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Classy German vs sporty czech

It’s not just another sibling rivalry when Volkswagen’s Jetta comes up against Skoda’s Laura. It’s a humdinger of a clash that goes to the wire. Sumant Banerji explores.

autos Updated: Aug 15, 2009 02:31 IST
Sumant Banerji

The Skoda was a huge success in the 1900s, but by the end of the last century, it had become something of a butt of jokes. One popular joke went, “How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill up the gas tank”. But Skoda’s acquisition by Volkswagen in 1991, and subsequent overhauling of the technology, changed its fortunes. Soon there was a waiting list for deliveries of Skoda again. The glory was regained.

When Skoda came up with its refreshed model of Laura — originally launched in 2005 — last month, we decided it would be interesting to set up some sibling rivalry. We got Volkswagen’s best-selling car in India — the Jetta launched in 2008 — and took both cars for a spin. The Jetta and the Laura share the same DNA but probably because Skoda is Czech and Volkswagen is as German as it can get, there are marked differences as well. Let the rivalry begin.

Sporty vs executive

Both cars have the same thematic design, so it is difficult to decide which looks better. The Laura is intended to be suave and sporty at the same time, and the design lives up to it. It looks more compact than it actually is and, due to its bigger 16-inch tyres, has an aggressive stance. The new Laura also comes in a new shade — Arctic Breeze — which is a refreshing change.

The Jetta’s styling, on the other hand, is subtle and understated. Its horizontal grille, as opposed to Laura’s vertical stripes, gives the car a certain executive look. The attention to detail is top notch, from the headlamp cluster to the rear bumpers. The bottom line is simple: for a sporty look, go for the Laura, but if you want executive styling then the Jetta should be your choice.

Not ‘quiet’ there

The Laura has got a newer and more powerful 2-litre diesel engine while the Jetta makes do with the same 1.9 litre set. But that doesn’t mean the Laura is an easy winner. While it is power packed for those who like racing, somehow the engineers missed a trick on extra refinement. The Laura is very noisy; even with the windows closed and the music system on, the noise simply sails into the cabin when revved hard. For those on the road, the less said the better.

The Jetta is not very different on this count but it is much more refined and relatively less noisy. The extra power gives Skoda an edge, but only on the highway. On city roads, the Jetta remains the better option. Road handling for both the cars, however, is first rate.

Jetta's sleek from inside

The first thing that one notices after stepping into the Laura is its low ceiling. Chances are if you happen to look up, you may feel a little claustrophobic. Legroom — in the front and the rear — is more than adequate in both cars and the extra wood on Laura’s dashboard gives it an edge in the looks department. On the convenience front, Skoda leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no facility to make electric seating adjustments on the co-passenger seat. Both cars feature touch screens in the central console and have similar features like six airbags, anti-lock braking system and obsolete SD card slots instead of a USB port. The Jetta, however, comes across as better-built.

Big brother wins

For a change, a Skoda is more expensive than a Volkswagen. The top-of-the-line Laura costs over a lakh more than its counterpart from Volkswagen. Clearly, to justify this price, the new Laura needs improvements, particularly in the refinement and fit-and-finish departments, especially since it has a similar car to compete with.

It may not be an outright winner, but the Jetta has its nose ahead of its ‘younger’ sibling. Since Skoda started making cars almost 30 years earlier than Volkswagen, it’s probably not fair to call Laura the younger sibling. But it sure has to mature to catch up with the Jetta.