt, particularly noticeable on downshifts.

In the driver’s seat, you sit quite tall for a small sedan, and driver vision is generally pretty good. The steering is nicely weighted, although some drivers might find it on the heavy side, and it has an agile feel on the road.


Verdict

Basically a modern version of the last generation Volkswagen Jetta, the City Jetta gives VW a genuine challenger in the cost-conscious, econo-car market.


Pricing: 2008 Volkswagen City Jetta


Specifications


Competitors

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Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site