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Review and photos by Greg Wilson
San Diego, California – The current VW Jetta GLS 2.0L is marketed as a ‘premium compact car’, but for the base Jetta at least, this premium status is difficult to justify. Its $24,750 base price is thousands higher than most of its compact rivals, yet its standard 115 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine is relatively underpowered, its 4-speed automatic transmission is no longer state of the art, and perhaps worst of all, there just isn’t a lot of rear legroom in the current Jetta.
A new Jetta that’s roomier, more powerful, quieter and more upscale for the about the same price would make more sense in the premium compact category – and that’s exactly what the 2006 Jetta 2.5L is.
Priced $225 more than the 2005 Jetta GLS 2.0L, the 2006 Jetta 2.5L features a new inline five cylinder engine with 150 horsepower, a new independent rear suspension, new electro-mechanical variable-assist steering, a much stronger body structure, six standard airbags, and a roomier interior with more legroom. With the optional 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode, the price rises to $26,375.
The 2006 Jetta is longer by 177 mm (7.0 in.), wider by 25 mm (1.0 in.) and has a wheelbase that is 66 mm (2.5 in.) longer. Significantly, rear passengers have 48 mm (1.9 in.) more legroom, however headroom is tight for those over six feet tall. Cabin space is up 4.6% to 91 cubic feet, and trunk space is up 23% to 16 cubic feet. Volkswagen gleefully points out that the new Jetta has more cabin space than an Acura TSX and more trunk space than Accord and Camry.
In June, Volkswagen will introduce a 2006 Jetta TDI with a carryover 1.9 litre turbodiesel four cylinder engine with a 5-speed manual ($26,650) or 6-speed DSG transmission ($28,050). Diesel Jettas are very popular in Canada: a whopping 47% of all Jettas sold are diesels.
In Canada, performance enthusiasts will have to wait until the Spring of 2007 for the Jetta GLI with a 200 horsepower 2.0 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine with a 6 speed manual or 6 speed Direct Shift Gearbox. Americans will get theirs at the end of 2005.
The Jetta Wagon will continue to use the current bodystyle and powertrains for the time being.
The 2006 Jetta’s new standard 2.5 litre five cylinder engine is mounted transversely in front driving the front wheels, and features dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. Peak horsepower is reached at a relatively low 5000 rpm, and peak torque of 170 foot-pounds is reached at 3750. With 39% more torque than the previous engine, this engine was developed specifically with North American driving styles in mind.
Fuel consumption is rated at 10.8 L/100 km (26 m.p.g.) city; and 7.2 L/100 km (39 m.p.g.) highway with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, slightly more thirsty than the current 4 cylinder engine. The new 5 cylinder engine takes Regular Unleaded gas.
With the five cylinder engine, Volkswagen reports a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.1 seconds, but the real benefit of this engine is its smooth, quiet operation. It’s almost as smooth as a V6, but not quite. Of course, it’s much quieter and more pleasant than the current 2.0 litre four cylinder engine.
A five speed manual is standard on the 2006 Jetta, but the real news is a 6-speed automatic Tiptronic. This transmission includes a ‘Sport’ mode for more energetic shifting in the automatic mode; and a Tiptronic sequential manual shifting mode. I found this automatic transmission to be a very smooth shifter, both up and down, but a little slow to shift down at part throttle.
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The Jetta’s new electro-mechanical steering varies assist according to speed, and offers effortless steering effort at slow speeds and a firmer feel at higher speeds. It has a strong return-to-centre feel – perhaps too strong – and is designed to automatically correct for side winds. The Jetta’s turning circle of 10.9 metres (35.8 ft.) is very good.
A new 4-link rear suspension replaces the torsion beam of the current Jetta, and in combination with a longer wheelbase, a wider track, and a 60% improvement in the body’s torsional rigidity, provide the new Jetta has a very smooth, comfortable ride, and excellent stability in the corners.
The new rear suspension is also more compact, allowing the trunk to grow to 16 cubic feet. The trunk features non-intruding hinges, a removeable storage divider, fold-down package hook, tie-down hooks, standard 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, and a centre pass-thru.
Six airbags are standard: dual front airbags, dual front side thorax airbags, and dual curtain airbags for both rows of passengers. New are optional rear side thorax airbags. Other important safety features include deformable front and rear crush zones, active front head restraints, foot pedals designed to ‘descend’ in a crash, and height-adjustable head restraints for all five passengers. Larger four-wheel discs with ABS are standard, and Electronic Stability Program is available.
The Jetta’s new interior is nicely laid out for ease of use. A three spoke steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustment, velour fabric upholstery, chrome rings around the gauges, and metallic-like trim are standard. The front seats have lumbar adjustment, and the driver’s seat has a power recline feature. I liked the large buttons and controls for the radio and heater and the simple layout. The radio has an LCD screen display, however with my sunglasses on, I had difficulty reading it.
For a base price of $24,975, the 2006 Jetta 2.5L includes the 150 horsepower 5 cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, air conditioning, radio and CD player, power windows, heated front seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows with one touch up and down, electro-mechanical power steering, heated power mirrors, outside temperature display, 60/40 split folding rear seats, cruise control, dual exhaust tips, and a full-size spare tire.
A Luxury Package with 16 inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, and chrome accents adds $2,075. A Luxury Leather Package includes all of that plus leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob, and rear centre armrest with pass-through for $3,300. The Premium Luxury Leather Package adds a premium stereo with an in-dash 6 disc CD changer, multifunction steering wheel, trip computer, compass, 12-way power driver’s seat with memory, Homelink and a rear sunshade for $5,125.
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Stand-alone options include Electronic Stabilization Program $450; side curtain airbags $250, rear side airbags $450.
Perhaps the most serious criticism of the new Jetta relates to its styling. Opinions amongst other journalists at the Jetta preview were mixed, but nobody seemed dazzled by the new styling. The large front grille looks awkward to my eyes, and the general body shape resembles a Toyota Corolla in some ways. We’ll have to wait and see if the styling grows on us.
The 2006 VW Jetta 2.5L goes on sale March 21st. More info can be found at www.newjetta.com.