2005 Volkswagen Jetta Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
March 17, 2005

Spring is around the corner, and several automakers have already introduced 2006 models. Meanwhile, many 2005 models have been on sale for over a year — so you’d think there would be no more ’05s to be introduced. But wait, there is one more — VW’s 2005 new Jetta. The word “new” has to be inserted in its name, as the “old” Jetta has also been available as a 2005 model for many months.

Confusing? Yes, which is why VW tells us to think of the “new” Jetta as a 2006 model, even if it isn’t officially.

It should be though, as the all new fifth-generation Jetta is totally different from the previous generation in looks and feel.

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The Jetta is a critically important model to Volkswagen in the U.S. It is the company’s best-selling model here, and also the best-selling European model in the U.S. VW’s sales have dropped precipitously in the last couple of years and, sadly, this is nothing unusual for VW as its U.S. sales always seem to drop during the first half of every decade.

And in each of the past four decades a new model has helped the company’s revival. Last time it was the New Beetle and the previous Jetta. This time VW’s turnaround will be almost entirely reliant on the new Jetta as the Phaeton and Touareg are too upmarket to ever be volume sellers.

The Jetta celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and it has always been a car that appeals to Americans far more than Europeans. In Europe it is called the Bora and its sales are miniscule compared to the Golf. As all manufacturers have discovered, Americans do not like hatchbacks while Europeans far prefer them.

That’s why the Jetta is being made exclusively in Mexico and will be exported around the world within a few months. It also explains why the Golf, which is already on sale in Europe, is still months away form being introduced in North America. Once it does reach these shores it’ll put VWoA in an awkward financial position. It’s supposed to be a less expensive vehicle than the Jetta yet as it is built in Europe it will actually cost VW more to make than the Jetta. It’s no wonder the new Jetta is considered so critical to VW at this juncture in its history.

2005 Volkswagen Jetta

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All grown up?

“It’s all grown up. Sort of.” It’s a unusual tag line but it’s one that Volkswagen is using to promote the new Jetta. The concept is that the new Jetta is a more mature car that should appeal to older buyers yet it still retains some of its youthful character that the old Jetta garnered during its life.

How does the new Jetta do in this regard? That’s what we set out to discover during a day of driving in the green and colorful desert east of San Diego.

Initially the Jetta is only available with an all-new 2.5-liter five-cylinder gas engine and a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. The engine is unique to the U.S. market and has been developed to appeal to American driving characteristics where plenty of low-end torque from a big engine is preferred over a high-revving smaller engine.

It certainly delivers on this front. Around town we found the engine/drivetrain combination worked well offering sprightly performance. But on twisty mountain roads enthusiastic driving was not as pleasant as the transmission shifted too early at around 5300 rpm. It didn’t seem to make any difference whether one was in automatic, manual, or sport mode, the transmission still shifted at 5300 rpm. About the only difference was that in sport mode sixth gear is locked out. Enthusiast drivers should really wait until the manual transmission is available in a few months. VW claims that the percentage of Jetta buyer who opt for manual gearbox is high. That fits in with VW’s image.

On the handling front the Jetta upholds VW’s reputation for producing driver’s cars. It holds the road better than the previous Jetta thanks in part to a new multi-link rear suspension and a much stiffer body shell. Traction control and ABS are standard and electronic stability control system is standard on all but the base model, where it is a $289 option. Passive safety includes front and side airbags for front seat passenger and driver as well as side curtain airbags for both rows of seats.

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2005 Volkswagen Jetta

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Bigger package

The new Jetta is bigger all over than the old model, giving occupants more room to stretch their legs, bodies and necks. It also has a cavernous 16-cubic-foot trunk with fold-down rear seats for even more storage.

As one has come to expect from VW, the interior trim is very upper-class for a model in this segment. The switches work smoothly and grab handles and the like are well damped.

From a styling point of view the jury delivers decidedly mixed reviews. Some feel the new Jetta looks too much like a large — dare we say it — Toyota Corolla. Unfortunately that is not meant as a positive statement. Instead the new Jetta is regarded as being too “Japanese” in appearance instead of having crisp European styling. In reality the new Jetta looks just like a smaller version of the upcoming Passat and even has styling cues such as a large chrome grille inherited from the Phaeton. Has the Jetta lost its cool factor? Has Mazda taken over that role? Only time will tell.

In a few months other versions of the Jetta, including a 1.9-liter turbodiesel powered and a GLI model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine, will be added to the lineup. Coupled with a six-speed manual transmission that should appeal much more to young-at-heart enthusiasts who don’t want a car that sort of blends in too nicely as a grown-up car.

In the meantime it doesn’t take much dough to get in a new Jetta. It’s still an affordable German car as the base model with the 2.5-liter engine and a five-speed manual transmission starts at just $17,900 (plus $610 destination charge), which is very price-competitive. A six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic adds $1,075 to the price. Various option packages with power seats, leather an upgraded audio system can up the sticker price to $25,000.

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2005 Volkswagen Jetta

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Ask any industry pundit and they’ll tell you that car companies — even Toyota —would kill to have the demographics of VW’s buyers. During Volkswagen of America’s 50-year history in the U.S. it has managed to produce cars that appeal to young and old, male and female, wealthy and poor. Despite some quality lapses and lack of new product it has maintained an appeal that mystifies its competitors.

Because of that appeal, the Jetta could be the vehicle to help lift VW’s corporate spirits once more. VW does not expect to compete in the mass market so its sales target of just 150,000 Jettas per year is modest enough that it will probably succeed and VW will be back on its feet once again in the U.S.

2005 Volkswagen Jetta
Base price: $18,515 (manual); $19,590 (automatic)
Engine: 2.5-liter in-line five, 150 hp/170 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 179.3 x 69.3 x 57.5 in
Wheelbase: 101.5 in
Curb weight: 3230 lb (manual)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 22/30 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, traction control, dual front and side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, AM/FM/CD player, 60/40 split folding rear seat
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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