The 2006 VW Jetta, the fifth generation of Volkswagen’s venerable nameplate, receives completely new styling, new engineering and a very early release date that will see it competing on dealer lots with the 2005 model.

The in-your-face styling is more Audi than VW, taking that brand’s new full-frontal grille but softening its impact somewhat with a wide horizontal band. A huge chrome badge means there’ll be no mistaking it in the rearview mirror.

The initial engine is a new 2.5-litre five-cylinder, designed specifically for the North American market, that makes 150 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. That’s quite an improvement over the previous base engine, a 2.0-litre four speed that produced 115 hp.

It will eventually be joined by a 1.9-litre diesel and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine. A five-speed manual can be optioned up to a six-speed automatic, and for the diesel, there is an upcoming Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). This unique transmission is a sporty six-speed automatic that doesn’t have a torque converter; it uses two clutches and innovative electronics to give the performance of a manual with the convenience of an automatic.

The new Jetta also receives the model’s first fully independent suspension, featuring a multi-link rear and optimized front axle. A stronger body improves crash protection and driving dynamics, while reducing interior noise.

Inside, the new model is roomier than the old, with more legroom and a bigger trunk. Standard safety features include side and curtain airbags, crash-active front head restraints and crash-optimized foot pedals.

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