The 2015 Mk7 Golf Sportwagen TDI understandably gets all the attention – for good reason. But, it also commands the highest price. If you are in the market for a TDI, don’t sleep on the 2015 Jetta TDI, our Darkhorse TDI pick…
Mistakes from the Start
Unfortunately the Mk6 Jetta, which launched in 2011, started off on the wrong foot. VW’s goal was to make a sub-$17k car, and the level of cost cutting was drastic. What made this even more jarring was the gap between the new Mk6 model and the outgoing Mk5 model – which was universally praised for its above-market build quality. The Mk5 had 4 wheel disc brakes, where the Mk6 had rear drums. The Mk5 had independent rear suspension, where the Mk6 reintroduced the beam axle. Soft tough surfaces were replaced by hard-plastic dashboards and really low-level instrument clusters. It seemed that the Jetta was no longer the “premium European” compact sedan.
This checkered beginning did permanent damage. The Mk6 Jetta doesn’t never gained the following that the Mk4 did, nor the respect that the Mk5 had from the start. However, many of these errors were corrected as the years went on. For example, the “TDI” trim returned 4-wheel disc brakes; soft-touch dashboards reappeared in SE and SEL trims; Independent rear suspension (IRS) returned in 2013, to TDI trims at least. By 2014 most of the cost-cutting mistakes had been corrected, but, the car still wasn’t a market leader.
Some Good Things
One thing that the Mk6 Jetta design had in spade was space. The rear seat is second only to the NMS Passat, itself a stretched Jetta. True to the Jetta heritage, the Mk6 trunk was ENORMOUS. The Mk4 and Mk5 Jettas might have looked better, but they had much smaller trunks. The early generation Jettas were famous for their, somewhat ridiculously, huge trunks. The Mk6 returned to that tradition. The Mk6 Jetta was also a remarkably aerodynamic car, resulting in great highway fuel efficiency regardless of the engine installed.
The Mk6 also made the rear seat a place that real sized adults could occupy comfortably. The Mk4 rear seat was a fraction of the size of the Mk3 it replaced. The Mk5 made that a bit better, but the Mk6 really put the Jetta on the map as an option to carry 4 adults.
The 2015 Mk6+ Advantage
This leads us to the 2015 model. While VW had already fixed some of the Mk6 generation’s drawbacks here and there leading up to the 2015 model year, the 2015 changes really made the Jetta more of a Mk6+ than just a fixed Mk6.
To start, while the interior of the Mk6 never matched the Mk5, in 2015 it received a “Mk7-ish” refresh that improved things greatly. The upgraded steering wheel had improved Mk7 style on-wheel controls and much more aggressive shaping. The dash trim also got the “high gloss” finish carried over from the Mk7 Golf/GTI. The climate control dials received (plastic) chrome highlights. The vents even received some touch of class. The doors got some (again plastic, but attractive nonetheless) gray-metallic trim. If you had the beige interior the whole car had a classy two-tone look.
With the addition of multi-link independent rear suspension in the 2013 model year, the 2015 Mk6+ Jetta also benefits from some of the best suspension geometry in the VW lineup. The Mk7 had great improvements in chassis stiffness, especially due to the use of high strength steel. But, that had a downside – it allowed VW to use much simpler suspension design. Disappointingly, the TDI trimmed Mk7s returned to using sold-beam rear axles. Front control arm design is also inferior. While being a generational improvement platform, the Mk7 also succeeded in allowing VW to make cars less expensively through simpler design.
NVH was also greatly improved in 2015 due to structural changes to improve safety. In 2013 a new crash test was introduced called “Small Frontal Offset” which basically mimicked two cars crashing head-to-head but offset so that only the headlight and some of the grill collided. This was a MUCH harder test to pass, but reflected the reality of most head-on collisions. While the “new” NMS Passat got high marks in this test, the Mk6 Jetta initially did not. Along with the styling refresh, the 2015 received significant structural improvements, leading to an increased offset crash test score AND greatly reduced NVH. If you drive a 2014 and 2015 back to back, the difference is immediately apparent.
Finally, the Jetta offered a better variety of equipment than any other VW model. For example, it was also the only TDI sedan where you could get a stick shift and a sunroof – Passat TDIs only were available with sunroofs when they were equipped with the automatic “DSG” transmission. (note: please save us from comments about the DSG being a “manual” transmission…). Meanwhile Mk7 Golfs & Wagons, while available, were very difficult to find in stick-shift form with higher-end options. Most stick models were base “S” models, that didn’t even get heated seats!
3rd Generation TDI Powerplant
In really every way the 3rd generation “EA288” series engine is superior to the outgoing powerplant. Technical upgrades that included using Water to Air Intercooler (replacing air-to-air unit) and an Adblue Exhaust After-treatment System (aka DEF SCR system).
The third generation TDI power increased by 10hp overall. The water-to-air intercooler meant significantly increased responsiveness at low RPMs and greatly reduced turbo lag. On paper fuel efficiency jumped 10%, but in the real world the 2015 Jetta would easily break 50 mpg in stick shift form. Of all the models that the EA288 engine was offered in, the Jetta seems to be the fuel efficiency leader.
While this significantly imported 3rd generation TDI was intended for the new Mk7 generation vehicles, VW adapted it to their existing Mk6 Jetta for the 2015 year as well. Effectively, VW took a mature, efficient platform which had most of the bugs worked out and threw their best technology TDI into it.
Here is where we bring it all together – why the 2015 Jetta TDI is THE dark-horse TDI to get. Comfortable, spacious enough for 4 comfortably, great utility with a cavernous trunk, independent rear suspension and the most advanced TDI engine available – these are all the benefits, but what REALLY sets the Jetta apart is the PRICE. 2015 Jetta TDI sedans are available at a discount, typically 30% or more, versus their ‘cooler’ Mk7 Golf or Wagon versions. Even Passat, which is functionally the same car but with a bit longer wheelbase, gets a premium. The lowly Jetta, though, really shines when you consider its cost – there isn’t a better of comfort, efficiency and VALUE out there.