I'll be the first to admit our car reviews tend, for the most part, to be more glowing than scathing. And why not? Most cars we drive really are that good; any latent shortcomings can usually be quantified by "I don't like the way that dash is laid out," or "I don't like the plastic they used in this area," or "I think those taillights are lame." Fairly subjective stuff.
European vehicles have always carried a price premium over comparable Asian or domestic offerings, but I've long been a firm believer in the maxim "You get what you pay for." And if our reviews are glowing, you'll have to excuse us. After all, we're writing about the very best cars in the world. Take, for instance, our new long-term Jetta 2.0T.
As European vehicles go, the Jetta sits at the low end of the affordability spectrum, far cheaper than either an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. But its distinguished heritage is evident. There's nothing else in its class-the Ford Fusions, Chevy Cobalts and Toyota Corollas of the world-that will measure up. Consider the fact that the base model Jetta, the 2.5-liter Value Edition, rings in at just under $18,000 MSRP and the car is actually positioned fairly competitively.
This, however, is the Jetta you're going to want to buy, the one equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged motor and six-speed transmission. It costs about five grand more than the bare-bones Value Edition, but the extra money is absolutely worth it. Here's why.
First, the engine. The 2.0T powerplant cranks out a peak of 200 bhp at 5100 rpm, but more importantly, it develops peak torque of 207 lb-ft at just 1800 rpm. This makes the Jetta 2.0T pretty darn quick off the line. Rowing through the first four gears with a healthy dose of throttle will allow you to absolutely fly onto expressways with a confidence no 2.5L would afford. The first couple times you do, you'll find yourself cresting triple digits before you even realize it.
This brings up another reason I love this car: the gearbox. Volkswagen's new manual transmissions are the best they've ever offered. Operation is quite satisfying and very positive; you always know where you are and where you need to go, and the gearing is well suited to the torque-rich output from the turbocharged motor. Editor Bidrawn found the throws a bit light for his liking-and the lever is a little light, I guess, compared to a Porsche 911. But for a $24,000 Jetta it feels exceptional. I even like it better than the shifter on the new BMW 330i, a car that costs upwards of $13,000 more than a Jetta 2.0T. If you'd like, a six-speed DSG with wheel-mounted paddle shifters is available for a mere $1,075. We loved that transmission on our Audi TT, and we're sure it rocks just as hard on the Jetta 2.0T. But I'd still opt for the manual-it really is that much fun.
If the engine or gearing don't sell you, then the Jetta's overall demeanor at speed should. On the freeway or expressway it is as solid, comfortable and quiet as any European touring sedan. A hundred miles an hour feels more like 50 or 60. And it's comfortable, particularly over long distances. The seats are supportive, wind and road noise are non-issues, and the stereo sounds great. The car's interior really leaves nothing wanting. Need more luxury? You'll have to upgrade to a bigger car, a Passat, or maybe a Phaeton. The new Jetta is easily the most refined and luxurious car in the sub-compact segment, all makes inclusive. This is where the price premium over competing domestic and Asian vehicles seems wholly justified.
If we had one complaint it would concern the suspension-and that complaint has cropped up before in previous generation Volkswagens. Much of the car's inherent ride comfort is derived from a soft suspension tune, and it is comfortable, but it takes a little away from the 2.0T's irrepressible sporting character. Quick turns or lane changes will yield distinct body roll. One driver described the feeling as "wobbly." Similarly, dipping deep into throttle on standing starts will produce pronounced squat, lifting the front end and causing your tires to shriek all the way down the street-at least until you shift into second gear and redistribute the weight. More aggressive dampers could remedy the problem but would also affect the car's exemplary ride comfort.
Naturally, our Jetta 2.0T came to us tricked out with a few well-placed bits from VW's own accessories line. It has snarky 17-inch Vision V wheels and Continental ContiProContact rubber, as well as an enhanced styling package which adds front and rear bumper lips and rocker panel treatments, along with a low-profile wing for the trunk lid. All of these pieces are tastefully restrained, yet effective in giving the relatively staid-looking Jetta a distinct visual edginess. And because light colors tend to make the Mk V look a bit "hunched over," we ordered ours in black. So equipped, with an anthracite leather interior, it's very, very handsome. A darker color like black may be harder to take care of than silver or white, but it really seems to more effectively even out the car's proportions. The effect is subtle, but worth mentioning.
Suffice to say we're looking forward to the next eleven months with this car. The Mk V Jetta is a luxury car for the masses. Add the 2.0T and six-speed tranny, and it's a luxury sport sedan for the masses. Does that justify the extra couple grand over a Toyota, Ford or GM product? We'd say yes, unequivocally. But then again we're a bit biased, and ultimately it's you who must make the decision.
2006 VW Jetta 2.0T
Base Price: $23,590
Price as Equipped: $29,064
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 200 bhp @ 5100 rpm
Peak Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
0-60 mph: 7.0 sec.
Top Speed: 129 mph
Fuel Economy: 24 city/ 31 hwy
From the Hip
+ Great engine, great shifter
- Squishy suspension
Each staffer had a turn in our new Jetta 2.0T. Here's what a few had to say:
Six months ago, VW was kind enough to send a new Jetta our way. We were horrified when our resident intern mistook a precision machine from Germany for a base Corolla. Its golden-beige color was most likely the culprit, but there still seemed to be an unsettling Japanese flavor to the new Jetta.
The car on these pages bears little resemblance to that vehicle thanks to the smart styling of Volkswagen's factory accessories. Moreover, it drives like a genuine sport sedan and seems to relish aggressive treatment. Despite its extremely quiet demeanor, this car has some sizable heuvos. It's all too easy to get the front tires spinning and attract unwanted attention. The Jetta feels very solid and well-insulated and high-speed cruising is rewarded with amazing smoothness. The torque-laden turbocharged engine is exceptionally responsive, something you'd expect from a much larger motor.
I love the shifter's feel. It's very precise and well weighted. Although the tri-spoke steering wheel and its integrated control buttons look and feel great, I'd love to see the unit from the new GLI in its place. I'd also like to see the shocks a bit firmer. Although the Jetta has a very smooth ride, there's too much movement in the chassis. It never really upsets the car, it just doesn't feel as sporty as it could.
But hands down, this is the best Jetta ever. The car has matured but stays true to its athletic roots. Well done, VW. Les Bidrawn
Even though its exterior styling has been described as overly mainstream, I have to admit our new jet-black long-term Jetta 2.0T looks pretty damn good trimmed in VW's factory body kit and optional 17-inch alloy wheels. It's all part of the company's catalog of genuine accessories of which our car arrived aptly equipped.
The styling kit ($2,999) was among the most important. In addition to the alloy wheels and performance rubber, the package includes front, side and rear skirts, a rear deck spoiler and silver taillights. We like it. We like it a lot.
Aside from its sleeker and more aggressive image, the car drives like a dream. We opted for the six-speed manual, which coupled with its 200-horse engine is geared to excite. It's no secret we at ec adore the optional DSG transmission, but we were all happily pleased with the manual and feel it's VW's best effort yet.
This said, it's likely the car will be a popular choice among the staff. And you can bet we'll be driving its pants off. Robert Hallstrom.
I drove my first Jetta back in '83. It was a faded red Slick50(r) eatin' piece of shit that my buddy nabbed from his mom. It was surf transportation and it had a Blaupunkt. Sweet. Later I began detailing cars and drove most all of the early Jettas, and during my stay here at european car I've had seat time in most models from the last seven years. They all had one thing in common: boring. I could go on about my dislikes but I won't. All those old Jettas combined couldn't hold our '06 Jetta's jock strap. When I was tossed the keys to our new long termer I'll admit I was thinking, "Well, it'll get me home and back." But when I showed up Monday morning, Editor Bidrawn just cocked an eyebrow and said, "Not what you were expecting, was it?"
Damn it! I had a blast in a car I wanted to hate. VW did a terrific job putting some serious sport fun into a car that had more the reputation of a generic people mover. I do admit the new styling took a while to grow on me, but the performance had me from the get-go. Gone is the sloppy shifter, gone are the mushy brakes, and off the line this puppy gets up and boogies. And who wouldn't like black on black with a pinch of shiny bits tucked into all the right spots ? There's even a cupholder in the door for chrissakes! Yeah, I'm a Jetta fan, and if anyone gives me any of that "Chick Car" or "Jetta Girl" crap I'll race for pinks. Markas Platt