By Jil McIntosh

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2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T
Photo: Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge

When it comes to cars, automakers very seldom — if you’ll pardon the pun — reinvent the wheel. We’re still using the same basic internal combustion design from the 1800s, and our automatic transmissions trace a direct lineage to the semi- and full-autoshifters of 1937 and 1940. Most innovations are now refinements, and in the case of the 2006 Volkswagen Jetta, the automatic has reached a high point with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG).

Mated to the car’s new 2.0-litre gasoline turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the combination provides a new level of performance, smoothness and sophistication that isn’t expected in a vehicle at this level. When you combine this powertrain with the Jetta’s newly-revised handling and larger envelope, it truly deserves its accolades.

The Jetta comes with a five-speed manual; the six-speed DSG is an $1,100 option. While it’s fully automatic, it offers the benefits of a manual transmission, with no loss of power between shifts. Gear changes are almost seamless, and practically instantaneous. It feels like you’re riding with the world’s best manual-shift driver.

The transmission doesn’t have a torque converter; rather, it uses two input shafts, two output shafts, and two clutches. One clutch operates the odd-numbered gears, plus reverse, while the other handles the even-numbered ones, and they work in parallel. When you’re driving in one gear, the next highest is engaged but not activated. As soon as the ideal shift point is reached, the lower gear disengages and the higher one activates; Volkswagen claims it happens in three- to four-hundredths of a second.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T
Photos: Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge

There’s also a “Sport” mode, which uses aggressive shift logic to match revs for better downshifting, and a Tiptronic mode, where you can row the gears yourself. Even with the driver’s hand on the trigger, the shifts are crisp and immediate, and without the delay that sometimes plagues manual-mode transmissions.

Of course there’s never a free lunch, and for the DSG, it’s in the maintenance. All automatic transmissions benefit from regular oil and filter changes, which most owners ignore or don’t even realize need to be done. A Volkswagen engineer warned me that because the twin friction clutches ride in fluid, it’s imperative that it be changed on a regular basis to avoid costly repairs.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is new as well, replacing the previous 1.8-litre turbo, but with improved fuel mileage and emissions. It uses Fuel Stratified Injection, or FSI, which injects gasoline directly into each cylinder at high pressure. The engine runs cooler and with a more efficient burn; horsepower is 200 at 5500 rpm, but its 207 lb-ft of torque cranks in at 1800 rpm.

This engine is smooth and powerful, with virtually no turbo lag, and a broad powerband that lets you move confidently through traffic without having to punch the throttle to gain a couple of car lengths. If your right foot does get aggressive though, the Jetta responds admirably, taking you up into heavy-duty traffic ticket territory without breaking a sweat. It’s been a long time since a car in this price range has given me that pushed-in-the-seat feeling. Despite my lead shoe, the Jetta returned 9.1 L/100 km in my week with it.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T
Photos: Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge

Even at high speeds, this Volkswagen is rock-solid. It features a new MacPherson strut front suspension, wider track and electro-mechanical power steering to optimize straight-line stability, such as when driving in a cross-wind. I took it out in some rather nasty weather across the highway, and it felt as steady as much heavier vehicles. There is simply no flimsiness at speed, and cornering is flat and confident.

The new Jetta comes well-equipped; my tester had only the DSG tacked on as an option, but it still had air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seat, heated seats, anti-lock brakes and traction control, four-wheel discs, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, theft alarm and CD player with ten speakers. Available packages add such things as a sunroof, leather interior, six-CD player, electronic stability control and curtain airbags.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T
Photo: Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge

The seats are typically Teutonic: they’re not all that cushy, but after you’ve been sitting comfortably in them for several hours, you realize they’re firm for a reason. Legroom is excellent, even in the back seat, where all but the very tallest should find enough space for a longer drive. The trunk lid pops open at a touch of the remote, making it very handy if you’ve got your arms full of stuff. The rear folding seat expands the trunk length from 109 cm to 177 cm, but it’s not an entirely easy task: the rear head restraints must be removed first, and reaching the middle one can be difficult. In their favour, the restraints are the new “pancake” style, which vastly improve rear visibility over the “tombstone” versions in previous models.

The dash is all hard plastic, but it fits together very well, and controls are simple and easy to use. Volkswagen is the master of backlighting — I’m a huge proponent of it, since I don’t believe I should be fumbling for anything in the dark while I’m driving — with lit switches extending to the lock and window controls in the rear doors. The headlight switch stays lit all the time, so you can easily find it when you need it.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T
Photo: Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge

I must also be getting mellow, because the big-chrome-nose styling, which I detested when I first saw it, is starting to look a bit more integrated, especially on lighter-colour cars where it blends in a little better.

If I have any qualms about the Jetta 2.0T, it’s in the price; I still find it tough to equate a compact sedan with a base price that’s not too far off thirty grand (in fairness, the 2.5-litre starts at $24,975). Add in the DSG and freight, and you’re there, along with the fact that the turbo prefers Premium fuel. Still, if you’re going to spend that much, this is an exceptional powertrain, coddled in a well-done package. The wheel hasn’t been reinvented, but it’s sure been polished to a very bright sheen.

Technical Data: 2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T

Base price $27,700
Options $ 1,100 (DSG transmission)
Freight $615
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $29,515 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout Transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0-litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 200 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 207 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Tires P195/65R-15 in. all-season
Curb weight 1490 kg (3285 lbs)
Wheelbase 2578 mm (101.5 in.)
Length 4554 mm (179.3 in.)
Width 1781 mm (70.1 in.)
Height 1459 mm (57.4 in.)
Cargo capacity 453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.6 L/100 km (27 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 4 yrs/ 80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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