All-New Jetta V 2.5 – First Drive

Puebla, Mexico – 6.2 million. That rather impressive figure represents the number of Jettas sold worldwide since introduction. The number one market for the Jetta? The United States, where the Jetta has been the top-selling European Car for over ten years running. The about-to-be-replaced fourth generation Jetta has been the most successful Jetta yet, with more than 130,000 sold on average each year since its introduction in 1999. So is the Jetta important to Volkswagen of America? You bet. On the road of Volkswagen’s life the Jetta is pretty damn significant. But the current car has been around since 1999 and is starting to show its age in a hypersensitive, 31-flavors fast food-like U.S. car market. The time has finally come for a replacement – the all-new fifth generation Jetta.

The Jetta, like the Passat, has always had a fairly unique position in the U.S. market. It doesn’t seem to sit in any single easily defined market segment. As Len Hunt, Volkswagen of America’s Executive Vice President and former head of Audi of America, pointed out, “When I was at Audi it was easy. We had A4, A6 and A8 and they competed with 3, 5 and 7 at BMW. When I came to Volkswagen and asked what the Jetta’s main competitors were, I got ten minute answers.” The Jetta falls across a number of segments that are given all sorts of wonderful moving target names like “near-luxury” and “premium compact” and “near compact premium luxury” (ok, we made that last one up…). But the Jetta couldn’t be pigeon holed into any one segment. The Civic and Corolla seem to be the most logical based on size, but not based on features and price. Plus, the Jetta has been available with a V6, something you can’t get in the compact car segment. But at the other end it isn’t as big as an Accord, Camry, 3 Series BMW or even an Audi A4. If Peugeot and Renault were still sold here in the States, Volkswagen’s competition would be a lot clearer, but as things currently stand, the Jetta is still something of an enigma, marketing-wise.

Now we have a new emerging “premium compact” segment where the new Volvo S40, Saab 9-2x, Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes C-class hatch sit, with more to follow. The new Jetta competes more favorably with these types of vehicles, particularly the Volvo S40. However, the Jetta still offers more features and standard equipment at a lower price point than the other cars mentioned above, enabling some people to more easily make the jump into this higher segment. Volkswagen tells us that the new Jetta will fall across multiple segments and continue to draw a variety of customers into the fold. That’s not to say Volkswagen has abandoned the bottom end of the European car class either, as the base level Jetta V will start just under $18,000, decently equipped.

The new Jetta is based on the all-new fifth generation Golf platform. That means the Golf, Jetta and soon to be introduced next-generation Passat share engines, transmissions, HVAC systems, and more – component sharing really with independent platform structures for each vehicle. This also means the new Jetta shares the Golf V’s wonderful fully independent rear suspension, new electromechanical steering and sweet 2.0-liter direct injection gasoline (FSI in VW-speak) turbocharged 4-cylinder, as found in the award winning GTI.

The Jetta has grown in size with the fifth generation model to an overall length of 179.3 inches, a width of 69.3 inches and a wheelbase stretched to 101.5 inches. That brings the overall length up 7.1 inches, width up 1 inch and the wheelbase a healthy 2.6 inches longer versus the outgoing Jetta IV. The longer wheelbase translates into significantly more rear seat room (nearly all of that 2.6 inches is in the back seat) and gone are the days that you have to worry about putting friends and family in the back seat – lots of room even for my 6-foot-tall frame. Compared to other similar products, the Jetta V is 3.4 inches longer than the Volvo S40 and the same width as an Acura TSX.

Even with the bigger, longer and wider dimensions, Volkswagen managed to increase torsional rigidity by 60%, thanks in part to more than 30 meters of laser welding (as opposed to just 6 meters in the outgoing car), more tailored blanks and high tensile steels. Volkswagen has also integrated new side impact reinforcements, front and rear side airbags and available head/curtain airbags that span both front and rear passengers. All this new found rigidity and safety equipment adds pounds to the bottom line, with the base Jetta model starting at around 3,000 lbs and going up from there.

To help motivate that additional weight Volkswagen has announced three engines for the new Jetta so far – an all-new 150-hp and 170 lb-ft. of torque 2.5-liter inline-5 cylinder, the new 200-hp 2.0l FSI 4-cylinder turbo found in the GTI (and various other VW and Audi models) and a 100-hp 1.9-liter TDI PD diesel. No word yet on a VR6 model or 4MOTION all-wheel drive at this point -Volkswagen isn’t giving us a firm answer either way for now.

The new 150-hp inline-5 cylinder has been developed specifically for the U.S. market and replaces the old tried-but-true 2.0 4-cylinder. The 2.5 has been designed to be cost effective, not require premium fuel like a lot of other newer engines, have high torque characteristics and potential for more power over the lifecycle of the engine. Peak horsepower of 150 is reached at 5,000 rpm and peak torque is reached at 3,800 rpm, with 90 percent available from 1,750 to 5,125 rpm.

Being based loosely on half of the V-10 Lamborghini Gallardo engine you might hope to see half the Lambo’s 500 horsepower, but that isn’t the case. VW tells us that the 2.5 is detuned for use as the entry-level engine. This means that expensive variable valve trains, dual plenum intakes and such all got left on the shelf in the name of cost savings. VW’s engineers are quick to point out that the 2.5 could make more than 200-hp with some basic modifications. Given that the 2.0T FSI engine is also capable of more than 250-hp from the factory, both engines signal good growth potential and positive signs for the aftermarket which is chomping at the bit to get their hands on something new these days.

The 2.5 inline-5 is mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a six-speed Tiptronic. The 2.0T FSI and 1.9l TDI will be available with Volkswagen’s unique dual-clutch direct shift gearbox (DSG). DSG is a revolutionary transmission that combines the attributes of an automatic with the option to shift gears manually via either paddle shifters behind the steering wheel or the gate on the shift column. The difference with this system is the speed in which the transmission is capable of shifting, making DSG quicker 0-60 than even the manual transmission cars while delivering fuel economy better than a manual or automatic transmission. The TDI will also be available with a five-speed manual and the 2.0T FSI will be available with a six-speed manual for those that want to row the gears themselves.

We have had two chances to drive the new Jetta V, one down in Peubla, Mexico and again in the hills of San Diego. Both drives were limited to the 2.5-liter inline-5 equipped cars with the Aisin-built six-speed Tiptronic, as that is the configuration that will be first available at launch.

Outside, the exterior styling is a mix of unique Jetta V pieces largely grafted onto a pair of Golf V headlamps. While the headlamps are a departure from the typically square Jetta units, the unique front bumper, grill and chrome treatment along with the crease line running from the front fender to the rear quarter panel gives the Jetta a unique look that is both a bit more imposing and more substantial in how the car sits and appears in person. Shut lines, sheetmetal detailing and more are all top notch and an improvement over the outgoing Jetta IV. The trunk section is quite a bit longer than the outgoing Jetta and is finished off with a new “teardrop” tailamp design similar to the new B6 Passat and likely to be seen on more new models in the future. Overall, the chrome accents are tastefully done and look better integrated than they were on the Jetta IV, giving the new car a far more upscale look. To my eyes the Jetta V looks like a progression of the Jetta III with its longer trunk and overhangs. The only main complaints I’d lodge against the exterior design are the exaggerated ride height, as the car appears to float over its wheels as opposed to sitting on them, and that the design is a little less “Volkswagen-like” and a bit more generic – more than likely intended to broaden its appeal with general consumers. The overall look is proving to be quite controversial with some that like it and others that think it looks a bit too much like some of its Asian competitors. If you like the photos, you’ll like it in person even more. If you aren’t sure, seeing the car in person could change your mind as it generally looks better in the flesh and has quite a bit more overall presence and detailing.

Open the door and you will be greeted with a reassuring and high quality feel. The doors no longer wrap into the roof section but are flush mounted and recessed into the side panels with triple seals to keep dust and grime out of the door jambs and to help keep the interior quiet. The seats, even on the base level cars, are quite a bit more supportive than the flat, floppy versions found in base level Jetta IV models. Overall the front seats feel more snug with decent but non-intrusive side bolsters and bottom seat cushions.

The driving position is good all around with easy access to everything you need for the job at hand. With the higher belt and window line combined with the more vertical dash design, you feel like you are sitting lower in the seat compared to the previous Jetta. This is not a bad thing though, as outward visibility is still good all around.

The center console has been redesigned in the new model to bring all the controls up higher and within easier reach. The new climate control systems are easier to operate and more intuitive. Ventilation capabilities are improved quite a bit over the outgoing model, enabling the new car to heat or cool the interior quicker and more efficiently. Back seat passengers now have their own adjustable vents in the center console as well.

The Jetta V will have a staggered market introduction starting in April with limited colors, limited option packages (3) and the 2.5 inline-5 only. In May, the 1.9 TDI PD will be available with either a five-speed manual or six-speed DSG transmission. Finally, in June/July the 2006 models are introduced and full options, full colors, all engines (including the 2.0T FSI). The new GLI model will be also be available and this is truly the one we’re most anxious to get our grubby little hands on, given the accolades doled on the new GTI.

Out on the road we’re happy to report that Volkswagen carried over the same vastly improved ride and handling found on the European Golf V. Most noticeable to Volkswagen owners (particularly Jetta IV owners) is the far more controlled body roll, dive and squat that plagued the outgoing models. The new car turns in well (for 16″ all-season equipped tires), takes a nice set and doesn’t deviate from the line much at all, even over bumps. The electromechanical steering could have been a real mixed blessing but is surprisingly good at giving the driver feedback as to what the front wheels are doing. The weighting is very good, being programmed to give light-effort at parking speeds and firming up nicely at speed. Even with all this new found handling ability, the car rides better than the outgoing model as well thanks to the extremely stiff structure and properly tuned suspension and fully independent rear suspension (yeah!).

Pushed hard into turns the Jetta V is still reassuring given its base-level configuration and larger mass. Like nearly all front-wheel-drive cars these days, understeer is the end-result of pushing the car past its limits, but it is very easy to control and rein back in with the throttle – no real surprises or funky handling quirks to be found. Even stabbing the brakes hard mid-turn doesn’t evoke any real pucker-factor, which is good for the general population that will buy this type of car. For the enthusiasts out there, you’ll want to wait for the GLI model of the new Jetta V which will be identical in specifications to the new Golf V GTI. Good thing, too, as the GTI has won numerous awards in Europe, including Performance Car of the Year by BBC’s Top Gear magazine. The GLI will include firmer suspension, better rubber, sport seats, sport steering wheel, numerous sport treatments and most importantly the very sweet 2.0T engine.

The 2.5 pulls well off the line, particularly with the butter smooth Aisin six-speed transmission – any notion or memories of the old 4-speed automatic found in past VW Jetta models needs to be thrown right out the window. With peak torque coming on so low in the rpm range, the 2.5 feels sprightly off the line, sounds pretty decent for a 5-cylinder mill, but runs out of revs quickly, shifting up at around 5,500 RPM. As a base-level engine the new 2.5 works effectively – it is neither a poor performer nor is it particularly inspiring. Am I damning with feint praise? Maybe, but it is important to remember that this engine is not designed to excite enthusiasts in the least (in much the same way the old 2.0 4-banger didn’t exactly raise your heart rate either). Compared to the outgoing 2.0 the new engine is a vast improvement and for the general population the 2.5 inline-5 will serve owners well. But if you really want something special under the hood hold out a little longer for the 2.0T engine.

Overall the new Jetta V is a big improvement over the outgoing model. The interior treatments and materials are still class-leading, interior space is vastly improved, handling is remarkably better and there will be a wide variety of options available from a well-equipped base model to high-intensity discharge headlamps, navigation, dual-zone climate control and more to please nearly any buyer. While enthusiasts will likely want to wait for the 2.0l turbo or GLI versions anyone considering an entry-level European car should give the new Jetta a look.

Jetta 5 San Diego Review – by: Brad Beardow

As you’ve likely noticed, our own Jamie Vondruska has offered a very thorough overview of the new Jetta and its significance to the North American market – hell, even I learned a thing or two after reading it. So let’s talk a bit more about how this all-new Jetta rides and drives, shall we?

For the official US unveiling, VWoA gathered together a bunch of automotive journalists and set us loose through the beautiful hills and mountains of San Diego County in a squadron of 5-cylinder, Tiptronic-equipped fifth-generation Jettas.

The first thing to keep in mind is that VW damn well knew that it would have been preferable to have along for comparison’s sake some manual-trannied Jettas, but production limitations in Mexico dictated that such options were just not available. Too bad, too, because for anyone with a hint of driving enthusiasm, the 5-cyl-slushbox combo ain’t a great one – more on that in a bit.

Let’s also keep in mind that any Jetta equipped with the new inline 2.5-liter 5-cylinder is more or less intended as an everyman/everywoman kind of car. Soon, the brilliant 2.0 turbo engine will be an option, as well as a GLI sport package, so there’s really no point in whining about pedestrian performance in a base engine package – if you gotta have more performance, simply skip the 5-cylinder car altogether, because as with the 2-liter 8-valve version that preceded it, this engine is not exactly designed to rip the skin off of anybody’s pudding.

Still, VW did choose to plop us in these 5-cylinder cars and took the time to plot out a route through some rather challenging roads, so it’s only fair to report on how these cars handled them, right? Viewed in proper context, I’ll say the fifth-gen Jetta, even in 2.5 mode, can certainly hold its head up high, especially when compared to a Jetta IV 2.0 automatic (ah, that’s what I meant by “proper context”).

The 2.5 is tuned for good low-end torque as well as a wide, flat delivery – and on these points it does in fact deliver. But it’s positively strangled with a 5800-rpm redline and as such, driving this car in anger yields little but frustration, at least when you combine the Tiptronic automatic to the mix. Sure, it’s got six cogs and all, and shift action is quick and satisfying, but the last two cogs must surely be overdrive kinds of ratios because it seemed anytime a tight corner called for a downshift in 3rd or 4th gear, even at revs as low as 4,000, the transmission refused to do so, probably because the resulting lower gear would yield rpms higher than that diesel-like 5800 limit would allow.

The new 6-speed Tiptronic transmission, in addition to traditional auto and manual modes, also has a sport mode that’s worth mentioning. Sport mode is more intelligent than you might imagine. Taking into account variables such as engine speed, vehicle speed and throttle position, the transmission calculates a proper gear for each and every situation. And it works, too. Sport mode means that letting off the accelerator when entering a corner does not result in an annoying upshift, but by the same token, if the corner is a tight one, and requires a precipitous drop in speed, the tranny will drop you down a cog so that you’re still in the meat of the powerband once it’s time to power out of the corner. But as clever as this sport mode is, it’s still hamstrung by the 2.5’s underachieving rev-limit, and I personally found using sport mode to be little more than a temporary diversion – I actually found little use for it when equipped with the 5-cylinder engine.

If driving a 2.5 Jetta in performance mode is a frustrating experience, it’s not simply because empirical numbers suggest the car’s a bit of a sloth, but also because the experience actually starts out with so much promise. The I5 has a pleasing, if overly muted, 5-cylinder growl, and throttle response and low-end torque are excellent. Short ratios in the lower gears means the Jetta, when getting underway, actually feels rather lusty in its progress.

The ride quality is firm and buttoned-down, but also obviously tuned so as not to offend our aforementioned Mr. Everyman/Ms. Everywoman in the process. Keeping in mind again that the examples we drove were essentially base-model drivelines, it’s fair to say the J5 still maintains a German feel from the moment you leave your driveway. The all-new electro-mechanical steering rack is a vast improvement over the previous set-up. Though still a bit muted when it comes to overall feedback, this new system offers almost perfect weighting under slow and fast conditions, and precision and accuracy are pretty much spot-on. The fact that this new rack can compensate for torque-steer, road crowns and crosswinds is rather impressive as well.

Hit your first corner at speed and it’s obvious the new A5 chassis is a good one. Even in base suspension mode, body lean is not excessive and a pleasant surprise awaits when you first realize the rear end is now more than just a casual observer in the overall handling process. Though 65-series all-season tires and a pair of rather submissive anti-roll bars pretty much dictate a cornering demeanor dominated by understeer, subtle play with the right pedal offers hints that the rear end is paying close attention, ready to be brought into the game should the right conditions and proper hardware components (GLI) make the call. Overall, the J5 chassis has a nice, balanced feel to the way it goes about its business, even if there is a general lack of fizz and character. Whereas the last Jetta would always seem a bit unsettled while negotiating a bend, the new car stays remarkably poised and easily maintains a tidy line.

So, you can see that there’s a great deal of performance potential under the J5 skin – just don’t expect too much from the base model engine/suspension combo and you’ll not be disappointed.* And I’d go so far as to suggest that had VWoA invited Mr/Ms. Everyman/Everywoman, instead of a bunch of jaded auto journalists, to drive the betta Jetta in San Diego, they’d have been well pleased with the results. Let’s be realistic here and accept that a base-engined Jetta is the bread-and-butter in the VW North American line-up. As such, this car very much needs to cater to a more average cross-section of the driving public than do the sporty GLI or GTI models.

That same average cross-section of buyers will likely find the J5 exterior design appealing. Certainly, the new Jetta is less German looking, less quirky – less VW – than those generations that have preceded it, but it makes little sense not to try to appeal to a larger demographic group with a new design, so it’s hard to fault VW for the way the new Jetta ultimately looks. And no matter what one thinks of the overall aesthetic result, it’d be hard to debate that this new design does not look very upscale compared to versions past. For now, we seem to again be living through an automotive design language that declares chrome to represent upscale aspirations, and as such, the new Jetta looks to be shooting for a Rodeo Drive zipcode. Still, I’m guessing these shiny bits and pieces will have the desired effect on their intended audience.

The upscale ambience is nicely carried into the J5’s interior. Materials and design are first rate and arguably a cut above anything available from a non-Euro manufacturer. The new chassis is remarkably stiff and quiet, and there’s an undeniable sense of heft and security (okay, the car is heavy) that will undoubtedly appeal to a large number of prospective buyers.

Lessons learned? Don’t buy a 5-cylinder automatic Jetta 5 with the intention of playing back-road bandit or canyon carver. Buy one because it’s still the lowest priced available European sedan and an all-around enjoyable, slightly upscale, slightly sporty vehicle, and you’ll be well pleased with your decision.

*Some folks will want a sporty Jetta, but their finances will not stretch to anything other than a 5-cylinder base model. Those folks should do themselves a favor and make sure they buy the stick, and then, should future finances allow, look to the aftermarket for a little help.

I’m guessing the combo of a chip (raising the damn rev limit to at least 6200-rpm has got to help), intake (the stock airbox is so incredibly good at making induction noise nonexistent that I’m speculating there’s a bit of airflow restriction involved), and exhaust will do wonders for the 2.5. I’d also wager a slightly more aggressive intake cam wouldn’t hurt either.

We already know from spending many miles behind the wheel of the new GTI that some basic spring/shock/anti-roll bar tuning truly brings the A5 chassis to life, so there’s actually quite a bit of fun to be had with 5-cylinder Jettas. After all, the VW aftermarket abhors a vacuum.

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