Volkswagen has launched an all-new Jetta as a 2005 model in the United States.
The new Jetta is a larger car with a more-powerful base engine and a segment-leading six-speed automatic transmission. While the size is nice and drivetrain impressive in many respects, the question of whether the car has lost its soul in the effort must be resolved?
The previous Jetta occupied an interesting niche. It has been the German-engineered sporty sedan for people who didn’t want to spend the big bucks for a BMW. It offered high-performance at a fraction of the price. The Jetta also carried a squared-off look that remained distinctive during the last two decades. On a personal note, Jettas have been omnipresent in my family. My young-adult nephews both proudly drive Jettas and my dad bought three new Jettas before he ended his driving career after he demolished his last one in a spectacular crash featured on the 11 o’clock news. The fact that my father survived is a tribute to the car’s safety.
While Volkswagen has gone in several directions in the last few years with such initiatives as the new Beetle and its disastrous attempt to go up-market with an eight-cylinder Passat and the ill-fated Phaeton luxury sedan, the Jetta seemed all but forgotten despite its status as the line’s bread-and-butter automobile. VW’s annual sales through June were down by nearly 25 percent in the United States with the new Jetta accounting for about half the current volume.
An important car, you bet.
Volkswagen believes that size matters. The new Jetta adds three inches to the wheelbase and has seven inches tacked on to the overall length. It’s also one inch wider and about a half-inch taller. Interior room is increased, particularly for rear seat passengers, and the trunk is very accommodating.
The base engine is the new 150-horsepower in-line five, which replaces the anemic 115-horsepower in-line four. Mated to the new engine is an optional six-speed automatic, which allows the engine to operate more efficiently. The advent of a six-speed automatic in the compact class is impressive.
An important aspect of the new Jetta is its styling. I can’t give the effort more than a passing C grade. It’s not a bad design, but it looks so generically Japanese.
In a parking lot, I had a hard time finding the car in a sea of Toyota Corollas and other late-model economy cars. The only distinguishing feature is the wide mouth grille, which seems out of place here.
The interior represents a major step forward that everyone should appreciate. First off, the materials exude high-quality status and the design of the dashboard and center console reveals controls that are easy to find and use. Standard automatic climate control is a welcome addition. The optional leather seating indicated a commitment to high quality at a modest price.
The new Jetta’s body structure seems sound with noticeable improvement in terms of the absence of any indication of body flex or bending. For a compact, economical automobile, the Jetta offers a high degree of safety.
Previously, the Jetta received a five-star rating from the U.S. government crash test, the best mark possible. The new Jetta offers front-seat passenger and side-impact air bags. Protection is enhanced with side-curtain air bags that drop down from the headliner to protect outside passengers from head injuries.
Standard equipment includes traction control and Volkswagen’s version of yaw control. Both systems work to keep the car moving forward in the desired direction, rather than skidding off the road when things get wet and slippery.
On the road I found the Jetta a disappointment. Despite what the company claims as suspension upgrades, the new Jetta offered less feedback and appeared to be less agile than its predecessor. The ride quality is a bit harsh as well, particularly for a car moving into the mainstream. The new engine is an improvement over the previous base engine, but is not exactly a powerhouse and is quite noisy, particularly at low speeds. Even with its state-of-the-art transmission, full-throttle acceleration was leisurely.
Let’s hope that VW adds its V-6 engine as an option very soon.
While the new Jetta delivers some impressive technology, it has lost some of its character in terms of its unique styling and the driving experience.
It may attract a new type of mainstream buyer, but I’ll be surprised if anyone thinks of it as an alternative to a BMW 3-Series any longer.
Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VW Jetta 2.5
Price as tested: $26,740.
Engine: Type: 2.5-liter, in-line 5 cylinder.
Horsepower: 150 @ 5,000 rpm.
Torque: 170 foot-pounds @ 3,750 rpm.
Fuel economy, automatic transmission:
City: & #173;22 mpg.
Highway: & #173; 30 mpg.
Curb weight: 3,285 pounds.