The Jetta is too much like its Volkswagen stablemates to raise more than a shrug, says Sean O' Grady

I may be wrong about this (not unprecedented) but I think Volkswagen have managed to do something unprecedented with their new Jetta.

For the first time, they have managed to make all their saloons look like scaled up or scaled down versions of each other. Car spotters have been challenged, confused and confounded by the close physical resemblance between the big but rarely seen Phaeton and the similarly styled new Passat.

Looking at other VW group products such as the Skoda Octavia and Superb or the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, it's clear the look has seeped into their styling cues as well, notably in the heavy "A" shape around the rear pillars.

In the case of the Jetta, it is as if the companyslapped a plan of the Phaeton on to the photocopier and pressed the button marked "two-thirds" to create the blueprint for the Passat, then took the Passat image, punched in "90 percent" and - hey presto - a new small saloon was born.

And that's how you ought to see the Jetta: very nearly a Passat rather than a Golf with a boot. Not that it doesn't have plenty in common with a Golf, which is a good thing. It has the same mechanical underpinnings and the same pleasantly civilised interior. The VW press office even kitted out our test car with a "Winter Pack" so that my bottom was nice and warm. The 150PSi model I drove was tight and fast, and you can have a full spec Golf GTI-style sporty Jetta, complete with DSG gearbox - a GTI in all but name - for rather less money than the hatch. On the other hand, the more basic models cost more than equivalent Golfs (Jettas start at £14,635) although they are better equipped. Still, the nearest Passats are priced only slightly higher than the Jetta (a mere £700 premium on a 1.6S, for example). Complicated, eh?

My only real complaint about my test car was that it idled extremely badly - fast and unevenly - on start-up, even though it did calm down soon enough.

The Jetta is most interesting because of where it's made: at VW's Mexican plant, like the forthcoming baby Fox hatch and the new Beetle. Everyone says the Chinese are coming, but the Latin Americans have got to the car market first.

However, there's less to the Jetta than all that. It's true that it is indeed all Golf underneath, and better than the old model, the appropriately named Bora. However, the Jetta's size and function in life is pitched too close to the Passat. Sure, the Jetta is a niche product, like all its "booted Golf" predecessors. But this niche seems a little too cramped.

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