Regarding compact SUVs, it’s often difficult to find that sweet spot between utility and style, fuel economy and performance. Yet, the 2024 Volkswagen Tiguan seems to have found a comfortable niche in the market. As the SUV market in Canada continues to grow, consumers are spoiled for choice. But where does the Tiguan fit in?
The Tiguan rests under VW’s larger Atlas model, boasting European elegance, agile handling, and a thoughtful design. While it may not be a speed demon, the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and 4Motion All Wheel Drive ensure an efficient and confidence-inspiring ride. The interior balances function with understated style, and for those who need extra seating, a third row is available, albeit with limited legroom.
Interior and Cargo
The Tiguan is one of the few compact SUVs that offers an optional third row of seating. Note this feature is best reserved for people with smaller bodies. With the third row folded, expect about 33 cubic feet (roughly 935 litres) of cargo space, placing it in the middle of the pack against competitors.
The Tiguan’s Place in the Market
With its performance, feature set, and balanced demeanour, the Tiguan makes a compelling case for its strong position among compact SUVs in Canada. It maintains a highly competitive position when compared to the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Mazda CX-50, with a starting price of $34,495 CAD MSRP.
Here is some more context on where the Tiguan fits into the overall Compact SUV Market
Under the hood, a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offers 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. This power is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission with standard 4Motion All-Wheel drive. Although the 0-100 km/h time is a modest 9.1 seconds, the vehicle excels in everyday drivability, particularly in city and winter driving conditions.
Regarding fuel efficiency, the Tiguan delivers 24 mpg (around 9.8 litres per 100 km) in city driving and 31 mpg (roughly 7.6 litres per 100 km) on the highway. The combined Transport Canada rating is 8 litres per 100 kilometers. When you consider the standard all-wheel-drive system, these fuel consumption numbers are good.
Infotainment and Connectivity
While its infotainment system may not be universally praised, standard features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The base S trim gets a 6.5-inch screen, whereas higher trims have an 8.0-inch display. An 8.0- or 10.3-inch digital gauge display is standard on all trims.
What’s New for 2024?
New this year is VW’s IQ.DRIVE driver-assistance suite, which is standard even on the base S trim. Enhancements include lane-centering and adaptive cruise control, along with rain-sensing wipers, a faux-leather steering wheel, wireless charging, and an infotainment upgrade.
Safety gets a boost in 2024 with the standard inclusion of the IQ.DRIVE adaptive cruise control system. This comes on top of pre-existing features like a forward-collision alert with automatic braking and a blind-spot warning system. Four-wheel disc brakes, with anti-locking technology, are also standard equipment.
The 2024 Volkswagen Tiguan makes a compelling case for Canadian consumers searching for a balanced compact SUV. Although it doesn’t dominate in any area, its synthesis of features, comfort, and driving dynamics place it as a worthy contender. If you seek versatility and refinement, consider putting the Tiguan on your shortlist.
Good news! The VW van is actually coming back, and it looks like this visual blast from the past design might also be one of the most practical competitors in the all-electric space. But before delving…
Good news! The VW van is actually coming back, and it looks like this visual blast from the past design might also be one of the most practical competitors in the all-electric space. But before delving into the details, some history.
The original 1949–2013 Volkswagen Van, as it was simply called in our market (specifically the old-school version with the rounded edges, otherwise known as the T1 and T2), was also dubbed the Kombi in Brazil, where it was produced from 1957 until finally being put to rest in 2013. Additionally, it was called the Bulli at home in Germany, where it ruled the family roost until the larger, squarer Vanagon (T3) arrived in 1979, and has been on the comeback trail at least as long as this journalist has been covering the automotive sector.
The Transporter wasn’t just a Jason Statham movie franchise
Before too much confusion transpires, Volkswagen didn’t stop building its T (Transporter) series of vans when the T3 departed. After that incredibly accommodating model enjoyed a reasonably popular run as a family conveyance here in North America, it was replaced by the front-engine, water-cooled T4 in 1990, which also graced our roads with the Eurovan nameplate. After a fairly long stint on our side of the Atlantic, VW Canada discontinued the Eurovan in place of the embarrassingly rebadged Dodge Caravan dubbed Routan (2009–2014) that the automaker probably hopes we’ll forever forget (sorry, VW).
No doubt, many T series-faithful, that never accepted DaimlerChrysler’s watered-down facsimile of the real deal, would love to get their hands on the all-new 2022 Multivan T7 that debuted last June, but we most likely won’t see that sizeable model unless Volkswagen decides to enter something larger in our commercial sector (can you imagine how the RV aftermarket would go wild with this near full-size family hauler?).
VW microbus has been the comeback kid for decades
Back to the comeback, a very enticing Microbus concept debuted in 2001, causing everyone already in love with the New Beetle to salivate over the possibility of a much more accommodating retro alternative, but alas it never materialized. A decade later the 2011 Bulli electric concept arrived to less fanfare. It probably would’ve hit the EV market too soon to have had any serious sales success if produced anyway, although the all-electric BUDD-e van that showed up in 2016 might’ve found more traction. None of that matters now that the ID. Buzz, introduced last month, has been slated for production this year as a 2023 model, in Europe at least.
The ID. Buzz looks more like that 2001 Microbus than any concept since, although it houses front lighting elements similar to those found on the current all-electric ID.4 compact SUV, even including a thin LED light strip that connects the two headlamps. The taillight cluster is one single unit too, but the circular “VW” badge isn’t integrated within the centre reflector strip on the Buzz like with the 4, instead positioned on its own just below in traditional microvan fashion.
Only one 201 hp rear-drive version has been shown so far
This said, the ID. Buzz we’re looking at is a European version, so our variant may see some slight changes. The 82 kWh (net) base battery pack, which doesn’t use cobalt, and the entry-level power unit shouldn’t change, however, as its 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque should be enough for budget-conscious families, although it’s possible VW will leave this powertrain in Europe where an EV’s ability to travel long distances isn’t quite as critical. On that note, VW hasn’t announced any range estimates for this new power unit, only saying it’ll propel the ID. Buzz up to an electronically limited top speed of 145 km/h (90 mph). Fortunately, Volkswagen promises powertrain upgrades for both markets, which will likely include all-wheel drive. That model should be popular here, so stay tuned.
As for underpinnings, the ID. Buzz utilizes the same MEB platform architecture as the ID.4. In its Buzz application, it will be offered with two wheelbases, the longer for a seven-seat option, although VW only shared wheelbase measurements of the standard model that spans 2,988 mm (117.6 in). This makes the Buzz’ shortest wheelbase a significant 223 mm (8.8 in) longer than the ID.4’s wheelbase, while the new van stretches 4,712 mm (185.5 in) from nose to tail no matter which wheelbase is chosen, which is 128 mm (5.0 in) greater than VW’s crossover EV.
ID. Buzz Cargo van might make an ideal camper
Additionally, both ID. Buzz body styles measure 1,985 mm (78.1 in) wide without the side mirrors, while the new van is also 1,937 mm (76.3 in) tall. Of note, just like T series vans, an ID. Buzz Cargo van will be offered as well. It will be fractionally taller at 1,938 mm, thanks to a heavier duty chassis.
Volkswagen claims up to 1,121 litres (39.5 cu ft) of cargo capacity behind the rear seats of the two-row version, or 3,900 litres (137.7 cu ft) behind the first row with the passenger van’s rear seats removed, or you’re filling up the cargo van. The latter, incidentally, gets a front bench seat for up to three abreast, just like the original.
Could a modern-day VW “Westfalia” be in the cards? We can only hope. The ability to tread softly into the woods or desert with AWD via an all-electric powertrain is tantalizing, although we’d recommend a potent solar charging unit on top.
ID. Buzz interior looks positively appetizing
Inside, the ID. Buzz cargo van is more business-like, with mostly muted grey tones other than the very colourful and large digital displays (the standard digital cockpit measures 10 inches diagonally, while the centre-mounted infotainment system is 10 inches in base trim and up to 12 inches, with navigation, optionally), whereas the passenger van carries the exterior’s “organically based” colour scheme into the cabin.
Yummy looking lemony Lime Yellow and downright festive Energetic Orange interiors were chosen for the press photos, with both looked totally “fab” thanks in part to all the cream-coloured surfaces surrounding the body-colour dash and door trim. Bay Leaf Green and Candy White (the only non-metallic base colour) are on the “menu” too, as are Mono Silver and Starlight Blue (also available in two-tone) amongst metallics, plus Deep Black featuring a pearl effect.
The colourful door panels continue rearward to the side-sliders, while the seat upholstery is shown in a cream recycled leatherette, in the yellow model, and burnt orange cloth made from reclaimed and recycled plastics in the orange model.
Gear selection in the original vans was done from a classic stick on the floor, but the new model utilizes a column shifter in order to free up space on the modular centre console. In the ID. Buzz’ press release, VW expends a lot of ink describing the various USB ports and cupholders, which are aplenty due to its family orientation, but safety is a key selling point in this sector as well.
Safety and convenience are key in the family class
To that end, VW promises all the usual driver assist and safety systems, of course, including an updated version of the brand’s Travel Assist, now featuring automated lane changes at highway speed, plus the ability to manage autonomous driving on country roads without centre markings.
Both ID. Buzz and ID. Buzz Cargo models will be built by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in Hanover, German, with production on target to start during the first half of 2022, advanced sales taking place in May, and European deliveries beginning in the third quarter of this year. The North American debut of the long-wheelbase Buzz will occur sometime next year, with sales following in 2024. The long-wheelbase van will also be offered in Europe, but so far VW has said nothing about offering the regular-wheelbase, five- (and also six-) person model here.
Now, check out the World Premiere of the ID. Buzz, with actor Ewan McGregor sharing his love of the Beetle and impressions of the new ID. Buzz:
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Volkswagen
For many in Canada, Volkswagen is more of an afterthought when considering a new vehicle. Last year it sat 12th amongst mainstream volume brands in sales volume, with the lion’s share of new deliveries…
For many in Canada, Volkswagen is more of an afterthought when considering a new vehicle. Last year it sat 12th amongst mainstream volume brands in sales volume, with the lion’s share of new deliveries going to Ford (at 232,194 units), Toyota (196,882), Honda (146,582), Hyundai (133,059) and Chevrolet (111,741), although only the Asian brands offer anything in the compact car class, so therefore this segment’s sales hierarchy looks a lot different when comparing both brand popularity and individual model success.
Last year, Volkswagen was the fourth best-selling brand in this category (at 23,665 units) when combining Golf (13,113), Jetta (10,552) and Beetle (460) deliveries, with the Golf placing sixth amongst individual models, the Jetta seventh, and the Beetle way down in 17th, which incidentally was second to last being that it wasn’t the only car being discontinued (Chevy’s Volt found its last nine buyers in 2020 too).
As for the first two quarters of 2021, the Beetle was dead last after just three units were shuffled off to future collectors, while the placement of the Golf and Jetta remained the same with 5,707 and 5,618 examples sold respectively. The big change in the segment comes from Nissan’s new Sentra that’s now right behind the Jetta with 5,004 deliveries to its credit, whereas Subaru’s Impreza and WRX/STI lost significant ground due to just 1,724 and 1,548 respective units down the road, which is probably due to an all-new WRX/STI soon debuting for 2022, plus a new Impreza (and Crosstrek) to follow for 2023.
Others losing steam in this segment include Hyundai’s Ioniq that only sold 1,538 units compared to Toyota’s Prius at 3,107, but the Korean brand’s Ioniq Electric is set to be replaced by the much more intriguing Ioniq 5 in the fall, while Nissan’s all-electric Leaf just seems to be withering on the vine with just 639 sales to its name, although 2022 will see a substantially lower price that should boost interest. Additionally, Hyundai’s Veloster will only come in super-quick N trim for 2022, probably the result of the rest of the line not getting much action, verified by only 328 deliveries, and finally the slowest selling car in this class is Honda’s Insight hybrid, which at a mere 193 unit-sales is getting slaughtered by other HEVs that sell for thousands less.
With the Puebla, Mexico-built Golf leaving our market after this year, Volkswagen will likely take a major negative hit in this segment too, falling behind others that focus more on reliability and comfort over perceived performance, although to be clear, Golf GTI and Golf R models will remain, as will the entire Jetta lineup, including its sportiest GLI variant.
It’s difficult to say if the Jetta will be able to take up the slack on its own, being that other five-door alternatives like the new 2022 Civic Hatchback, the Corolla Hatchback, the Kia Forte 5, the Mazda3 Sport, the Impreza 5-Door, and some other stragglers noted a moment ago, could fill in VW’s entry-level hatchback void. Of course, the German brand will hope such buyers will ante up for its new Taos subcompact crossover SUV, which is sized similarly, or the slightly larger compact Tiguan, while the all-new ID.4 kind of fills the void left by the Golf Alltrack (more on that car in a moment), albeit with an all-electric twist.
With all of that business out of the way, why choose a 2021 Jetta, or for that matter the 2022 model that shouldn’t change by much? Compared to the 2019 version, which was the first year of this seventh-generation body style, the 2021 infuses VW’s new MIB3 infotainment software into an interface that looks pretty well identical, although it’s the system beneath the graphics that matters most, thanks to including wireless App-Connect, enhanced voice recognition, USB-C charging, upgrades to the navigation system, and SiriusXM with 360L streaming and satellite content, while a wireless charging pad now sits on the lower console below in as-tested Execline trim.
As for choosing a Jetta over one of its four-door competitors, that will come down to a lot of factors including styling, its Germanic feel, and on that note, its performance. Of course, the GLI is the Jetta version to drive if you’ve got a passion for going fast, but this said all Jettas have usually tended to be more engaging than most of their Asian alternatives. Performance has been a priority for the brand since the Golf/Rabbit arrived on our shores in 1975, with the sportier GTI variant hitting the market in 1979, three years before our American friends received theirs.
The Jetta, which back then was basically a two-door Rabbit with a trunk, arrived here in 1980, and quickly became our best-selling European import. A wagon (always a personal favourite) was introduced at the turn of the millennium for the Golf’s fourth and fifth generations, although that baton was dubbed SportWagen when passed over to the seventh-gen Golf line, and even ended up being offered as a soft-roading crossover dubbed Alltrack that featured some SUV-like bodywork and raised ground clearance in an attempt to take on Subaru’s Crosstrek.
While wagon fans (including yours truly) still lament the loss of both Jetta and Golf variants, there’s a lot to love about the sedan, especially in top-tier Execline trim. The four-door’s styling has received mixed reviews, but that’s hardly unusual in this entry-level class. Honda is undergoing the same type of scrutiny with its new 2022 Civic after the brand followed its usual two steps forward, one step back routine (it’s as if there’s a tug-of-war between styling progressives and conservatives resulting in each side winning out every other generation), while Toyota appears to have hit the sweet spot with its latest Corolla, although the sharply chiseled new Hyundai Elantra is giving both of these top-sellers a run for their design money.
The other Korean, Kia’s Forte, continues to look attractively conservative and thus places fourth in this class, just ahead of Mazda’s rakish 3 that’s probably the closest competitor to the Jetta and Golf due to its performance-oriented personality, this possibly why the smaller, independent brand’s compact hatchback and sedan models sit so close to the Golf and Jetta on the aforementioned sales chart.
Moving inside, the Jetta is a tour de force when it comes to electronics. The just-noted infotainment system is very good, thanks to a high-definition gloss touchscreen, attractive graphics, an easy-to-understand layout and quick response to inputs, not to mention real analogue knobs for the power/volume and tuning/scrolling functions, plus it’s one of the only touchscreens in the industry to feature proximity-sensing capability, which means that bringing your hand towards the display causes a row of digital buttons to automatically pop up even before your finger touches the screen. It’s a really cool effect, but it’s also useful because, when those buttons automatically disappear, the entire display is made larger for whatever function you’re using.
Of course, the infotainment system comes filled with all the expected features, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, and control of the decent sounding Beats Audio system, complete with eight speakers and a sub, but I must say the backup camera is a bit subpar for a top-line model in this segment, not for its clarity, which is excellent, but rather for not including dynamic guidelines.
Nevertheless, the Jetta Execline’s fully configurable 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, that’s exclusive to Execline trim and the top-level GLI, is in another world compared to anything else offered in this class. Certainly, others include fully digital gauge packages in upper trims, one that I recently drove being the 2021 Elantra in top-line Ultimate dress, but like the new 2022 Civic’s take on this tech, its navigation map wasn’t capable of filling the entire screen like Volkswagen’s. I know that’s not the end-all, be-all of functions, but just like this feature wowed me in Audi’s Virtual Cockpit before, it once again had me mesmerized in the Jetta, even providing the ability to zoom in and out from a button on the right-side steering wheel spoke. The active display does more than just that, of course, offering up a smaller map with surrounding info in another mode, plus a particularly colourful duo of circular gauges in its default setting, not to mention plenty of other features in numerous configurations.
Framing the gauge cluster is another VW favourite, the Jetta’s flat-bottom sport steering wheel, which is one of the nicest in its segment thanks to a meaty soft leather-covered rim with wonderfully form-fitting thumb spats to each side and grippy baseball-style stitching around the inner ring, plus thin spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, while those spokes are dressed up with a tasteful splash of aluminized brightwork and piano black lacquered surfaces.
Yet more satin-finish accents and inky black highlights can be found throughout the rest of the cabin, but it’s not overdone like some rivals from the east. I prefer to call the Jetta’s interior purposeful rather than austere, but I’m sure some will find the mostly muted black interior a tad conservative, bright and colourful displays aside.
This said, most of the pliable composite surfaces that made earlier (pre-2010) Jettas feel like premium rides have been eliminated, only leaving a rubberized soft-touch dash top and upper instrument panel, plus equally pampering front door uppers. The only model in this class with less appealing plastics is the Elantra that doesn’t even offer soft door uppers up front, but we’re not exactly comparing D-segment luxury sedans here. The clear differentiator is Volkswagen’s choice of hard plastics south of the waste line, other than the comfortable padded leatherette used for the door inserts and armrest, as well as the centre armrest overtop the console bin, which are nicely padded in plush leatherette.
The front seats, on the other hand, are firmer than any in this class and most in the entire industry, which is a bit unusual considering the Jetta Execline’s comfort-oriented mission. I’d normally never complain about cushion firmness, but the Jetta’s seem designed by someone who dreams on a tatami mat. These things go beyond just firm, with a lower cushion that actually became quite uncomfortable on longer stints during my weeklong test.
Oddly, GLIs, GTIs, and even Golf Rs that I tested previously never felt this way, but at least the Jetta’s side bolsters were excellent, while the six-way power-adjustment on its driver’s side (the front passenger gets no such luxuries), with two-way powered lumbar support that met the small of my back ideally, plus three-way memory no less, came to the rescue as best it could, as did the soft perforated leather that provided an exit strategy for forced ventilation, which kept me cool when otherwise ready to fume about my aching back. Their heatable capability was even more useful in this situation, as my driver’s seat warmed to near therapeutic temperatures in order to ease two inflamed ischia. More on the positive, better than average reach and rake from the tilt and telescopic steering column made for a great driving position, while the steering wheel rim in Execline trim is also heatable, as are the rear outboard seats.
Also positive, my tester’s rear outboard seats were truly superb, with more of a bucket-like feel than any others I’ve experienced in this class, thanks to excellent side bolstering that really wrapped all around my backside. The same can be said for the lower cushions, which provided a little more padding than the driver’s seat, or so they felt. VW includes a nice and wide flip-down armrest with integrated cupholders in the middle position, so together with the door armrests the rear outboard seating area is comfortable for both forearms.
As for space, I had about half-a-foot in front of my knees and plenty of room to stretch out my legs, with feet under the front seats when the driver’s position was set for my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame. Additionally, I had about three-and-a-half inches left over above my head, plus plenty of space next to my shoulders and hips. I’m not sure if the Jetta is best-in-class for rear seat roominess, but I’m guessing it’s very close. Volkswagen should be commended for this, but unfortunately the rear compartment’s finishing was less appealing than most in this category, including the expected hard plastic door upper, but also hard plastic door inserts that are almost never part of the package. At least the powered sunroof overhead was almost panoramic, helping to visually open the car up to more natural light.
Like the rear passenger compartment, the trunk is large at almost 400 litres (14.1 cu ft), while the lid lifts up high and out of the way, but be careful to push it all the way up, because if you leave it down even slightly it will fall and smack you in the head, which happened to me once during my test. Also different from most Volkswagens, the Jetta only offers 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks instead of the usual 40/20/40-split used in the Golf and other VW products. This limits the usability of the trunk when going skiing, for instance, especially if rear passengers want to enjoy the aforementioned seat warmers, but such is the same for most of the Jetta’s peers.
Leaving the best for last, I set the dual-zone automatic climate control system to 21.5C via outer rings wrapping large circular dials that wiggled a bit too much for my liking, their digital readouts bookending a row of nicely damped buttons that included those needed for warming buttocks and backside, after which I turned the fuel-saving auto start-stop system off and the drive mode setting from Normal to Sport, disregarding Eco and Custom, the lower-console mounted buttons for these rather sloppy and noisy, unfortunately, unlike the nice and tight aluminized ignition button and little electromechanical brake lever found nearby. I then slotted the eight-speed automatic’s gear lever into “D” for drive before shoving it over to the right to “S” for manual shift mode, and let the Jetta’s impressive 1.4-litre turbo-four spool up as much of its 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque as possible before launching from standstill.
It’s the torque that matters most in this little mill, with all of its available twist from just 1,400 rpm, while the gearbox is quick-shifting and very smooth, only needing a set of steering wheel paddles to make it more engaging. These come with the GLI, incidentally, along with a much faster-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while its 2.0-litre turbocharged four puts out a much more energetic 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of just 6.6 seconds compared to 8.7 for the Jetta Execline, although opting for the more comfort-oriented Jetta pays of at the pump.
Driving more modestly in Eco mode results in 8.0 L/100km in the city, 6.0 on the highway and 7.1 combined in the Jetta Execline, whereas the automated transmission in the GLI is only good for a claimed 9.7 city, 7.0 highway and 8.5 combined. The GLI can be had with a six-speed manual too, by the way, which is identically quick and exactly as efficient with fuel, while the regular Jetta with its base six-speed manual (not available in the Execline) manages just 7.9 city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined for truly stingy operation, plus it reportedly takes exactly the same amount of time to arrive at 100 km/h from standstill as my automatic-equipped tester.
Better than its straight-line performance, the Jetta Execline provides a nicely weighted, electrically assisted rack and pinion steering system resulting in good handling for the class, despite incorporating a less-than-ideal semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension setup. The front suspension uses independent Macpherson struts, par for the course in just about any segment, but only the GLI gets an upgrade to a multi-link rear suspension design, which is much better for absorbing pavement irregularities and therefore keeping rubber on the road where it can apply traction.
Comparatively, even Honda’s most basic Civic LX comes standard with a fully independent suspension including a rear multi-link rear setup, as does Toyota’s simplest Corolla L, and Nissan’s cheapest Sentra S, while Subaru’s least expensive Impreza with Convenience trim uses independent double wishbones, which aid comfort yet are more durable for heavier loads, and easier for tuners to tweak, not to mention easy for technicians to adjust for wheel alignment. What about the Golf? Unlike the Jetta, the most affordable Golf Comfortline gets the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension setup, so while that model is still available it remains the go-to car for lower end VW performance enthusiasts, a worthwhile investment for just $1,500 more.
As you may have noticed I left out plenty of Jetta competitors when comparing suspension designs, so it’s only fair to add that the Elantra, Forte, and Mazda3 utilize a similar rear torsion beam setup, which is prized for reducing cost and improving rear packaging, the latter sometimes resulting in increased cargo capacity.
In the end, the Jetta is a good car that deserves its success, however middling that may be. It hits high in some areas, such as roominess and advanced electronics, but doesn’t really match up in interior plastics quality, front seat comfort, and overall performance, the rear end getting skittish when pushed hard around curves over rough pavement, something the Civic and Corolla, for instance, don’t do.
If it were my money and a VW was the target brand, I’d opt for a Golf every day of the week, due to its sharper styling, much better interior quality (even including cloth A pillars), wholly improved handling, and the increased usability (albeit less security) of its rear hatch. To think this model is on its way out is criminal, but it’s not Volkswagen’s fault that Canadians aren’t buying as many cars these days as they used to, instead opting for crossover SUVs more often than not. At least we’ll still have the fabulous GTI and Golf R, while as noted the Jetta GLI is a credible performance car as well.
The 2021 Jetta starts at a very reasonable $21,595 in Comfortline trim with its six-speed manual, while my Execline model is available from $28,995. Good news, Volkswagen is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional no-haggle incentives, while CarCostCanada members were averaging $1,527 in savings at the time of writing, thanks to their ability to access dealer invoice pricing that can save you thousands at the time of purchase. Make sure to find out how a CarCostCanada membership can help save you money when purchasing your next new car, and remember to download their free app from the Apple Store or Google Play Store, plus check out the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices page to find out pricing for all the Jetta’s other trim lines, including the GLI.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
The health crisis has caused mayhem in many industries, and while the auto sector hasn’t been hit as hard as travel and hospitality, it’s definitely taken its toll. This reality, while bad for many…
The health crisis has caused mayhem in many industries, and while the auto sector hasn’t been hit as hard as travel and hospitality, it’s definitely taken its toll. This reality, while bad for many manufacturers and their independent retailers, poses some opportunity for those that want to make a deal.
Many Volkswagen dealers, in fact, have new, non-demo 2019 models available. Yes, I realize we’re entering the 2021 model year, and even the “peoples’ car” brand is advertising 2021 versions of its cars, but that doesn’t change the fact that many 2019 vehicles remain unsold.
Believe it or not, one of such vehicles is the mid-size three-row Atlas crossover SUV, a relatively new model that’s received a lot of praise from pundits like me, and reasonably good sales. Nevertheless, some dealers have multiple new 2019 Atlas models in their inventory, which is reason enough for VW to offer up to $6,000 in additional incentives on models like the top-line $54,975 Atlas V6 4Motion Execline R Line being reviewed here, shows CarCostCanada on their 2019 Volkswagen Atlas Canada Prices page (find out more about CarCostCanada here and remember to download their free app from the Apple Store and Google Play Store).
They’re also reporting up to $700 in incentives on the subtly refreshed 2021 Atlas, so there’s even a small discount available despite these having just arriving on retailer lots, but the big money is on the 2019, as Volkswagen and its dealers are highly motivated to get rid of this nearly two-year old SUV.
To be clear, VW Canada never imported the 2020 Atlas from Chattanooga, Tennessee where it’s built, but instead received its allotment of all-new five-passenger 2020 Atlas Cross Sport models, while allowing nationwide inventory of the larger seven-passenger version to slowly sell off. Seeing that 2019s are still available, this was a very smart move.
Moving into 2021, VW has given the Atlas a deeper grille that now includes a third bright metal-like crossbar, plus new LED headlamps, and fresh front and rear fascias that add 75 millimeters (2.9 in) to the SUV’s overall length. Inside, the steering wheel is new while contrast stitching is added to higher end trims with leather. Mechanically, all-wheel drive is now standard across the line, and the base turbocharged four-cylinder engine is more widely available.
As you might imagine, the 2021 Atlas’ starting price is considerably higher now that it comes standard with AWD, the new MSRP being $40,095 (plus freight and fees) for its base Trendline trim, compared to $36,740 for this same trim line in the 2019 model year, a difference of $3,355. Comfortline, Highline and Execline trims are still available, all of which are priced higher except for Highline, which now comes standard with the aforementioned 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. Just-above-base Comfortline trim continues to offer both engines, but the entry-level 2021 Trendline can now only be had with the turbo-four, while 2021 Execline trim continues to come standard with the 3.6-litre V6.
I won’t go into much more detail about the 2021, because, frontal styling, new steering wheel and some contrast-coloured thread aside, it doesn’t appear to have changed much from this outgoing model. This is no bad thing, however, as its first two model years were well received. I tested a 2018 and this 2019, the first version experiencing a couple of teething problems including a broken second-row sliding seat handle. Otherwise it was an exceptionally good SUV that I enjoyed spending a week with, just like the even more luxuriously appointed 2019 model.
I was surprised by all the positive comments I received from friends and even passersby during my test week, all shocked that VW would produce anything so big and truck-like, the latter when it comes to styling at least, but I quickly reminded all that the old beloved Vanagon and front-engine T5 van (which were available here a long time ago) weren’t exactly small, and pretty boxy as well, so the Atlas mostly fits into the brand’s DNA. I think they made a good choice from a styling perspective, as the majority of today’s crossover SUV buyers seem to want a rugged looking utility, the Atlas’ bulky fender flairs and ample chrome doing a fine job of relaying visual toughness.
Inside, even without the 2021 updates, the Atlas provides a nice ambience, with wide open spaces and no shortage of attractive design elements. This is especially true in my tester’s top-tier Execline trim that came with cream-coloured perforated leather upholstery, woodgrain and satin-silver accents, plus loads of impressive display screens including a fully digital and brightly coloured instrument cluster, along with a large centre touchscreen display.
Before I get too far into this review, I need to mention what I see as the elephant in VW’s garage. Where Volkswagen was once the go-to mainstream volume brand for those of us who prefer premium-like interior quality and finishings, this is no longer the case. Some of the Atlas’ details are excellent, like the steering wheel, that’s one of the best in its class as far as the way it feels in the hands as per to leather quality and shape, plus its overall sporty design, while no one should complain about the SUV’s front seats that are Germanic in their firmness and therefore wonderfully supportive, but VW is now falling short by failing to nail the interior refinement details that used to make them reign supreme, such as fabric-wrapped roof pillars, plus the tactile quality of plastics used below the waistline, and in some cases even above.
The dash-top is a rubberized black synthetic, which is reasonably good, but the woodgrain on the dash and doors feels cheap and hollow, similar to what GM used to offer years ago. The same can be said for the metallic trim that surrounds it, which only feels a little bit denser due to being closer to the trim piece’s outer extremities and therefore strengthened by its complex construction. Volkswagen does add padded leather inserts on the doors, and does a decent job with the armrests, but that’s it for soft-touch surfaces. The lower doors and lower portion of the dash and centre stack are all made from hard plastic, and while most is finished with a matte semi-soft paint, it’s nowhere near up to the levels offered by others in this class.
For instance, just after my weeklong Atlas test, I spent another week in an almost loaded Kia Telluride SX, plus the week after that I drove Hyundai’s Palisade, and must say that both are as close to premium products as anything ever offered by mainstream brands. The former even wrapped both A and B pillars in the same high-quality fabric used for the roof liner, while the latter does so with a plush suede-like material. Additionally, Kia’s faux wood felt so dense and realistic I had to verify that it wasn’t real. Likewise, the interior metals are excellent and feel genuine, while even the exterior metal surrounding the windows felt like Lexus’ polished nickel.
Volkswagen does a better job when it comes to gauge clusters and infotainment, but only when compared to the Kia. Hyundai’s fully digital cluster in the Palisade includes side-view cameras within its outer “dials” when changing lanes, a wonderfully useful safety feature on such a large vehicle, while Kia does similar, albeit places the image within the multi-information display between conventional analogue dials.
All said, I’m not about to bash Volkswagen for having one of the best digital driver displays in the industry. It actually comes very close to matching the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which I consider to be one of the best in the industry. I especially like how VW’s display reduces the size of its analogue-style speedometer and tachometer to the size of wristwatch faces as it fills the entire screen with a given infotainment function, such as navigation directions complete with full digital mapping.
The centre touchscreen is also amongst the best in the business, with superb high-resolution quality including beautiful depth of contrast and superb colours, as well as excellent graphics and speedy actuation. It’s filled with all the features you might expect in this class, such as aforementioned navigation, a large, clear and useful backup camera, full climate control and audio functions, the latter system including Bluetooth streaming and satellite radio capability, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, etcetera.
The Atlas’ switchgear is fairly good overall, but the rotating outer dials around the tri-zone automatic climate control interface were wiggly and sloppy, something I didn’t find on the just-noted Kia or Hyundai, or for that matter the majority of their competitors.
Now that I’ve once again mentioned the two South Koreans, it should be noted that both fully loaded SUVs are less expensive than the Atlas, but not by much. The Telluride SX that I tested just after the Atlas was quite a bit more approachable at only $49,995, but since then a fancier 2021 Telluride SX Limited with Nappa leather was added to the lineup, increasing its retail price to $54,695 before discount. That’s a nominal difference of $280, incidentally, so make sure to drive both the Kia and VW when it comes time to buy. The top-tier 2020 Palisade Ultimate would now be the least expensive of the bunch at $54,199, but the $54,699 2021 Ultimate Calligraphy just happens to be $5 more than the priciest Telluride. Either way I recommend spending some time with this one as well, not to mention Toyota’s latest Highlander and Mazda’s CX-9 that deserve high praise in this class too.
My Atlas tester’s heatable steering wheel rim was nice, and the driving position superb. The tilt and telescopic steering column reaches far enough rearward to provide the type of control and comfort I required, due to having a body with proportionally longer legs than torso. The seats were comfortable too, with good lower back support.
Additionally, the rear seating area is very accommodating, even for those in the third row that received comfortable backrests and ample space for feet under the upgraded second-row captain’s chairs in my test model. Those individual second-row chairs allowed space in between to access the rearmost seats, making life easier when kids are aboard. There’s a place for what-have-you plus cupholders to each side, and also good you’ll find third-row vents in the C pillars so rear passengers won’t feel claustrophobic. This in mind, the rear side quarter windows are easy to see out of, and Volkswagen also includes reading lights overhead. I can’t see any child or average-sized person complaining about the Atlas’ rearmost compartment, even during a long trip.
Back to the second-row seating area, VW includes ventilation on the backside of the front console, as well as a digital display for the SUV’s automatic rear temperature control system’s third zone. The only negative about the Atlas’ otherwise excellent HVAC system is that the aforementioned Telluride and Palisade offer quad-zone auto climate control systems. They also make heated and cooled second-row seats available, whereas this VW only included three-way warmers in back, plus the South Korean models get USB charging ports in the third row, this important feature found only in the Atlas’ first and second rows.
Volkswagen provides a powered rear door to access the large cargo area, par for the course in this class, which impressively measures 583 litres (20.6 cubic feet) behind the third row, 1,571 litres (55.5 cu ft) behind the second row, and 2,741 litres (96.8 cu ft) when all seats are folded flat.
Lifting up the load floor exposes the usual tire changing equipment and a subwoofer for the audio system, but unexpectedly appreciated was a handy storage location for the retractable cargo cover when not in use. The 50/50-split third row folds down easily and provides a flat loading floor, and while you’ll eventually get a nice, mostly flat loading floor from lowering the second-row seats as well, you’ll be forced to walk around to the side doors in order to do so. The Kia and Hyundai competitors provide power-folding rear seats.
As you may have guessed, Volkswagen delivers in spades when taking the Atlas out on the road. The brand has long been respected for endowing its vehicles German performance characteristics at a budget price, and to that end the big SUV’s 3.6-litre V6 really gets up and goes thanks to 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque mated to a smooth and snappy eight-speed automatic transmission. Still, that’s not quite as much oomph as the Telluride and Palisade’s V6, which puts out 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque while also conjoined to an eight-speed automatic, and while all three SUVs sport all-wheel drive, the South Koreans weigh about 300 lbs less, so they feel a bit more engaging off the line.
That extra weight may be contributing to the Atlas’ less appealing fuel economy, which at a claimed 13.7 L/100km in the city, 10.1 on the highway and 12.1 combined is a bit thirstier than the two Koreans’ 12.3 city, 9.6 highway and 11.1 combined ratings. All of these estimates pale in comparison to the Subaru Ascent’s 11.6 city, 9.0 highway and 10.4 combined rating, mind you, not to mention the Toyota Highlander’s respective 11.7, 8.6 and 10.3 rating, plus the Mazda CX-9’s phenomenal rating of 10.6, 8.4 and 9.6.
The Atlas’ handling is better than most in this class, however, prompting me to call this the driver’s SUV of the three-row bunch. This is where its German engineering pays off, even without as much power, and while the two Koreans and most others in this class should keep up through the curves without much effort, the Atlas feels better then pushed hard. Nevertheless, I noticed more interior noise in the Volkswagen than others, and I’m not necessarily talking about road and wind noise, but instead what seemed like the sound of plastic panels chafing up against each other when traveling over rougher roads.
To be fair, Volkswagen may have exorcised out some of the gremlins that plagued my tester since introducing the Atlas, so I’ll need to spend a week with a new one in order to learn how it measures up. I certainly appreciate the way it drives, can give it two thumbs way up for exterior styling and interior design, was impressed with its spacious, comfortable cabin, and truly like its advanced electronics, but some tactile and very real quality issues lowered its score, as well as a number of convenience and luxury features that were missing compared to rivals.
All in all, the Atlas is a solid first effort in the highly competitive three-row SUV segment, and I look forward to experiencing any improvements in the new 2021. As far as buying a 2019 model goes, the deep discount now available could make it very worthwhile.
Story and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Honestly, other than being rare compared to Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Hyundai Elantras and Mazda3s, and therefore something different to take notice of, the new Jetta never really caused me to do…
Honestly, other than being rare compared to Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, Hyundai Elantras and Mazda3s, and therefore something different to take notice of, the new Jetta never really caused me to do a double take. It’s attractive in an inoffensive way, the new grille a bit more daring than the previous model’s horizontal slats, but compared to the initial artist’s renderings that came out ahead of the real deal in 2017, and photos that followed, it comes across a bit watered down in the metal. The new Jetta GLI, however, is a different story. In fact, I find this car quite attractive, and I’m willing to guess it might even pull eyeballs toward less expensive trims.
As with all GLI models thus far, the Jetta’s chrome exterior detailing has been blacked out and splashes of red added across the grille and uniquely around the outer edges of the wheels that frame big red brake calipers, plus of course the discreet GLI badges front and back, while now it now gets a set of thin, blade-like garnishes on each front fender that also feature a “35” designation as part of this 35th anniversary edition. Those otherwise grey-painted twinned-five-spoke 18-inch wheels were shod in 225/45 Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires, not the even sportier 19s found on a Golf R, but they were still sticky enough when pushed hard.
Before delving into performance, other notable GLI trim pieces include a strip of glossy black edging along the top portion of the grille, plus more shiny black detailing around the lower fascia’s corner vent bezels, overtop the mirror caps, on the front portion of the roof as well as the rear third section, connecting the larger sunroof panel in the middle so it all looked like one clean sheet of dark glass, and lastly for the tastefully discreet rear deck lid spoiler. It’s a really attractive car from front to back, and more importantly for me, the type of compact sport model that a mature driver doesn’t feel out of place driving.
Inside, nicely bolstered, inherently comfortable perforated leather seats with red stitching and nicely patterned inserts simultaneously look sporty and luxurious, and therefore exactly what Volkswagen fans should expect, while the steering wheel is performance perfection. It features a slightly flat bottom and ideally shaped thumb spats, plus red baseball-style stitching around the inside of the leather-wrapped rim. Volkswagen continues the car’s red performance theme with more red thread on the leather shifter boot, the centre armrest, the “GLI” portion of the “GLI 35” seat tags, plus the same logo on the embroidered floor mats and stainless steel treadplates.
Of course, there’s plenty of satin-silver aluminum around the cabin too, the aforementioned steering wheel featuring more than its share, foot pedals aside, plus plenty on the centre stack and lower console as well. Some faux carbon-fibre trim and inky piano black surfacing adorns the dash and upper door panels, the former completely soft to the touch thanks to a premium-level rubberized composite along the entire top and ahead of the front passenger, with the latter finished similarly to the front door uppers, as are the door inserts and armrests.
All of this sounds great, but I’m going to guess most eyes will be pulled more quickly towards the fully digital gauge cluster, which boasts an Audi-like Virtual Cockpit design dubbed Digital Cockpit in VW-speak. Like in the pricier German brand’s cars, the GLI’s Digital Cockpit features a “VIEW” button on the steering wheel that turns the gauge package into a multi-function display, even capable of placing the centre-mounted infotainment system’s navigation map directly in front of the driver where it’s most needed. It can do the same with most functions, making it one of the most impressive electronic features available in the mainstream volume-branded sector.
The just-noted centre display is a large eight-inch touchscreen featuring premium-like high-definition resolution, plus brilliant graphics with rich colours and contrasts, and like the gauge cluster it comes loaded with functions like tablet-style tap, pinch and swipe features, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirror Link for integrating your smartphone, audio, navigation, app, driving mode and fuel-saving eco interfaces, plus a performance driving component with a lap timer and more.
I was surprised, however, that active guidelines weren’t included as part of the rear parking monitor, especially in this top-tier trim, and my tester even included the $995 ($1,005 for 2020) optional Advanced Driver Assistive Systems (ADAS) package featuring a multi-function camera with a distance sensor. This bundle also includes Light Assist automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Front Assist autonomous emergency braking, Side Assist blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the Lane Assist lane keeping system.
Just below is a three-dial dual-zone automatic climate control interface that looks good, is easy to use and functions well, plus along with three-way heatable front seats that can be controlled from this panel as well, are three-way ventilated cushions for making summer months more bearable. Just one powered and infotainment-connected USB-A port hangs above a rubber-based wireless device charger, which is big enough for the largest of smartphones, all of which tucks in behind the gearlever and its U-shaped collection of switches, including an electromechanical parking brake, buttons for turning off the traction control and auto stop/start system, plus a driving mode selector that lets you choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Custom settings.
Just above, a sunglass holder sits in the overhead console, the latter also housing switchgear to open the large powered moonroof that includes an attractive opaque fabric sunscreen with an aluminum front section that looks especially upscale.
This said the GLI, which at $32,445 for the manual-shift model or $33,845 for this DSG-equipped version, doesn’t exactly come cheap, so much is expected as far as fit, finish, materials quality and general refinement goes, but if you were to spend some time in any Golf GTI, for instance, and then decide you needed a trunk instead of a hatch to mitigate security risks, per se, you just might be disappointed. To be clear, the entry-level Golf GTI starts at $30,845, which is $850 less than the $31,695 base Jetta GLI, but the Mexican-built hatch pulls the fabric-wrapped A pillars already standard in less expensive Golfs up to the sportier variant, unlike the any Jetta, which are built alongside the Golf at VW’s Puebla, Mexico assembly plant as well, while all the plastic below the waist, and some of the chest-height surfaces are pretty basic hard composites.
Yes, I know the Jetta is a compact model, but now that competitors from Japan and Korea are delivering much higher materials quality, particularly top-line versions of the new Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and even Kia’s Forte that I drove just before this GLI, and factoring in that VW used to offer the most premium-like cabins in the mainstream volume-branded sector, this Jetta GLI was a bit of letdown. The new Forte comes in a sporty GT trim now, by the way, which competes directly with this GLI, yet unlike its rival from VW, the Kia’s inside rear door panels are finished with the same high-quality soft-touch detailing as those up front, while the German brand didn’t even bother including a padded insert at all, and instead formed its door panel solely from hard plastic, making its rear compartment one of the least appealing to look at or touch in this class or any.
Heatable outboard seats were a nice feature, but the interface surrounding the buttons used to turn them on was as low-rent as you’re likely to see in this segment. The seats themselves were nice, thanks to the same red-stitched perforated leather as those up front, and nicely carved out bucket-style outer positions that should hold rear passengers in place during spirited driving. A fairly large flip-down rear armrest gets a pair of cupholders integrated within (or is that a trio?), but unlike previous Jettas there’s no centre pass-through for stowing skis or other long cargo. Instead, when needing to expand on the dedicated cargo area’s already generous 510 litres, the 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks will force one of the rear passengers into the less comfortable centre position. This is mostly par for the course in this class, however, it’s just that VW stood out before, and still does when opting for a Golf.
Volkswagen more than makes up for such shortcomings with the GLI’s on-road experience, however, this sport sedan being one of, if not the most engaging entry within its mainstream volume compact four-door segment. The 228 horsepower 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out plenty of torque at 258 lb-ft (up 18 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque over its predecessor), resulting in some difficulty keeping the front wheels from spinning during spirited takeoff (if it was only available, VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive would help in this respect), while the new seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox feels even quicker through the paddle-actuated gears than the old six-speed DSG, albeit with the added benefit of a taller final gear for improved fuel economy (9.3 L/100km city, 7.2 highway and 8.4 combined for the as-tested auto or 9.6, 7.3 and 8.5 respectively for the manual) and (theoretically) a higher top speed.
Ripping off zero to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds it’s one quick Jetta, while Sport mode really adds to the experience. It’s nothing like the Golf R or equivalent super sport compacts such as Subie’s WRX STI or (RIP) Mitsu’s EVO, but it respectably puts otherwise sporty alternatives like Mazda’s 3 GT to shame in a straight line, and even makes the once-mighty Civic Si seem as if it’s dawdling off the line. Wheel slip during takeoff aside, the Jetta GLI proved unflappable through high-speed corners, even when broken tarmac threatened to upset the rear end, but thanks to a fully independent suspension with a multilink setup in the rear, a move up from the regular Jetta’s comparatively remedial torsion-beam rear suspension. Instead, the inside rear suspension absorbed the jarring pothole and ensuing thump with ease, allowing the tire’s sizeable contact patch to maintain full traction and hook up as I exited the corner. Try that in a regular Jetta and things might get very out of shape, not to mention the Mazda3 I noter earlier (although I must say the Japanese compact manages such situations surprisingly well and combines AWD with its own G-Vectoring Plus to make up for some of its torsion-beam shortcomings).
This said, back more pedestrian speeds (or rather while stopped during parking manoeuvres), I experienced something that’s never happened to me before. When I came to a stop to park the auto start/stop system automatically cut off the engine, which is not unusual in itself, but when I quickly decided to reverse so as not to be park too close to the car in front of me the engine wouldn’t restart when in reverse. I had to shift it back into “P” and then dab the throttle in order to reignite the engine, at which point I could shift back into reverse to back up. Very strange. It worked perfectly through the rest of the week, mind you, as did the entire car.
The aforementioned $32,445 (manual) and $33,845 (DSG) base prices meant the 2019 GLI 35 is nicely equipped, with features not yet mentioned including fog lights, LED headlamps, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a formidable eight-speaker BeatsAudio system with a sub, a powered driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar and three-position memory, plus more. This feature set and all previously noted equipment remains intact for 2020, by the way, so therefore those that find a new 2019 are basically buying the same car for less.
This in mind, take note that VW Canada is offering up to $3,000 in additional incentives on 2019 models that were still available at the time of writing, while the new 2020 GLI, which as just-noted is unchanged other than for the loss of this 35th Edition (for obvious reasons), can be had with up to $1,000 in additional incentives, although average CarCostCanada (where the following information was found) member savings were $2,500 for the 2020. Check out CarCostCanada’s 2020 and 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Canada Prices pages to learn about available manufacturer rebates, leasing and financing specials, and dealer invoice pricing that could save you even more, plus make sure download the free CarCostCanada app from the Google Play Store and Apple iTunes store.
Although the latest Jetta doesn’t exactly light my fire in lesser trims, this new Jetta GLI is a step ahead in many respects, particularly when it comes to styling, straight-line performance and interior electronics. I’d like to see VW improve some of the materials used inside for a more refined cabin, but this probably won’t bother you too much while driving anyway, unless you’re trying to impress someone riding in back. Then again, at least your father-in-law will appreciate the comfort of the GLI’s independent rear suspension, excellent seats and decent legroom while he’s complaining about all the cheap plastic.