Overview

This totally new Volkswagen Jetta, the fifth-generation of this four-door compact sedan, is one of the most important in VW's long history of selling cars in America. Certainly it's the most significant since the turn of the century, because its success is crucial to reviving Volkswagen's flagging fortunes. The Jetta has long been the company's best-selling model in the U.S. The Jetta has, in fact, been the perennial best-selling European nameplate on this side of the Atlantic, and its continued success is central to Volkswagen's fortunes in this, its most critical market outside of Europe.

Key elements of this larger Jetta are a new, developed-for-America-only high-torque five-cylinder engine, a sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission (optional), a much more spacious interior, and a high level of standard content to help sweeten entry prices that begin under $20,000.

Despite forays into the ultra-luxury market with the Phaeton and the lucrative SUV game with the Touareg, VW sales have flagged, primarily because the Jetta/Golf model platform was aging and overdue for replacement. Add in the factor of a weak dollar against the Euro, which led to severe price challenges from competitors, and it was no wonder VW dealers were clamoring for a level playing field. With the new Jetta, they're getting what they want, and the game's momentum could very well shift in Volkswagen's direction yet again.

Greeting the driver of a new Jetta is a commanding seating position, excellent outward vision paths and a logical, ergonomically sound array of controls and instruments. The build quality is superb inside and out and even the base model has an elegant, high-quality cabin. The raspy-sounding five-cylinder is pleasantly robust delivers and the Jetta carves through corners with precision. It's comfortable on long trips and responsive around town.

Model Lineup

The all-new Volkswagen Jetta goes on sale with two engines, with a third engine choice available shortly. Officially, the new Jetta launches in March 2005 as a 2005 model, but you should think of it as a 2006.

New to the VW engine family, and the "base" motor that replaces the aged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the line-up, is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine putting out 150 horsepower. If you live in one of 45 states where new diesel-fueled cars can be sold, the Jetta can also be ordered with VW's highly regarded, 100-horsepower 1.9-liter TDI turbodiesel four-cylinder. The third car of the trio, the Jetta GLI, will follow in late summer, with a new 2.0-liter turbo engine boasting an output of 200 horsepower.

The standard gearbox for both the 2.5L and 1.9L engines is a five-speed manual carried over from the previous Jetta. The optional transmission for 2.5Ls is a new, very slick six-speed automatic, augmented with a Sport mode and Tiptronic gear selection. And there's more good gearbox news: Soon, VW's super DSG twin-clutch gearbox will be an option with the Jetta TDI and the GLI.

Despite the increase in power and size and more generous standard content, the 2006 Jetta's base sticker is just $220 more than a comparably equipped outgoing model. Two levels of equipment and trim are offered: the Value Edition ($17,900 manual; $18,975 automatic), which is available only with the 2.5-liter engine; and the 2.5 ($20,390 manual; $21,465 automatic) and TDI ($21,385 manual; $22,460 automatic).

The list of standard equipment belies the cars' price points. Even without ticking a single box on the options sheet, the new Jetta arrives with plenty of content: a full gauge cluster; climate control system with rear passenger vents in the center console; cruise control; tinted windows; power windows with one-touch open and close; AM/FM stereo and CD player; external temperature display; eight-way front-seat and lumbar adjustments; heated power outside mirrors; split/folding rear seats; remote central power locking; two power outlets in the center console and one in the trunk; remote trunk and fuel-filler flap releases; and an anti-theft alarm.

And because VW considers superior dynamics and optimum safety to be standard fare on each of its models, every new Jetta sports Servotronic power steering; a two-way adjustable steering column; ABS with discs at all four wheels; ASR (traction control); EDL (electronic differential lock). Passive safety features include front, side-impact and curtain airbags along with crash-active front headrests; front height-adjustable safety belts with and emergency locking retractors for all five seating positions.

Standard running gear on Value Editions is 6x15-inch steel wheels with 195/65R15 all-season radials and a full-size spare wheel and tire. The 2.5 and TDI models are fitted with 6x16-inch steel wheels and 205/55R16 all-season radials.

A number of options and packages can add more than a few euros to the price of entry. Package 1 includes a sunroof, 16-inch silver alloy wheels and the Premium sound system ($1,960). Package 2 includes all that plus leather seating surfaces; multifunction steering wheel; interior wood trim for the shift knob, dash center console and doors; Homelink; 12-way power adjustable driver seat with 3-position memory and 4-way power adjustable lumbar support; power passenger seat; manual rear sunshade; and XM Satellite Radio, which includes activation plus 3 months of service ($4,660). Package 3 is identical except that Sirius Satellite Radio replaces XM. Either satellite radio service can also be ordered separately ($375).

A brace of electronic handling aids are standard on 2.5 and TDI models but must be optioned into Value Edition Jettas. Electronic stabilization program (ESP) is a worthy option ($280); and engine braking assist (EBA), which helps prevent compression-induced skids in slippery conditions.

Walkaround

The Volkswagen Jetta body is completely redesigned. It's larger, dimensionally as well as visually, in every direction. Compared to the previous Jetta, it has a longer wheelbase and wider track. It has also put on a little weight, tipping the scales at a little over 3,200 pounds. However, that extra mass was put to good use, as the greatly improved structural rigidity now puts the Jetta at the top of its class, and there's a larger trunk and more interior room, particularly for rear seat passengers.

The eye is drawn at once to the chrome-framed front grille. Like it or not, get used to it, because this is the new face of Volkswagen. Chrome is also used in eyebrows atop the large engine air inlets in the front bumper and, on 2.5 and TDI models, for the side-window surrounds.

Though the most striking element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the car's snout, compared to some other recent nose-forward designs, the composite headlamps and various inlets and grilles are well integrated into the Jetta's raked rearward flow. A striking vee, created by the slant of the headlamps and sloping hood lines, is carried strongly toward the rear by the steeply raked windshield and character lines running along the flanks. The rear window is carried deeply into the well-defined C-pillar, accentuating the designers' quest for a coupe-like sweep to the rear quarters. Flares at the four wheels blend into well-defined side skirts and, at the rear, into a lower valance panel accentuated by twin chrome-tipped tailpipes.

The car's tail is a significant departure from previous Jetta styling. The whole structure appears longer, but the larger taillight clusters, now divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving the car a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. Also helping to integrate the increased bulk of the trunk into the fenders is the coupe-like sweep of the C-pillar and the extensive rear window, which slants deeply into the trunkline.

The round rear driving and brake lights will likely be singled out as the new styling's most derivative statement, giving the car a blander, more Asian look to it than previous Jettas. The car's overall look is more pleasant than exciting.

How well this new design is accepted by the beholder is, however, an entirely different matter from the execution. And the execution is where Volkswagen excels. The body panels fit tightly and the paint finish is exquisite. If there's little excitement in the Jetta's styling, there's certainly a perceptible aura of rational engineering everywhere you look.

Interior Features

Volkwagen interiors are closely studied by the competition for good reason. VW's designers accomplish more with less, combining expensive-looking materials with simple but attractive styling and excellent ergonomics for very inviting cockpits.

Our test car, a 2.5L with six-speed automatic, was as full of stuff as could be stuffed in a new Jetta. The leather upholstery is well fitted and stitched around contours that provide a high degree of support. The Tamo ash wood trim is indeed trim and not the great expanses of lumber in a lame attempt to class up the interior. To the contrary, it's tastefully applied to complement the interior's sweeps and angles. Helping to relieve the eye of any monochromatic monotony are such touches as metallic trim around the shift lever, metallic instrument cluster rings; chrome door handles, glovebox lock cylinder and trunk release switch, and the button for the parking brake lever.

Between the eight-way power seat, power lumbar adjustment, adjustable steering column and height-adjustable safety belt, all but the rarest of human body types will find a comfortable driving position. The fully electric front driver's seat is positioned with the controls on the side of the seat cushion or it can adjusted automatically, via a three-level memory switch (which also adjusts the outside mirrors) or by the key fob, which can be specifically programmed for each driver (this adjusts only the seat).

A short styling aside here: Exposed windshield wipers were a pet peeve of former VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, and so he ordered that all future VWs would have hidden wipers. To aid in this design, a cowling now sits along the base of the windshield and cuts off some of the view over the nose of the car. It's not a safety issue, but former VW owners will notice the difference right away. To Piech's credit, the hidden wipers do indeed lend a more upscale look.

Each of the five possible passengers is held in place by a three-point safety belt, and each position has an adjustable headrest and emergency locking retractors for the belts. The front seat belts also have pre-tensioners with load limiters for a more effective reaction to need, and the front headrests are active, automatically moving up and forward if the occupant's torso is pressed back in the seat, as happens in many kinds of collisions. To help reduce leg injuries, the pedals get away from the driver in the event of a front-end collision. And there are six airbags throughout the cabin ready to deploy if needed, including side curtains to help protect the outboard passengers.

The thick-rimmed, padded three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by the two large dials of the tachometer and speedometer, well shaded from ambient light by a curved cowl. In daylight the graphics read white on black, at night changing to white on VW's signature, soothing swimming-pool blue with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within both the tach and speedo are a number of warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left opened after gassing up.

Part of option Package 2 are steering wheel-imbedded buttons that can operate a phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system. The large center pad holds the air bag and sounds the horn when pressed.

To the left of the wheel is the headlamp switch, which has three positions: When turned off, the daytime running lights are activated. Click the dial once to the right, and automatic headlight control is activated, which measures ambient light and turns on the headlights when needed, such as in a long tunnel or as night approaches. A third click and the headlights are turned on. When they become available, front foglamps will also be worked with this switch.

A large electronic message pad sits dead center, just over

Driving Impressions

Climb in the new Jetta 2.5L, turn the key and the driver is greeted by the raspy growl of the new five-cylinder engine. It's definitely an in-your-ear sound that will find favor with those who appreciate mechanical sturm und drang, but it might be a little annoying to drivers who'd rather talk on the phone.

As soon as the Jetta pulls away from the curb, there's a noticeable feel of solidness and a clear sense of high build quality. As there should be. A large part of the investment in the Jetta went toward increasing the car's structural integrity. The stronger structure forms not only a more solid grounding for suspension and drivetrain components, it helps reduce unwanted noise from being transmitted into the cabin.

The other element that was considered most critical in the design of this performance-oriented car was the suspension. This is, without question, the best handling front-wheel-drive car Volkswagen has ever produced yet, somewhat paradoxically, it all starts with the new multi-link setup in the tail of the car.

The physics are complicated, but, simply stated, if the rear end of the car won't properly follow the front, then handling limits are low and driver effort is high. Replacing the old solid-beam axle with the new four-link rear suspension (with telescopic gas-filled shock absorbers, coil springs and stabilizer bar) means reduced body roll, better contact between the wheels and the pavement, and improved ride quality. Angling the shock absorbers and combining them with oval helper springs also contribute to a wider trunk opening for easier loading.

Changes to the front suspension also made dramatic differences to the car's feel. The MacPherson strut arrangement (with coil springs, telescopic shocks and a newly designed, integrated stabilizer bar to reduce weight) has improved geometry to increase front wheel location and reduce torque steer to unnoticeable levels, even when the throttle is maxed out in a corner. This is an amazingly balanced car, with little or no sense that the front end is doing the work of both pulling and steering the car.

Credit the new Servotronic power steering for the sharp response through the steering wheel. It not only adjusts to speed, providing more assist at low speeds and higher effort on the open road, but, through electronic control of the steering column, it automatically corrects the car's direction when such external forces as crosswinds threaten to move it off track. It's a bit disconcerting at first for the car to do something a driver expects he'll have to do but after a short time becomes very welcome in its ability to reduce driver effort.

Getting the car underway is generally effortless, even in slippery conditions due to the application of various standard traction aids. Every Jetta comes with EDL, an electronic differential lock that varies power to either front wheel depending on which one has more traction. It works by applying the brakes very slightly on the wheel that has lost traction, while at the same time it sends more torque to the other wheel. Also standard across the line is ASR, anti-slip regulation, which reduces engine power to the front wheels if slip is detected.

Both EDL and ASR are part of the electronic stability program, or ESP, which is standard on the 2.5L and TDI models and optional on Value Editions. ESP incorporates ABS to brake any of the car's four wheels individually and reduce the risk of skidding. Studies in Europe have shown how effective electronic stability systems are in helping avoid accidents and should be considered a standard item on any serious driver's order list.

The only commotion during take-off, then, is the raspy growl of the new five-cylinder engine, which has been tuned for instant gratification. Throttle tip-in is aggressive, especially when the Sport mode is chosen from the automatic transmission's shift pattern. Upshifts and downshifts then occu

Summary

The all-new Volkswagen Jetta is a delectable dish of European-bred automotive technology, superior materials and tangibly good build quality. Choosing to address the American driver's thirst for torque was one of the more pleasing ways that Volkswagen fashioned this car for the stop-and-go derby of urban driving, but it's still how well the Jetta conquers the open road that makes the Volkswagen driving experience especially distinctive and enjoyable.

New Car Test Drive correspondent Greg Brown filed this report from Southern California.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$17,900
Model lineup:
Volkswagen Jetta Value Edition ($17,900); Value Edition automatic ($18,975); 2.5L ($20,390); 2.5L automatic ($21,465); 1.9L TDI ($21,385); TDI automatic ($22,460)
Engines:
150-hp 2.5-liter five-cylinder; 1.9-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder
Transmissions:
5-speed manual; 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Safety equipment (Standard):
dual-stage front driver and passenger airbags; front side-impact thorax airbags; front and rear side curtain-style head protection airbags; three-point seat belts at all five seating positions; height-adjustable front seatbelts; safety belt pre-tensioners with load limiters for the front seats; emergency locking retractors for every belt; four-channel ABS; Electronic Differential Lock (EDL); Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR)
Safety equipment (Optional):
Electronic Stability Program (ESP); Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA); Engine Braking Assist (EBA); Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD)
Basic warranty:
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:
Puebla, Mexico
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Volkswagen Jetta 2.5L ($18,975)
Standard equipment:
automatic dual-temperature climate control with pollen and smog filter; tilt and telescopic steering wheel; power windows with one-touch operation and key opening/closing; eight-way adjustable front seats, manually for height and reach and power for recline; heatable front seats; leatherette seating surfaces; 3-spoke steering wheel; center console with two cup holders, sliding armrest and power outlet; Microtech interior trim; rear passenger ventilation for heat and A/C; sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors and sliding function; cruise control; premium AM/FM sound system with in-dash 6-disc CD changer, MP3 readable, satellite radio compatible, 10 speakers, theft-deterrent warning light; automatic headlamps; 60/40 split folding rear seat with center armrest and pass-through; 16-inch steel wheels; fully carpeted trunk with tie-down hooks; full-size spare wheel/tire
Options as tested:
Package 2 ($4,660) includes leather seating surfaces; wood trim for steering wheel, shift knob, shift lever, dash, center console and doors; electric tilt/slide sunroof with manual shade; 16-inch alloy wheels; premium sound system with XM Satellite Radio (activation and 3 months of service); multi-function steering wheel; Homelink; 12-way power adjustable driver seat w/3-position memory; power passenger seat; manual rear sunshade
Destination charge:
615
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$24,250
Layout:
front-wheel drive
Engine:
2.5-liter five-cylinder
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
150 @ 5000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
170 @ 3750
Transmission:
6-speed automatic with Tiptronic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
22/28 mpg.
Wheelbase:
101.5 in.
Length/width/height:
179.3/69.3/57.5 in.
Track, f/r:
60.7/59.7 in.
Turning circle:
35.8 ft.
Seating capacity:
5
Head/hip/leg room, f:
38.5/54.8/41.2 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
37.2/53.1/35.4 in.
Cargo volume:
16.0 cu. ft.
Payload:
1105
Towing capacity:
N/A
Suspension F:
independent, MacPherson strut
Suspension R:
independent, multi-link
Ground clearance:
5.4 in.
Curb weight:
3285 lbs.
Tires:
205/55HR16 all season
Brakes, f/r:
vented disc/solid disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist in.
Fuel capacity:
14.5 gal.
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