Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen’s R-Line Jetta and Tiguan create some sporty, affordable looks
With social and health care behavioral changes now a permanent part of our lives, we’ve all had to examine this mysterious three-month gap in our 2020 existence. For me, that’s meant looking back at some vehicles that came and went at times when I might have had bigger issues on my mind — but they still remained interesting and important automotive options.
This leads me to examine three Volkswagens of not-so-ancient vintage, starting with a very pretty R-Line edition of the Jetta sedan, priced at a pleasant $24,115.
Jetta, as you may remember, underwent the transformation that seems to have happened to Volkswagen’s entire 15-model U.S. product line — that is, it got wider, larger and less traditional looking. The R-Line rendering kicks that all up a notch, with glowing Tornado Red paint, black window trim and a fancy black sunroof, a chrome strip on top of the grille, plus elegant 17-inch wheels and a two-tone leatherette interior.
More than that, when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, Jetta actually lived up to the talk at its debut about it being a more than just vaguely sporty car. The car’s freeway manner is smooth and classy with enough substance to feel fully planted at 75 mph Front Range speeds, and when I kept it in sixth gear at the right spots, it was earning up to 50 mpg.
Out on a more twisty road and dry pavement, the flat-bottomed racing wheel helped dial up performance and cornering power that exceeded Jetta’s standard-issue tires. I felt a lot of balance and poise I had not really noticed on earlier drives, and with the right gearing, the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder’s 147-horsepower output felt like double that amount.
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I was also impressed by Jetta’s cargo capacity, especially with its 60/40 split rear seat. I got a disassembled kitchen table and a load of other goods into the vehicle.
Yes, the interior is a little austere, though some metalized plastic trim brightens things up with a no-navigation navigation screen tilted just slightly toward the driver. Red-outlined gauges and piano-black trim throughout make it pretty nice for a vehicle available for as little as $18,895.
Next up, the Tiguan crossover. Tiguan’s size gain in its most recent revamp does attractively transform it from the older, more traditional teardrop-shaped small crossover to a fulsome, contemporary and more squared-off SUV, though still considerably smaller than the actually gigantic Atlas.
That translates into copious amount of rear legroom, a sizeable rear cargo area and some extra-deluxe bits in this, its premium SEL R-Line edition and its beautiful 20-inch wheels.
My drive was in early February and despite 4Motion AWD, I found the standard-issue tires a little lacking for winter grip. More ominously, the terrain control knob dialed up a beautifully rendered graphic on the navigation screen of what looked like a vehicle in a full 90-degree skid in oncoming traffic on U.S. 285 near Jefferson, a scene I’ve personally experienced way too many times to want to see actually projected inside my vehicle.
I also found that the door layout does not stretch out and over the rocker panels, meaning that I got that soaked-in-mag-chloride pant leg experience a couple of times after drives. I quickly learned to step way out and over to exit the vehicle.
Tiguan’s drive feel is generally positive, and the car’s mass and presence is now enough to feel like an old Touareg, VW’s once-ubiquitous larger SUV. Despite a build price approaching $40,000 in this fanciest of Tiguans, you still find nonpremium bits where you least expect them, including tons of raw sheet metal exposed under the cargo deck.
More impressive is the direct-injected 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, generating 184 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque, all around the stated 27 highway mpg.
Tiguan is still VW’s top seller, with more than 900,000 units built globally last year, and new standard equipment for all 2020 models includes the Car-Net connectivity service and Wi-Fi plus standard electronic front and side assist and available wireless charging. Tiguan’s more basic front-wheel-drive models start at $24,945.
Sadly, a super-cool vehicle that got totally overlooked during a busy winter season and recent pandemic chaos was Volkswagen’s relatively affordable high-performance mini-monster: the hatchback Golf GTI. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder is turbocharged to 228 horsepower, and though it is front-wheel-drive only, dear goodness does it go and go and go. My test vehicle, an Autobahn edition priced at $36,890, came equipped with a marvelous six-speed manual transmission and 18-inch high-performance summer tires, and it ate up corners and accelerated like no other. A more basic version of this giddily responsive car starts at $28,595.
Yes, the Golf platform makes for a small automobile — possibly invisible to those backing down a driveway — but in terms of sheer performance, it’s certainly up there with the WRX STIs and such.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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