First In: Jetta 5 Controversy And Some Thoughts…

Last week we ran the first photos of the all-new Jetta V and the response in our discussion forums has been incredible, to say the least. I don’t think we’ve seen this much outpouring of emotion and comments from any story we’ve run in recent memory, including the Golf V and Golf V GTI – people really have an opinion on this one.

I’m not writing this to make people like or hate the Jetta V – you need to decide that one for yourselves. However, since I’ve been fortunate enough to actually see the car in person and sit in it, I’ll offer some thoughts on the car and maybe a little more insight into the whole issue to help tide things over till next year when all of you can actually touch, feel, drive and take in the new model.

About two months ago I had a unique opportunity to see and sit in a completed preproduction Jetta V in Wolfsburg, Germany at VW’s headquarters. The car I saw was a dark-blue metallic color with an anthracite cloth interior – equivalent to a GLS trim level. When VW pulled off the cloth covering the car, I happened to be standing in a position looking directly at the profile and my first thought was, damn that thing is big. As I moved off to a rear 3/4-view, I thought I sensed a little bit of the current Camry in the lines, except this car has a very solid presence that sits squarely down on the wheels and draws the whole car to the floor, whereas the Camry (and a number of other Japanese products) tend to sit a bit more “on” their wheels with the lower quarter of the car tapering under the vehicle. The Jetta V, on the other hand, has very clean-cut sheetmetal, particularly the crease running the entire length of the flanks from the front quarter panel, through the doors and into the rear quarter panel. This character line draws a lot of attention and at the same time isn’t quite as glaringly obvious as it is on, say, the Acura TL (one of my favorite sedans right now). With even closer panel gaps, subtle variations in sheetmetal, better integrated use of chrome as highlights (as opposed to the chrome on the current Passat and Jetta that looks more like a facelift afterthought) the new car really has a more upscale look and immediately makes the current Jetta look decidedly downmarket, especially when the two are placed side by side. In fact the car looks downright exciting (and remember this is a base level Jetta, not a GLI we’re talking about) next to the old car.

Moving to the back, the rectangular tail lamps are one of the new design motifs first seen on the Concept R and used in variation on the Jetta V. They have a semi-transparent 3-D look to them but aren’t done in “clear” plastic like 90% of the aftermarket units on the market. They are integrated into an all-new, much longer trunk/tail section that balances the car fairly well front to rear (as the front overhang is also longer). Overall, the rear end harks back to the days when the Jetta III generation had a longer trunk design and rectangular tail lamps. Opening the trunk reveals the kind of space that would make a mafia kingpin happy – it’s HUGE. The unique rear bumper with integrated diffuser actually looks pretty nice in person and the model badging now moved down to the bottom of the trunk lid has been reduced in size as well, adding to the feeling that a lot of detail and thought went into this car.

So around the other side and over to the front 3/4 view and wow, look at that front end. The first thing you’ll notice isn’t likely going to be the Golf V headlamps, but rather the new corporate VW front-end treatment seen on the Concept R and Concept C. The double-bar grill looks like it was borrowed from the 2005 Phaeton and is surrounded by chrome on all sides that bleeds down into the front nose of the car. You can literally see yourself in the mirror-like finish up front. While seemingly garish in description and in photos, in person it actually looks like it belongs there and is very well integrated. The front bumper looks similar to the bumper off the Golf V GTI with different horizontal grill slat inserts replacing the GTI’s honeycomb and subtle but effective chrome strips at the top. The front 3/4 view is probably the most striking as the squareness of the front bumper really gives the car an aggressive stance to the ground and again, some weighting and presence. GLI versions (see digital photo creation below) will sport a blacked-out front nose and black body kit pieces that should work well to give the car a whole different appearance.

Inside the car you can look forward to an interior very similar in design to the Golf V, however the Jetta V has quite a bit more soft-touch plastics and therefore feels a step up from the Golf V interior (which isn’t too shabby to start with). The interior overall has a better design, better ergonomics and again feels more upscale than the outgoing Jetta IV. Get into the back seat, though, and you’ll be downright shocked at all the room available back there – 2.5 inches more of it in fact – for your legs, knees and feet. I’m six-feet tall and with another six-footer sitting in the driver’s seat in front of me, my legs don’t even touch the seat back. No more contortionist moves will be necessary to get in and out of the back seat of the Jetta.

Since I’ve had a little more time to digest the new model than most of you, I’ve found it continues to grow on me more and more. I’ve always had a soft-spot for Jettas, and having owned almost every generation so far, I’m personally looking forward to the Jetta V. After driving the Golf V GTI (with which the GLI will share a great deal of performance hardware), I think the GLI will be a great sport sedan. All of you will be able to see the new Jetta V at dealers in the 1st quarter of 2005. It will be on display at the Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago Auto shows as well, so you might want to head over to the VW booth and check it out, open and close the doors and kick a few tires.

While the looks may be causing controversy with the faithful, the car will be a Volkswagen through and through. In fact it will be more of a Volkswagen dynamically compared to the last generation car, and to me that is more important than anything else.

Happy Motoring and Safe Holidays!

– jamie

Like the Jetta V? Hate the Jetta V? Click on the link to the left to vote!
For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.