The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2008 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 SE Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 SE

An Economy Car With Something Extra

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

What is it about VWs that I’ve always liked? I’m not really sure. Most of the ones I’ve had – and there have been many – have been less than first rate in terms of dependability. I had a Thing that broke every time I drove it, a Rabbit diesel that was so slow it couldn’t get out of its own way, and one of the last Golf GTIs out of the ill-fated Pennsylvania factory that leaked like a worn out roof. But there was something about them all that made me love them. The Thing was just so quirky and simple that it was pure fun. The Rabbit, while slow, handled great once up to speed. And the GTI was just so quick and agile that I forgave its other faults.

Now we have this new, unadorned, fifth-generation, front-engine, front-wheel drive Jetta SE in our driveway. It’s nothing very special to look at, particularly in this soft gray color, but it has a certain ambiance I’m finding reminds me of some of my old VeeDubs. Not that I’ve found any faults, like the old ones. It just seems to have some of that character I loved so much.

The most attractive element of its design, I think, is the distinctive chrome grille that adorns all VWs now, in this case it’s sort of a chrome goatee. We saw the newest iteration of that grille in Chicago last week as VW introduced their new minivan. They have certainly achieved an instantly recognizable design with that grille. The tail end is simple but attractive, a design that has been imitated by many, including the very successful new Malibu, whose taillights are much the same. Overall the Jetta projects a typically German sense of solidness, quality and conservatism.

These Mexico-built Jettas start at $16,990 for the S 2.5 model. That’s noticeably more than most of the other entry-level small sedans. Our SE 2.5 shows a base price of $19,760 and the only options on our test car are a 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic control for just about a grand and an I Pod adapter for about two hundred bucks. With the $640 destination charge the sticker shows $21,674. Again, it’s a bit pricier than most of its direct competitors, but it comes with more content than some as well. Is it worth it? We’ll see.

Some of the standard equipment includes: anti-theft alarm with immobilizer, in-dash 6-CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio with 3 months service, auxiliary input jack, 16-inch alloy wheels with all-weather tires, cruise control, adjustable steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring system, vented disc brakes in front, heated front seats (that get really hot), power windows with express down and up, and plenty more.

First impressions are important, but can be overridden by experience. On my first drive into town on our nice straight, well-paved county road acceleration seemed pretty tepid. This simple, medium-tech, 2.5-liter, in-line, 5-cylinder gas engine is rated at just 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque - nothing special numerically. That represents a substantial increase from last year’s 150-hp, though. This Jetta is rated by the EPA at respectable 21-mpg city and 29 mpg highway. After a few miles I was out onto the main highway and let her go through the gears manually shifting the Tiptronic. Once past about 4,200 rpm she began to sing and right up to red line at about 6,200 she sounded and felt like a much more sophisticated engine with no wheezing or thrashing. That sort of reminded me of other VWs in my past, most of them begging to keep the revs up.

It was the same with the suspension. Under normal, undemanding conditions it felt like nothing special. But push hard and that European suspension tuning began to show. The suspension layouts are pretty conventional with struts in front and an independent, multi-link arrangement in the rear. We also had an opportunity to access the chassis dynamics this week with lots of snow and ice on the roads. Standard ABS, Engine Brake Assist, Electronic Stabilization Program, Anti-slip Regulation, and electronic differential lock did their jobs well keeping me out of trouble.

The cabin feels more sporty than it looks, at least with our unadorned version. The dash, seats, door panels and everything else are virtually monochromatic. Yes, the shapes and aesthetic details are well done but really need some variation is color, texture and materials. The more dressy interior options provide that. I’m just saying a Menonite family would be very happy with this car and have to do little to unadorn it. The front seats are plenty firm and well-bolstered, in fact, they may be a bit too firm for some tastes. A manual lever allows us to adjust the seat height and my driver’s seat has a power back adjuster and manual slide. My pretty blonde has to adjust her seat back with the knob at the base of the back. The front seat belt receptacles are admirably high and easy to click into.

Safety features are comparable to the competition. Six air bags are standard and you can get two extra bags for the rear for $350. NHTSA crash testing results show 4 stars (out of 5) for frontal crashes. Rollovers and side impacts test earn 5 stars.

Controls and gauges are mostly easy and intuitive. Like most cars, some of the knobs are nearly impossible to operate with gloves – and I was wearing them much of the time this cold week. The climate controls were easy with gloves on but the radio was impossible. The design is as simple and clean as any. The gauges glow with combined blue and red light that is attractive and easy on the eyes.

We’re told that we’ll be seeing a station wagon (though they probably won’t call it that) later this year and that the TDI diesel will be back as well.

Basic warranty covers the car for 4-years/50,000 miles with 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage. Rust through is covered for 12 years and unlimited mileage – but I’ll bet there are some dealers out there still trying to sell undercoating.

I’ve tested the Jetta GLI recently as well as the GTI and there is hardly any more fun to be had for the buck than those two. This simple Jetta can be fun too, but for that you must push it hard. For many of us just knowing we have that potential in reserve is enough to keep just a hint of a smirk on our faces as we drive.

If I were buying this car, though, I’d have it in red.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved