2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta has great room and a great turbo engine option, though its character’s been diluted a little.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta to write this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta and have added driving impressions and details, where they help you to sort through other opinions and to choose your perfect car.

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta is in its third year on the market in its current body style. With a range of five-cylinder and turbocharged four-cylinder engines, a sport version, and wagon and diesel versions on tap for late 2008, the Jetta offers a sportier alternative to the compact sedans from Honda, Toyota, GM, and Ford.

With its restyling in the 2006 model year, though, the Volkswagen Jetta adopted a shape that some critics think is too similar to its Japanese competition. Some feel the new Jetta looks too much like a large Toyota Corolla, and not enough like its own crisply European ancestors. The interior, though, is precisely Volkswagen, with sophisticated looks and feel, switches that work smoothly, and grab handles that are well damped.

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta’s powertrains start mediocre and finish brilliant. The base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder with 177 pound-feet of torque. It’s a flat performer with either the notchy five-speed manual or the six-speed automatic. Volkswagen’s marvelous 2.0-liter turbocharged four, with 200 hp, is standard on the Jetta GLI, and it can be ordered with the magnificent dual-clutch transmission, easily the most entertaining drivetrain on the new Jetta. Fuel economy ranges from 22/29 mpg with the five-cylinder to 21/29 mpg with the turbo four--but a diesel version with up to 50 mpg highway fuel economy arrives at the end of summer 2008.

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The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta is a roomy sedan, with a tall ceiling. It gives occupants more room to stretch their legs, bodies, and necks than the average compact, and it has a cavernous 16-cubic-foot trunk with fold-down rear seats for even more storage. The 2008 Jetta no longer offers automatic climate control or leather seats, but a sunroof and a premium sound system are options.

All 2008 Volkswagen Jettas feature front side-impact airbags, full-length curtain/head airbags, and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Electronic stability control is optional on the base and midtrim models, and it's standard on GLI. The Jetta gets four stars from the NHTSA for front-impact protection and five stars for side impacts.

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2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

Styling

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta might be generic outside, but inside it’s a well-drawn, well-fitted place.

TheCarConnection.com researched reviews from around the Web, and found that other reviewers agree that the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta has a generic exterior style.

A redesign left the Volkswagen Jetta without its trademark angular style and with a “tame exterior,” Edmunds says. It laments the Jetta’s “dull exterior styling” that “contradicts the nameplate’s youthful image.” This opinion is seconded by The Auto Channel, which feels that the 2008 Jetta is “nothing very special to look at, particularly in [its] soft gray color.” Intellichoice echoes the sentiment: “Gone is the Teutonic styling, once elegant in its stark, purposeful appearance, replaced by a more staid, Japanese-influenced design.” It’s an “overgrown Toyota Corolla dressed in papa Passat's clothes,” they conclude. CNet had the opposite sentiment: “Gone are the boxy corners and the rectangular lights. VW has replaced them with more refined, curvaceous bodywork and lights that feature circles and ellipses.” Automedia liked it as well, calling it “crisp and handsome, with its sculpted wedge profile, strong upper and lower character lines and contemporary taillamps.”

“Unfortunately, the interior doesn't live up to the expectations generated by the exterior styling,” CNet continues. Edmunds, though, refers to its “elegant trim,” and Automedia thought “The roomier new interior is attractively designed and beautifully assembled from premium materials throughout.” Autoblog notices touches like the child-safety anchors in the backseat, where “even their rear LATCH point got prettied-up by one of the company’s designers with a brushed-steel look.”

TheCarConnection.com has criticized the current Volkswagen Jetta for its Corolla-like lines, which have given up on the car’s crisply European heritage. The interior, though, is precisely Volkswagen, with sophisticated looks and feel, switches that work smoothly, and grab handles that are well damped.

Review continues below
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2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

Performance

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta is bland out of the box—but the DSG-equipped turbo four is truly entertaining.

Performance in the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta runs from unremarkable in the low-end trim levels to sporty daily driver on the top-end GLI.

The only engine option for drivers of the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta S, SE, or SEL models is a new 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that delivers 170 hp. This setup definitely won’t be winning awards for its ability to motivate the Jetta. Kelley Blue Book says that the 2008 Jetta is “now fast enough to nose its way past the pack when it has to.” Autoblog agrees, noting that “when you ask it to get the heck down the road, it will, eventually, respond,” but the “sluggish” engine could take its time to reach peak power delivery. Automobile calls it “anemic,” and says with the automatic, the Volkswagen Jetta takes 9.1 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph.

The other side of the Jetta model’s performance range is another story, as the 2008 Jetta in GLI or Wolfsburg Edition trim sports a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that puts out an additional 30 hp, bringing the total to an even 200 hp. This engine earns praise all around, both for its performance and its decent fuel requirements. ConsumerGuide finds that the “GLI models are satisfyingly quick, particularly in the 45-65-mph range.” The one drawback to the turbocharged engine on the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is that, as is the case with most turbo engines, there is a bit of turbo lag until the engine winds up into higher revs.

Edmunds explained that Volkswagen offers a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic on lower-end version. The SEL edition gets only the six-speed automatic, while the GLI version comes with Volkswagen’s slick six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Automobile says, “Both the manual and automatic transmissions are slick and fun to use,” but calls the dual-clutch gearbox the “best of both worlds.”

While acceleration and other engine-related performance varies throughout the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta lineup, the handling is universally excellent. European cars have long been praised for their exceptional handling characteristics, and the 2008 Jetta easily lives up to these standards. Edmunds feels that the Jetta’s steering and handling make it “a class standout” and notices that it “corners with grippy assurance and modest body lean.” Automobile says, “ride quality is excellent, and the handling is both entertaining and sure-footed.” In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the Jetta’s braking abilities were also heavily praised, but its electric power steering was deemed numb by several sources, including Automobile.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors have driven the new Jetta, and think its powertrains start mediocre and finish brilliant. The base engine is a 170-hp, 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder with 177 pound-feet of torque. It’s a flat performer with either the notchy five-speed manual or the six-speed automatic. Volkswagen’s marvelous 2.0-liter turbocharged four, with 200 hp, is standard on the Jetta GLI, and it can be ordered with the magnificent dual-clutch transmission, easily the most entertaining drivetrain on the new Jetta. Fuel economy ranges from 22/29 mpg with the five-cylinder to 21/29 mpg with the turbo four--but a diesel version with up to 50 mpg highway fuel economy arrives at the end of summer 2008.

Review continues below
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2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta has good interior room and great quality, but noise can be an issue.

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta has a luxurious interior and plenty of room for four adults, but there are a few snags.

When first sitting inside the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta, you will notice that the interior is unexpectedly luxurious, especially for a car with its low price tag. Mother Proof feels that the Jetta sports the same amount of luxury as “a car twice the price.” ConsumerGuide concurs, praising the 2008 Jetta’s quality as “among the best in class.” Edmunds says, “none in this segment can touch the Jetta when it comes to sheer refinement.” Automobile adds, “It also feels very solid and more expensive than most of its main competition--which, in fact, it is.”

Interior space is abundant as well, highlighted by copious amounts of legroom up front and a trunk pass-through in the middle of the rear seats. Automedia says, “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.” The trunk itself is “surprisingly spacious” at 16 cubic feet, Automedia adds.

Once the Jetta hits the road, comfort ratings take a hit. Several reviewers found the 2008 Jetta to be noisy on the highway, reaching a decibel level that Autoblog refers to as not “unbearably noisy, but with the level of interior refinement, [they] just expected to hear less of the outside world.” Aside from the road noise, ConsumerGuide finds the ride quality to be “jiggly, thumpy, and borderline harsh on all but smooth roads.”

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta is a roomy sedan, with a tall ceiling, TheCarConnection.com observes. It gives occupants more room to stretch their legs, bodies, and necks than the average compact, and it has a cavernous 16-cubic-foot trunk with fold-down rear seats for even more storage.

Review continues below
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2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

Safety

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta performs well in crash tests and has good standard safety equipment.

One of the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta’s biggest selling points is its strong safety record. The Jetta has a long list of safety features wrapped in a sturdy body that fares well in crash tests.

In independent crash tests, the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta earned high marks from both the NHTSA and IIHS, the latter giving the Jetta its top score in both frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.

First and foremost among the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta’s safety credentials is the list of standard safety features on the car. Mother Proof appreciates that the “super-strong door beams protect passengers in the event of a collision” and notes that all Jettas feature a “nifty traction control system to help with slippery roads.” Other safety features include such necessary items as anti-lock brakes on all four wheels and six airbags that come standard.

All 2008 Volkswagen Jettas feature front side-impact airbags, full-length curtain/head airbags, and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Electronic stability control is optional on the base and midtrim models, and it's standard on GLI.

Review continues below
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2008 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

Features

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta sports a competitive list of standard and optional features.

The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta is a rather luxurious car to begin with, but for those who want more from their VW, the Jetta offers a long list of options as well.

Automobile notes “standard equipment is relatively generous, with a three-spoke steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, eight-way seat adjustment, and a 10-speaker radio/CD player. Other features include power mirrors, a split folding rear seat, and a two-way adjustable steering wheel.” They add, “if you're prepared to check all the options boxes, a Jetta can be made very luxurious.”
Reviewers at Autoblog love the Jetta’s iPod dock, which is “not a simple auxiliary jack, but an honest-to-goodness dock for your Apple-made mp3 player.”

There are some interesting deletions from the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta lineup. It no longer offers automatic climate control or leather seats, but a sunroof and a premium sound system are still on the options list.

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