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CORONADO ISLAND, California — Volkswagen of Germany has restructured its staple compact car, Jetta, and in the process has minted a new sedan rigged with precise manners, delightful interior appointments, multiple powertrain choices and more standard safety systems than anything else in the compact class.
The new Jetta also comes with a retail price chart that, unlike most German vehicles, approaches the realm of reason. Yet reasonable pricing has been a traditional hallmark of the cars which carry that round VW badge of Volkswagen since the days of the original Beetle. The name itself — translating from German as "people's car" — seems to suggest as much.
The Jetta, now the best-selling Volkswagen in North America, is built from the same basic platform as the hatchback Golf, which is VW’s No. 1 seller globally. That same basic chassis serves as the starting point for both the cute new Cabrio drop-top convertible version plus the roly-poly New Beetle — a modern interpretation of the car that was once this company's trademark, and only product.
All, save Cabrio, come out of a Volkswagen assembly facility in Mexico, where extensive retooling of plant and processes set the stage for the new products. A chance to sample the latest Jetta occurred recently during a romp across California, beginning in the desert at Palm Springs and concluding on a Pacific beach at Coronado, near San Diego.
Several trims and engines were sampled along the trek, which traversed the Anza Borrego Desert from the Salton Sea to Ocotillo Wells, then climbed high through the Vallecito Mountains to Julian before a downhill run past Descanso and the final quick clip on I-8 into San Diego.
Throughout the drive, the various Jetta variations felt so tight, precise and right that every other compact sedan on the road — save ultraexpensive German touring sedans — now seems loosey-goosey, flimsy and, well, not quite as right by comparison.