Critics have called the new Jetta’s styling ‘bland.’ Bland or not, it is certainly a departure for the brand. Interior space grows and materials are not only premium quality but assembled with perfection. The 2.5L five-cylinder makes 150 hp and 170 lb.ft. of torque.
How fitting that VW’s all-new bread-and-butter best-seller Jetta arrives on these shores in Volkswagen of America’s 50th year and its own 25th. “This is a big car for us,” said VW brand Vice President Len Hunt at the recent media introduction. “It’s our principle seller.”
Not just big in VWOA sales, the fifth-generation ’05 Jetta is also dimensionally larger inside and out vs. its predecessor – seven inches longer (179.3 in.), an inch wider (69.3 in.) and a half-inch taller (57.5 in.) on a 2.6-in. longer 101.5-in. wheelbase. In segmentation speak, it has been stretched from the previous model’s “entry/premium compact” class into “premium mid-size” and begins to challenge BMW, Saab and Volvo, as well as corporate cousin Audi.
Calling its market position “affordable German engineering,” VW points out that this ’05 Jetta is the first of nine new models slated to hit U.S. VW showrooms over the next 18 months. These will include both diesel and turbocharged Jettas and a sporty GLI, a freshened New Beetle, two new Passat sedans and a wagon, a new Golf with a hot GTI version. All Jettas for worldwide distribution will be assembled at VW of Mexico’s completely refurbished Puebla facility, where each car is road tested and undergoes a 25-min. quality inspected.
The standard 2.5L transverse-mounted DOHC 4-valve five is up one cylinder and 35 horses over the previous 115-hp four and delivers a solid 170 lb.ft. of torque with at least 90 percent of that available between 1,750 and 5,125 rpm. Standard transaxle is a 5-speed manual, while a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic is optional and an advanced DSG (automated manual) will follow later this year. Engine choices also will expand to include a 100-hp (177 lb.ft.) 1.9L direct-injected TDI diesel and a 200-hp 2.0L direct-gas-injected FSI turbocharged four.
We found the 2.5L with the 6-speed automatic (the only powertrain available for review) adequately strong around town and at sea level but a trifle torque- and power-challenged at higher altitudes, with heavier loads, and when passing on two-lane roads. VW says this combo will accelerate 0-60 in 11.6 sec., while the 5-speed manual is just a tick of the watch quicker, and both powertrains deliver 22 mpg city and 30 highway EPA economy.
The ’05’s MacPherson strut front suspension is greatly improved over its predecessor’s with separate springs and dampers, a more direct steering ratio and higher transverse rigidity. Rear suspension, for the first time on a Jetta, is an advanced multi-link independent design that greatly enhances ride and agility while enabling a large opening into the surprisingly spacious 16-cu.ft. trunk. The precise new electro-mechanical power steering system varies assist based on speed and other driving factors and provides active return and “straight-ahead driving correction assistance” with excellent on-center feel and straight-line stability.
Body and Safety
The significantly stiffer (60 percent greater static and 13 percent better dynamictorsional rigidity) “safety-optimized” body structure, on VW’s new Golf Vplatform, uses advanced energy absorbing crumple zones to distribute crashenergy to the sides, away from the passenger compartment. The 14.5-gal. fueltank is better shielded than before, and rear protection is further aided by ahigh-strength bumper cross-member and rear side members designed to absorb andredirect impact forces around the passengercell.
Important active (crash avoidance) systems include standard 4-wheel ABS brakes, and Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), Electronic Differential Locking (EDL), plus the electro-mechanical steering, which can “assist with straight-ahead driving adjustments when necessary” (in strong crosswinds, for example). In addition, a sophisticated new Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is a $280 option on the base Value Edition model and standard on all others.
Standard passive safety systems include six air bags (dual front and front side thorax plus front and rear side head curtains), crash-optimized front head restraints and foot pedals, daytime running lights (DRLs) and 3-point belts and adjustable head restraints for all three potential rear passengers. All belts have emergency locking retractors, and the fronts use pretensioners with load limiters.
Styling is subjective, of course, but we’re not enamored with VW’s new corporate face…similar to Audi’s except for sharp vs. rounded upper corners and the big shiny plastic chrome piece separating the upper and lower air intakes. The 2006 GLI sport version, will wear a glossy black plastic divider section. Our question: if you’re going to do such bold new in-your-face faces for both VW divisions, why not separate the two more from each other?
The rest of the car is handsome and contemporary to our eye, though some said it struck them more as Japanese than German (especially the Corolla-like taillamps around back). From the side, the Jetta’s crisply sculpted wedge profile is highlighted by strong upper and lower character lines.
As expected from a modern VW, the roomier new interior is attractively designed and beautifully assembled from premium materials throughout. Even the Value Edition (price leader) model has high-quality velour fabric on 8-way adjustable manual seats, a 3-spoke steering wheel and bright accents on the door handles, parking brake, shifter and gauge surrounds. Uplevel versions add leatherette and leather seating and trim and either “tamo” ash wood or “micro-tech” metallic accents.
Shoulder, hip, head and legroom is increased front and rear compared to previous Jettas, with the added rear legroom especially noticeable to back-seat-riding adults. As noted, the trunk capacity is also much improved, with non-intruding hinges, a removable storage divider, tie-down hooks, a fold-down package hook, and a standard 60/40 split rear seat that folds flat to open a pass-through suitable for large and wide cargo items.
Models and Prices
The Value Edition stickers for $17,900, while the better-equipped 2.5 model (withstandard ESP, automatic climate control and more) starts at $20,390. Two simple“package” models are available on top of that: 2.5 Package 1 ($22,350) addssunroof, premium sound, wheels and tires; Package 2 ($25,050) piles on leather,satellite radio and much more. An $1,800 stand-alone navigation system,available with either package, is promised for MY’06.
We love the Jetta ad campaign, which features not-totally-mature young adults who (like their Jettas) are “All grown up. Sort of.” It contrasts the tedium and boredom of adult working life with the excitement of these new cars. One TV spot has a youthful business type taking older colleagues to the airport. One passenger asks him to check the sports scores. He clicks on the radio to find what he was listening to his last time in the car: rock music so loud it nearly blows them out the doors before he can get it turned down. Clever magazine launch ads show not-quite “grown up” Jetta drivers doing donuts in fresh snow on their way to work, enjoying a sci-fi movie and skinny dipping on a deserted beach.
Can’t wait for the GLI!
2005 VW Jetta
What is it: Premium compact/mid-size sedan Who’s it for: Youthful buyers desiring sporty/practical sedan with “affordable German engineering.”
Where’s it built: Puebla, Mexico
Parent Company: Volkswagen AG Competitors: Acura TSX , Audi A3 and A4, BMW 3, Saab 9-3, Volvo S4
Engine: 2.5L DOHC five-cylinder
Horsepower: 150 at 5,000 rpm Torque: 170 lb.ft. at 3,750 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual; optional six-speed automatic
Layout: Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.5 in. (2578 mm)
Curb Weight: 3,230 lb. (1465 kg)
EPA Economy: 22 city/30 highway mpg
Base Price: $17,900 Value Edition; $20,390 Jetta 2.5
What we think: New larger size; handsome (except for new VW-trademark nose) nicely sculpted new shape; larger world-class interior and trunk; adequate power and torque. Steers, stops and handles great. Good value for “entry level,” almost mid-size German-brand sedan.