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2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T - Long Term Update

VAG's bastard child?

Colin Ryan
Jan 9, 2007
Photographer: Les Bidrawn
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In a parallel universe far, far away, there's a German-built compact car called a Golf. It's known as a hatchback or five-door and it reigns supreme in its class. Policemen drive around in it. So do mothers, young couples, doctors, insurance salesmen, photographers--the car comes in various forms that appeal greatly to many sections of motoring society.

The Golf has a troubled brother no one really talks about. The brother is a four-door, what we call a sedan in our universe. It has a trunk, which is far less practical than the hatch. It's by far the least popular member of its family (although it's a close-run thing with the Phaeton). Over the years, people have called it various things: Vento, Bora. But we would know it as the Jetta.

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We really shouldn't laugh at other cultures, but how amusing is it that, in our universe, the exact opposite is true? The troubled five-door is even getting its name changed (though there's nothing wrong with Golf and whichever marketing genius decided to resurrect the Rabbit name should be made head of wheel balancing. No, scratch that, assistant head of wheel balancing).

Here at ec, our long-term test Jetta is richly appointed with soft-touch plastics, leather upholstery, satellite radio, and the tried, tested and trusted 2.0T engine. A trip computer sometimes quotes average fuel consumption in the high 20s or low 30s. There's plenty of rear legroom and the trunk is amply commodious.

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Maybe it's just me, a man of average build, but can I just be heretical for a second? What gives with this car's ergonomics? Every trip, and I mean every trip, I find myself tweaking the seat, trying to get the right driving position. The steering column adjusts for height and reach. Great, but it doesn't go low enough for me. So I have to bring the seat higher than I'd like, to compensate. But that leaves the leg/foot/pedal relationship all wrong. And so it goes on.

My right knee rubs away at the center console--that's something it has in common with the Golf. And I know the Golf inside out. I've driven hundreds of miles in many different examples. I even have a mantra that I give to people who ask my advice on what car to buy: "If it was my money, I'd get a Golf." So don't think I've got it in for VW.

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Knowing that the Jetta is going to do most of its business in the US, it seems that VW's engineers have tuned the chassis--which is comfortable, refined and well controlled in all other cars based on this generation of Golf platform--for what they consider to be American tastes. But something must have got lost in translation. Or do American drivers really like a car that wallows and pitches like a cheap breast implant?

And really, that wing on the trunklid. On a car as un-sporty as this, a rear spoiler has to be the most preposterous affectation since Donald Trump's comb-over. VW's US sales have been pretty much in the toilet since the heady days of the old Bug, and it's not because the company doesn't have decent cars. It just needs to sell them here like it does in Europe, as slightly high-end products. But please, let them handle like European Cars. That's why people chose to go into a VW dealership instead of a Chrysler showroom, to get a European car, right?

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Consumer Clinic Blues
by Les Bidrawn

To be honest, until now I hadn't spent much time in our Jetta. Not on purpose, mind you. There seemed to be no compelling reason to fight for its keys. I find our Jetta just sort of `there' like the nondescript, glass-faced buildings I pass each day, clean yet unremarkable.

However, I did spend the last month behind its wheel and found the experience satisfying to say the least. Although I find the suspension wanting, I know VW can do better. One only need look at the GLI.

And that is perhaps the problem some people have with the Jetta. At heart, it's a taut sport sedan, lean, lanky and ready to rock. Unfortunately, it is reduced to lesser duties for drivers who regard their cars as more of an appliance than a passion. That VW designs cars for these people makes sense, but it also diminishes its genetic material.

I almost wish VW would only sell GLI models. Declare the Jetta a genuine sport sedan. If potential buyers are not into that kind of experience, they can always buy a Corolla.

That's the thrust here. The idea that VW is building a Euro-style Corolla gives more than a few serious car guys cold sweats. I think that's what put off our man Colin. Take the seats, for example. Our Jetta seats are made for wide bums and feature minimal bolstering for easy entry and exit. That one tends to slide around during spirited driving is a given. The GLI sport seats fix that. The suspension from the GLI does wonders for the Jetta chassis and the GLI's ducktail wing is almost identical to the M3's.

I cannot say enough good about the 2.0T engine; great power, big torque and, depending on your driving style, excellent mileage.

The six-speed transmission is so easy to shift we actually used the Jetta to teach Kelly (our hot 20-year-old intern) how to drive stick. In less than 30 minutes she was shifting like a pro.

I'll admit the Jetta 2.0T has a few weak spots. It's also got a ton of positive stuff going for it that easily outweighs the negative.

Though thinking about it, we should have ordered the GLI.

Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.

By Colin Ryan
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