2005 Volkswagen Jetta
This 2005 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2010.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
I've always thought Volkswagen's compact Jetta sedan had a distinctive appearance—a style, inside and out, that looked upscale and, yes, European. Over its 25 years in the U.S. market, the Jetta often seemed to be a smart-looking 4-door car that could fit in at the mall or at the country club. And it didn't resemble other small cars.
Newly styled for its fifth generation, the 2005 VW Jetta that debuted in the U.S. in March 2005 almost looks like what I'd expect a new-generation Toyota Corolla to look like on the outside.
Some auto industry officials and analysts also wondered at the outset if the Jetta's new, rounded appearance, especially the back-end treatment of the new sedan, packs enough differentiation for consumers with European tastes.
Time will tell, of course, if the pleasant, though not-too-distinctive-style of the new Jetta catches on.
Thank goodness there are several other ways for the new-generation Jetta to appeal to buyers.
This provides a bit more room inside and a lot more space in the trunk, so VW officials look for the new Jetta to attract not just the young, college-educated singles and couples who have favored the Jetta over the years. The automaker wants to get more families into the Jetta, too.
Specifically, Jetta trunk space is now at 16 cubic feet, up from 13 cubic feet before. This is more than the 12.9-cubic-foot trunk of the Honda Civic sedan. Honda's Civic ranks as America's best-selling compact, followed by the Toyota Corolla, which has a 13.6-cubic-foot trunk.
Meantime, the Jetta's rear-seat legroom is improved by 1.9 inches, while shoulder room is up about a half inch from the previous Jetta. But note the Civic still has more rear-seat legroom than the Jetta—36 inches—while the Jetta's rear-seat passenger dimensions now have come up to be about the same as those in the Corolla.
Affordable European nameplate
The new-generation Jetta remains the most affordable European-badged sedan in America, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price at introduction set at around $18,000. This is for a Value Edition model with manual transmission.
In comparison, a shopper would need more than $24,000 to get into a starting model of VW's larger sedan, the midsize Passat, and more than $26,000 to get into Audi's entry-level A4, BMW's 3-Series or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans.
The Jetta may have a European badge, but it's something of a "world car." Engineers from Volkswagen AG's German facilities developed the car, with input from VW of America Inc. based near Detroit. The new Jetta rolls off an assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, south of Mexico City. The Jetta's new automatic transmission comes from Japan, and the new engine is sourced from Mexico.
A good reason for VW of America's involvement: With annual Jetta sales in the U.S. traditionally around 140,000 to 150,000, the U.S. is Jetta's top market. (Europeans prefer VW's hatchbacks.) But by calendar 2004, U.S. sales of Jettas had fallen to less than 92,000. VW officials hope the new-generation Jetta lifts sales back up.
Many standard features
This helps explain why the Jetta's starting price is higher than that of some other small cars. For example, the Honda Civic, the top-selling compact car in the United States, started around $13,000 for a 2005 sedan, and Chevrolet's new-for-2005 Cobalt compact sedan started at less than $14,000 for a sedan when the new Jetta was introduced.
The 2005 Civic sedan did not offer curtain airbags, and these bags were optional on the 2005 Cobalt. In addition, the Jetta is one of the few small cars to include a telescoping steering wheel to help drivers better position themselves in their seats.
But I still wish VW, which knows its Jetta has been a younger person's car, had a full complement of fun, optional features available. For example, there was no iPod integrator for this new Jetta at its launch, and buyers wanting a navigation system were told to wait until 2006.
Interior still a hallmark
Check out the glove box and you'll find it's lined with a soft, almost velvet-like material, and the owner's manual sits in its own, out-of-the-way slot.
Seats are supportive and well-designed for a lot of travel time. In fact, I liked the "leatherette" fake leather on the seats of one of the Jetta test cars as much as I liked the other seat coverings. The leatherette was perforated and had well-aligned stitching trimming the seats.
New base engine
The change was needed to get the Jetta competitive in the compact sedan segment, where cars like the Nissan Sentra can generate 165 horsepower and 175 lb-ft at 4000 rpm from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.
The new-generation Jetta test cars had good get up and go as I merged into city traffic and onto highways. The extra "oomph" when I passed cars on two-lane roads was noticeable, too.
The transmission in the testers was the new 6-speed automatic—up from 5 speeds in the previous Jetta—and shifts were smooth, except when I used the shift-it-yourself Tiptronic mode and shift points could be noticed.
In addition, the Tiptronic had a mind of its own and regularly upshifted and downshifted for me even when I wanted sportier, later shifts.
If you really want to control the shifts yourself, opt for the 5-speed manual.
The gasoline requirement for the Jetta 2.5 is regular unleaded. The Jetta's 14.5-gallon fuel tank is larger than the 13.2-gallon tanks in the Civic and Corolla. The larger tank is needed, since the Jetta weighs a few hundred pounds more than the two competitors and doesn't have as high a fuel economy rating.
Indeed, the test 2005 Jetta 2.5 model with automatic transmission was rated at 22 miles a gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway, or a combined 26 mpg, which is about mid-pack among compact cars.
VW's carryover 100-horsepower 1.9-liter inline turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine will be in the new Jetta line, too, officials said. It was expected to have much better fuel economy rating of a combined 40 mpg or more.
The TDI model, as it's called, was planned to be offered with a new direct-shift gearbox (DSG). It's essentially an "automated manual" transmission that's getting lots of attention—and buyers—in Europe.
Yes, 5 cylinders
One reason is the concern of many auto engineers that engines with odd numbers of cylinders can have balance and vibration issues. But the Jetta's new 2.5-liter inline 5 cylinder runs quite smoothly, and the test cars showed no hint of such problems.
Indeed, a usual band-aid for engine imbalance—balance shafts—isn't necessary for this new engine, according to VW spokesman Patrick Hespen.
The Jetta's new transverse-mounted engine is naturally aspirated—meaning no turbocharging. And connecting rods that are equally positioned at 72 degrees on the engine crankshaft help do away with imbalance issues, Hespen said. Together, the connecting rods and the crankshaft work to convert the reciprocating motion of the engine pistons that go up and down in the engine cylinders into rotary motion that's used by the transmission.
This power plant "is a product of modern technology," Hespen said.
Note that 90 percent of the maximum torque becomes available as low as 1750 rpm, which means it's there when drivers need it for quick acceleration when they're merging into city traffic and for other everyday driving needs, according to VW.
This is not the first 5 cylinder at VW.
Remember the old VW Quantum? Starting in 1984, it had a 2.1-liter 5-cylinder engine producing 100 horses, Hespen said. A year later, the engine went up to 2.2 liters and produced 110 horsepower.
VW's EuroVan arrived in the States in 1992 with a 5 cylinder. The 109-horsepower 2.5-liter engine remained until it was replaced by VW's VR6 engine after 1995, Hespen said.
Today, Swedish carmaker Volvo and America's Chevrolet and GMC are among the few brands that sell vehicles with 5-cylinder engines in the U.S. The 2005 Volvo S40 sedan, for example, is powered by naturally aspirated as well as turbocharged 5-cylinder power plants. The 2005 Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck and its twin GMC Canyon come with a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine as its up-level power plant.
New suspension, more safety
The test Jettas maneuvered competently and comfortably, even in mountain twisties, with the car predictably understeering, or plowing, into corners only when pushed hard.
The 16-inch all-season tires on the test Jetta 2.5 versions seemed less than performance-oriented but kept much road noise away from passengers.
I did have noticeable wind noise in one of the test cars but not in another, and the Jetta's new Servotronic electro-mechanical steering is quite good at helping a driver maintain precise steering direction even if the car is buffeted by a large semi or crosswinds.
The new Jetta has larger brakes than its predecessor—good to have as the base engine power has increased.
Other standard safety features include anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, traction control and crash-active head restraints for front-seat passengers. These restraints move closer to passengers' heads during a rear crash to help prevent whiplash.
The sporty, upscale GLI version of Jetta now is considered a separate car model rather than a trim level of Jetta. "The GLI will be a distinct product," said spokesman Tony Fouladpour. It's due to be offered with optional 18-inch wheels and tires.
VW's Jetta wagon continues on into calendar 2006 built on the old Jetta platform, officials said. A new-style Jetta wagon comes later.