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2005 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 Review

IIHS VW Jetta Crash Closeups, Front, Side, Rear
IIHS Rates New Jetta Tops in Crash Tests Video
IIHS Side Impact Crash Video
IIHS Side Impact Crash Video
IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Video


It's hard to believe. 2005 is the 25th anniversary year of what has turned out to be Volkswagen of America's most popular car, the Jetta. Originally little more than a Golf - then called ``Rabbit'' in the U.S. - with a trunk grafted on to make it into a three-box sedan, the Jetta proved popular with young singles and young families, and helped Volkswagen build a customer base that makes it the envy of the rest of the industry.

But times change, and people get older and need more room. More, perhaps, than can be found in a small compact, but not as much as in a midsize car like VW's Passat. And ``getting older'' is no longer a synonym for ``growing up'' in the old-fashioned sense of trading carefree fun for dreary responsibility and sensibility. VW built its following on fun-to-drive cars, and although the Jetta has gotten ever larger and, yes, more luxurious, it has always kept its fun-to-drive character.

Which brings me to the all-new fifth-generation 2005 Jetta. It's the largest and most well-appointed Jetta yet, yet it has gained in performance and its fun factor. As before, it's built on the same platform as the Golf and GTI hatchbacks, but, befitting its importance to the American market, its introduction precedes the two hatchbacks here. The new underpinnings are significantly more rigid, and for the first time in VW's front-drive small-car platform, the rear twist-beam axle has been banished in favor of an independent system for improved ride and handling characteristics.

The styling is all-new, too, with more than a hint of influence from Volkswagen's Phaeton premium luxury sedan. Under that new hood is another surprise: no more four-cylinder gasoline engine. The old 115-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four has been replaced by a 2.5-liter inline five. With 150 hp, the new five-cylinder is closer to the old optional 1.8-liter turbocharged four than the old two-liter base engine. Transmissions are a five-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(tm) manual shifting. Soon, in states where it is allowed, a 1.9-liter TDI turbodiesel will debut to please fuel efficiency aficionados. Later in the year, look for the 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged FSI direct gasoline injection four-cylinder engine. And that's just the beginning of a major new product offensive from Volkswagen in the next couple of years.

For now, the new Jetta comes in ``Value Edition'' that is surprisingly well-equipped, and the 2.5 model. The Value Edition lacks only the cosmetic and convenience features that make the 2.5 a true premium compact. If a near-luxury specification is desired, try equipping a Jetta like the one I've been driving for the past week, with the comprehensive ``Package 2'' option package that includes enough luxury appointment goodies to make it seem like a junior Phaeton, but at only barely over the average price of a new car today. And the new Jetta is far above an ``average'' car in all respects.

APPEARANCE: Meet the new face of Volkswagen. Not only is the new Jetta larger than the previous generation by seven inches in length, 2.6 in wheelbase, an inch in width, and almost a half-inch in height, it introduces new styling that is both evolutionary and revolutionary. The chrome accent underneath the grille is a feature that, to my knowledge, is new in automotive styling. It dominates the front aspect of the car, but a close inspection will reveal that the grille opening is the familiar rounded-trapezoid shape that VW says harkens back to the shape of the old air-cooled Beetle's hood. Round headlights are found under arched covers that help give the car a friendly look. Look closely - the large VW badge roundel in the center of the grille is complemented in the headlights. The hood and front fenders slope that sharply to the rounded front end and the high, short rear deck give a sporty mien, but the long passenger cabin promises interior space that is delivered. If the shape of that cabin, and, in particular, the C-pillar, seem familiar, take a glance at the Phaeton. Also Phaeton-like is the shape of the taillights, although that shape is further developed in the Jetta.

COMFORT: In Package 2 trim like my test car, the 2005 Jetta is mighty close to near-luxury spec inside, in both appointment and comfort. Leather seat surfaces, wood - not ``woodgrain'' plastic - trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated, power-adjustable front seats with driver's-side memory, all of the courtesy lighting expected in a luxury car, and more - and a contemporary European design that combines luxury elegance with American-style comfort and convenience. There are even air-conditioning vents in the locking glovebox and console box. The interface for the XM satellite radio system is intuitively easy to use, and the seats could easily be out of a car costing $10,000 more. There is noticeably more interior space, especially in the rear seat, and the rear seat folds with a 60/40 split for cargo versatility. Each side locks for security, and there is also a locking ski pass-through. The trunk is huge for the car's size, and features a metal scuff plate and external struts for ease in loading and luggage protection. Power points in the console, console box, and trunk add convenience.

SAFETY: All new Jetta models have front, side thorax, and side head curtain airbags, crash-active front head restraints and headrests for all occupants, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, ASR traction control, and an electronic locking differential. The ESP electronic stability control system is standard on all models except the Value Edition, where it is a $280 option.

ROADABILITY: The new Jetta's unibody structure is considerably more rigid than that of any previous model, and geometry of its MacPherson strut front suspension has been revised. Most importantly, there is a new, fully-independent four-link rear suspension in place of the old semi-independent twist beam axle, for better-controlled handling. Steering is power-assisted, not hydraulically but electro-mechanically based on road speed, for just the right effort at all speeds. The suspension calibration is firmer than that of some earlier VWs, with consequently less body roll and more precise control. For not specifically being a ``sports sedan'' it can be driven quite happily in a very sporting manner, with great comfort and low levels of road noise as bonuses. It's much closer to a near-luxury sports sedan than a compact ``econobox'' in its feel and road manners.

PERFORMANCE: Yes, there is more mass to the new Jetta, but there is even more engine. The inline five-cylinder design may be unusual, but it fits well into the transverse engine bay, and with the help of its dual overhead cam, 20-valve architecture makes 150 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 170 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm, with 90 percent of that torque available from 1750 through 5125 rpm. That's 30 percent more horsepower and 39 percent more torque than the old 2.0-liter four, and nearly the output of the old 1.8-liter turbo engine. Matched with the five-speed manual, which I had the opportunity to try at the car's introduction, or the optional six-speed automatic in my test car, it provides sprightly acceleration for a pleasurable driving experience, and good fuel economy, around 20 mpg city and over 30 on the highway according to the trip computer. That's as much as my old air-cooled Beetle ever got, and the 2005 Jetta is considerably quicker, quieter, and more comfortable. Unusually for cars in the compact class, the automatic not only has six speeds for better performance and economy, but Tiptronic manual-shift mode, which allows the driver to get maximum performance. Power is linear, with plenty throughout the heart of the torque band, so it works well with either transmission.

CONCLUSIONS: Volkswagen's new Jetta has gotten a little larger, and more luxurious, but it hasn't lost its verve.

2005 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5

Base Price			$ 20,390
Price As Tested			$ 26,740
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 20-valve inline 5-cylinder
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 151 cu. in.
Horsepower			150 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			170 @ 3750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		101.5 in. / 179.3 in.
Curb Weight			3,285 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		22
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P205/55 HR16 Michelin Energy mxmv4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 30 / 20/30
0 to 60 mph				9.1  sec

Package 2 with XM radio - includes:
  XM radio with 3 months service, sunroof, 16-inch
  alloy wheels, premium sound system, leather 
  seating surfaces, multi-function leather-wrapped
  steering wheel, wood trim, Homelink(tm), power
  driver's seat with 3-position memory, power
  front passenger seat, manual rear sunshade		$ 4,680
6-speed Tiptronic(r) automatic transmission		$ 1,075
Destination charge					$   615