According to Bloomberg, deals on leases are all part of VW's strategy to move cars now and build brand loyalty for later.
Because of waived disposition fees, lease-end incentives, and plain-old familiarity, someone who leases a car is far more likely to jump into a newer model from the same brand. So, with an eye to future sales, VW made the current Jetta surprisingly inexpensive to drive.
When I got the chance to spend a week with a 2015 Jetta, I put myself in the mindset of a buyer with a modest down payment who wants to spend as little as possible on a new car—which didn't require a great stretch of my imagination. As it turns out, leasing a Jetta might be a good value—but the best deals only apply to entry-level cars.
Consider a special at a dealer outside Boston: $2,999 down, and $69 a month for 36 months. It only applies to Jettas equipped with the weak, 2.0-liter engine, but after three years, you will have only spent a total of $5,483 (not including taxes and insurance—which could be significant) to drive a brand-new car with a full warranty and a year's worth of free scheduled maintenance.
Suze Orman might scoff, but if you're a buyer in need of reliable transportation and don't plan to drive more than 10,000 miles a year, leasing a new Jetta makes a great deal of sense. I dare you to find a $5,500 used car that requires zero out-of-pocket repairs over three years of ownership, or a new car that doesn't depreciate.
Sure, there are other lease offers that can get you into a similarly sized Corolla or Civic for around the same price. But if you're the risk-averse sort, the Jetta isn't just a good financial fit. Overall, the compact sedan offers little of the unknown to fear.
Just take a look at it. The anodyne exterior looks like what an urban planner would put in the parking spaces of a mocked-up streetscape. Buy it, and your neighbors and coworkers likely won't even notice that you got a new car. If they did, the message the Jetta communicates is inoffensive: Its European heritage appeals to a certain kind of snob, but the VW badge is as proletarian as it gets.
Yes, horsepower and torque and grip are all important—but in this price range, there's something to be said for a car that does what you ask it to do, the same way, every time.
For instance, Other cars may feature transmissions with more gears, but the Jetta's six-speed dual-clutch automatic benefits from years of refinement from Volkswagen engineers. The result? Responsive feedback with no hesitation or shudder. If you want a manual, VW will oblige. Handling is balanced, too—the speed-sensitive steering offers adequate feedback, and the suspension is neither too harsh nor too supple.
Unfortunately, the best engine—the 1.8-liter direct injection, four-cylinder turbo—is only available on the SE trim and above, which those low-dollar lease deals just won't cover. That's too bad, because I loved it. Whether I mashed the gas to pass a truck or feathered the throttle in traffic, acceleration was linear and brisk. The sluggish base engine—a 2.0-liter, non-turbo four—just doesn't measure up. Even if you're only looking for a car that's cheap to own, test drive both to see what you're missing out on before you sign the lease papers.
Inside, the staid interior is conservative but handsome—Mitt Romney with intermittent wipers. Yes, the dashboard is a plastic monolith, clearly designed to save VW as much money as possible. But all the buttons are clearly labeled and laid out in linear fashion. That's in stark contrast to the cubist fantasies that make up most modern compact sedan interiors. Our only complaint? There's no USB port—just a 12V outlet, an Aux input, and a proprietary connector in the center console that requires the purchase of a cable to match your phone.
Volkswagen's reliance on lease deals may be a risky move for the company. At some point, lessees will return the cars to dealerships—and there's no guarantee they'll drive home in a brand new Volkswagen. They will, however, flood the market with used Jettas. That can devalue the brand's perception and deflate the model's residual value.
For drivers, however, leasing a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta might be a safe bet. It's not bold and it's not daring—but that's the point.
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