It's easy to understand the appeal of the Volkswagen Jetta. Designed and engineered in Germany, the Jetta offers some of the same strengths and design values as much more expensive European luxury sedans yet its base price falls into what we used to call economy car territory.
For 2007, the Jetta's appeal should increase substantially. In addition to minor updates such as a new tire pressure monitoring system and an auxiliary audio input jack for iPods and the like, Volkswagen has dropped the price of its most popular car by $1,400. The new Jetta sedan starts at $16,490, without a significant reduction in standard equipment.
At that price, the Jetta is a compelling buy. Even the base model is well equipped, fun to drive and economical to operate. Its 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is pleasantly robust, with a broad power curve and a raspy sound, and delivers an EPA-estimated 22/30 miles per gallon City/Highway. Inside, the Jetta is roomy and nicely finished, and its trunk is larger than many sedans costing $25,000 or more. Going up the model line, the Jetta only gets better.
The Jetta 2.0T starts about $4,500 higher, but its high-tech turbocharged engine is a blast to drive, with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the trick Direct Shift Gearbox automatic. The 2.0T can be loaded with almost as many features as a luxury sedan, and the line-topping GLI is a sports sedan true to the German tradition. Of course, if you drive a loaded GLI away from your local Volkswagen dealership, you'll have paid close to double the base model's price, nearly $31,000 before tax.
Regardless of engine or equipment level, the Jetta is responsive around town and comfortable on long trips. It snicks through corners and carves through curves precisely, but rides quite comfortably.
The Jetta was redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up midway through the 2005 model year, and it still seems fresh. This one is larger than previous-generation models, and Volkswagen's attention to detail, particularly inside, is convincing. The driver enjoys excellent visibility and ease of operation, with logical controls and instruments, and even the base model offers a full array of safety features. Finish quality is good, inside and out. We find the styling more pleasant than exciting.
If you like the idea of a solid sedan with European flair, the Jetta is the best deal in town.
What's New for 2007: Volkswagen has lowered the price of the base Jetta by $1,400, without a significant decrease in standard equipment. A tire pressure monitoring system is now standard on all models. The TDI turbodiesel is not offered as a 2007 model.
The four-door Volkswagen Jetta sedan is available in four models distinguished by engine size and standard features. Jetta's price nearly doubles from base model to a loaded GLI.
The base Jetta ($16,490) and Jetta 2.5 ($17,990) are powered by a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine generating 150 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with a five-speed manual transmission. Both the Jetta and Jetta 2.5 are available with VW's six-speed automatic transmission ($1,075), which includes a Tiptronic manual shift feature.
Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, a CD player, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, a manual tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and power locks with remote. The Jetta 2.5 adds 16-inch steel wheels (compared to 15-inch), wider tires and standard Electronic Stability Program anti-skid electronics. And it can be equipped with a host of options.
Option Package One ($2,000) includes higher-power audio with an in-dash six-CD changer, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, a fold-flat rear seat and alloy wheels. Package Two ($4,400) adds leather upholstery, front-seat position memory and dual-zone automatic climate control to the contents of Package One. Stand-alone options include heated seats ($175), alloy wheels ($400), the premium audio ($328), a power sunroof ($1,000), and DVD-based satellite navigation ($1,800).
The Jetta 2.0T ($21,990) and GLI ($23,990) are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission. This high-tech engine produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. These models offer VW's Direct Shift Gearbox ($1075) as an option. This six-speed works like a manual transmission with an automatic clutch pedal, and can be shifted manually or left in full automatic mode.
The 2.0T adds the folding rear seat, a leather-wrapped steering-wheel with audio controls, remote trunk release, 17-inch alloy wheels, and other features beyond those included on the Jetta 2.5. The GLI adds sport seats, high-intensity bi-xenon headlights and sporty touches such as alloy pedals and a leather shift knob.
Option Package One ($1,900) for the turbocharged models includes the sunroof, heated seats and the premium audio. Package Two ($4,000) adds leather upholstery and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Safety features that come standard include front airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags for torso protection, and curtain-style airbags for head protection front and rear. Rear passenger side-impact airbags are optional ($350). All Jettas have anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and traction control (ASR). Electronic stability control (ESP) is standard on all but the base model, which offers this skid-management system as an option ($450).
Roadside assistance is included in the Jetta warranty package.
New for 2007: A spicy new paint color called Salsa Red.
The current Volkswagen Jetta is the largest ever, dimensionally as well as visually. Compared to the pre-2005 Jetta, it has a longer wheelbase and wider track. It has also put on a little weight, tipping the scales at over 3,200 pounds. That extra mass was put to good use, however, with greatly improved structural rigidity, a larger trunk and more interior room, particularly for rear seat passengers.
The eye is drawn at once to the Jetta's big, chrome-framed front grille. Like it or not, you'll have to get used to it, because Volkswagen calls this grille its new face. Chrome is also used in eyebrows atop the air inlets in the front bumper and, on the 2.5 model, for the side-window surrounds. GLI models are clearly differentiated by a black honeycomb mesh grille with a red surround strip, and foglamps integrated into the front bumper.
The next most striking design element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the hood and snout. Compared to other recent nose-forward designs, the composite headlights 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 tail is a departure from previous Jetta styling. Larger tail light clusters, now divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving it a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. The round tail lights and brake lights have been singled out as the new Jetta's most derivative design statement. Critics claim they give this Jetta a blander, more Japanese look than previous models.
What's New for 2007: All Jettas are equipped with an auxiliary audio input jack that allows MP3 players and other devices to be plugged into the stereo. As for the stereo itself, the buttons for 2007 are finished in silver rather than black.
Volkswagen and Audi interiors are often the benchmark for manufacturers because their designers accomplish more with less, combining expensive-looking materials with simple, attractive styling and excellent ergonomics. The result tends to be inviting cabins that are pleasant places to spend time. And this holds true in the Jetta.
The optional leather upholstery in a 2.5 we drove was well fitted and stitched around seat contours that provide a high degree of support. The Tamo ash wood trim is indeed trim, and not the great expanses of fake lumber sometimes used in a vain attempt to class up an interior.
The GLI interior is a bit dressier than the standard cabin thanks to touches of bright trim and a handsome, three-spoke leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. The sport seat fabric is a plaid-like material that harkens back to previous interior designs from VW, and it may not be to everyone's taste. The durable-feeling leather is really the way to go for a full upmarket experience.
The base seats are easy to adjust with manual controls, and the adjustable steering column and height-adjustable safety belt help drivers of all sizes get comfortable. The upgrade seats have power adjustment, including power lumbar support, with three memory buttons (which also adjusts the outside mirrors) and a key fob that can be programmed for each position.
The thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by separate, large dials for 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 soothing swimming-pool blue with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within the tachometer and speedometer are warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left opened after refueling. Optional steering wheel buttons can be used to operate a phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system.
A large electronic message pad sits dead center, just over the water temperature and fuel gauges. In addition to more warning and diagnostic symbols, its display includes trip computer read-outs. The red graphics on the pad are quite readable in the daylight but glow too brightly at night, even at the pad's dimmest setting.
The trip computer's data are accessed by one of three levers mounted on the steering column (or with the available multi-function steering wheel buttons). Jutting to the right, this lever operates the wiper/washer system. To the left are the levers for the turn signals/headlamp flashers and cruise control. Though easy to use, the levers feel flimsy and are one of the few interior elements that have a cheap, plasticky look. The headlight switch sits on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.
Stereo buttons, which surround the display screen, are in full view, a setup we prefer over hidden controls. Unfortunately, the display's graphics are not easily discernible in daylight. At night, though, the display reverts to the trademark VW blue backlighting and is easily read.
All Jettas come standard with Climatic, which automatically maintains a chosen temperature throughout the cabin. It features a rotary dial on the left for temperature, one in the middle for fan speed, and a third on the right for directing the air in the cabin. Upgrading to Climatronic provides separate temperature adjustments for the left and right side of the cockpit.
The switch for the outside mirrors and the power window switches are on the driver's door armrest, within easy reach and sight. The windows feature
New for 2007: A new cruise-control system intended to simplify operation and reduce driver distraction.
Turn the key in the Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 (or base model) and you're greeted by the raspy growl of a five-cylinder engine. It's definitely an in-your-ear sound that will find favor with those who appreciate mechanical Sturm und Drang. We like it, but it might be annoying to drivers who'd rather talk on the phone.
As soon as the Jetta pulls away from the curb, there's a feel of solidness and a sense of high quality. Volkswagen invested in structural rigidity and that work paid off in ride quality and handling.
The handling is rewarding, inspiring confidence on curving mountain roads. The Jetta carves through a corner with precision, and body lean is almost non-existent. Entering a corner too quickly is easily corrected with the excellent four-wheel disc brakes. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control while braking, while Brake Assist ensures maximum brake force during panic stops. The Jetta's high-tech traction aids provide a greater envelope of safety yet do little to diminish the driving experience.
This is the best-handling front-wheel-drive car Volkswagen has produced, benefits of the multi-link rear suspension and a carefully designed MacPherson strut front suspension. The Jetta is a well balanced car, with little or no sense that the front end is doing the work of both pulling and steering the car.
The steering is sharp. 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 or she will have to do, but in short order the self-correction becomes a welcome improvement.
For slippery conditions, the Jetta comes with an electronic differential lock, or EDL, that varies power to either front wheel depending on which one has more traction. Anti-slip regulation, or ASR, reduces engine power to both front wheels if slip is detected. Both EDL and ASR are part of the electronic stability program, or ESP, which is standard on all but the base Jetta. ESP incorporates ABS to brake any of the car's four wheels individually and reduce the risk of skidding. Yes, we know these systems sound like alphabet soup, but all work together to help the driver maintain control of the car. Studies in Europe have shown how effective electronic stability systems are in helping avoid accidents. They should be considered a standard item on any driver's order list.
The five-cylinder engine features a raspy growl and was tuned for instant gratification. We like this engine. Throttle tip-in is aggressive, especially when the automatic transmission is in Sport mode. Upshifts and downshifts then occur at higher engine speeds. The engine does not provide any braking while driving downhill, however, and we'd prefer that it did for the control it provides.
The 2.5-liter never felt underpowered in a week of testing on freeways, over mountain passes and around town, nor did it seem like it was running out of breath at high rpm. The raspy engine note gets a bit strident when the accelerator is fully applied, but it's more a growl of power than a whine of discontent. The car will cruise all day long at 90 mph, and given an autobahn to explore will reach almost 130 mph at its top end. It's a very flexible engine, and it delivers power when needed, no matter the gear. Raw speed is not what this five-cylinder does best, however.
The six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic does just about everything an automatic should do. In full automatic mode, the transitions between gears are quick and slip-free. Slam the gas pedal down and downshifts are crisp, and the transmission holds the chosen
The Volkswagen Jetta blends German-bred engineering and technology, good materials and build quality and solid performance in a value-priced package. The base model comes well equipped, with a decent CD player and a host of safety features. Its 2.5-liter five cylinder was bred for American tastes, with lots of low-rev torque, and makes for both a snappy runabout and a comfortable long-distance cruiser. The turbocharged 2.0T can be equipped like a luxury sedan, while the GLI attains sports sedan status. Prices climb quickly, however. At the high-end, a loaded Jetta can nearly double the modest base price, and we're not sure there's twice as much value in the equation.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Greg Brown filed this report from Southern California and Santa Fe, New Mexico.