Growing up, I was what you'd call husky. The most painful time for kids like me was the first five minutes of recess when we were picking teams for kickball. We would all line up and the two captains would alternate calling names, high fives exchanged after each pick. The fervor would halt as the selection narrowed between myself and a three-legged office chair. Though I was marginally faster around the bases, the chair had a better chance of stopping the ball at short stop. The decision was usually settled with sudden-death rock-paper-scissors, and the loser got me.
Around the office, our 2006 Volkswagen Jetta is like the fat kid at recess. Each week staffers line up and Editor Bidrawn doles out keys like Dixie cups of pills for mental patients. He works his way down the food chain: the exotic of the week, then the BMW, the Saab, and finally, the Jetta. Being the new guy, you can guess what I got. After driving the Jetta for a week, I decided I was going to take it from fat kid to athlete and show everyone this car no longer deserves to be picked last.
The Jetta 2.0T has plenty of power, but can't really utilize it. It's unwilling to change direction and tends to wallow at speed. Some tightening up and basic conditioning is all that's required, because overall it's a decent vehicle. The build quality is impressive, the interior is on par with cars that cost twice as much and the engine is amazing.
Other areas are a let-down. The stock suspension is horrible. The car rides decently (but not great) around town, but at highway speeds it's floaty and vague. At freeway speeds it virtually flies off large bumps, like a motocrosser flying over whoop-dee-doos. Handling is adequate, but as with the ride, it's really hampered by the soft suspension which leads to excessive roll and movement while cornering.
The brakes are another problem. They stop the car fine, but the actuation is terrible. Normal stopping feels good enough, but when you really get into the pedal, it feels as though there's about an inch of extra travel to push through before more force is summoned. On hard stops, there's a brief moment of panic as your foot finds resistance at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Being a long-time VW fanatic, I already knew which companies to call to get what I needed. The first order of business was to dial in the ride and handling. During a quick call to H&R, I decided the Touring Cup Kit was the way to go. It would drop the car an inch and a half and maintain a sporty, but still acceptable, ride. The springs are roughly 35 percent stiffer. The dampers are slightly stiffer in compression but 40 percent stiffer in rebound, which makes all the difference. No more launching off of bumps at speed. A set of H&R anti-roll bars would further eliminate body roll. Eurosport handled the installation, making quick work of the job and dialing things in as needed.
I was worried about the brakes. Fixing the pedal issue would, perhaps, be too involved for the scope of this project. I contacted Autotech, which has been remedying brake problems on water-cooled VWs almost as long as there have been brake problems on water-cooled VWs. Autotech recommended better fluid and braided stainless steel lines. We went with Ate Super Blue fluid, a personal favorite of mine. I've used it on the track and never boiled or burnt the stuff. Stainless steel lines won't expand under pressure like the factory rubber ones, meaning all the force that goes into the brake pedal is translated to the calipers. Autotech sells some high quality lines; they fit just like stock and all fittings are also stainless.
The next obvious modification had to be wheels and tires. I wanted something extremely light since I intended to increase the wheel size. A call to The Tire Rack netted some amazing 18-inch OZ Ultraleggeras in a flat black finish. At 19 pounds each, these are lighter than the factory 17s-and the visual improvement is substantial.For rubber, I knew I needed something that would handle and ride well, yet would also represent a good value. Yokohama's Sdrive was big news at last year's SEMA show. It was the replacement for the much-loved ES100. The grip and turn-in on the ES100 were phenomenal, but ride and noise were an issue during daily driving. Yokohama really worked on solving those problems, and I picked up a set of 225/40s.
When the upgrades were complete, I brought it back to office for the grand unveiling. The others were suspicious at first, wondering why I was so excited over a mere Jetta. I let a couple of them take it for a drive to see if I'd succeeded in taking our bench warmer to star athlete.
The H&R Touring Cup Kit was a great choice. The ride height is ideal. It is low enough to give us the look we're after, but I have yet to scrape on anything. The spring and damping rates give a more controlled ride that's perfect at speed, but not too firm for around-town driving. The car changes directions better, freeway ramps can be taken at higher speeds with greater confidence, and mid-corner bumps no longer cause gut-wrenching drama. This kit probably won't satisfy the hardcore track junkie, but for canyon runs and aggressive street driving, it's hard to beat.
The Yokohama Sdrives are impressive. Grip is incredible, steering feedback has increased, and they are even quieter than the stock tires. These tires should cost about the same as the ES100s. For this much performance and comfort, they represent a great value in the performance tire market.
Autotech's brake lines have made pedal feel much more linear. The dead spot is all but gone, but braking performance still isn't everything it could be. The stock pads throw off lots of dust, and heat seems to be an issue on hard runs. We'll have to look a little bit harder for a better solution.
I have yet to warm up to the MkV Jetta's styling, but I must say that the suspension and wheels have really improved aesthetics. While they looked good, the stock 17s were a tad small and didn't fill up the fenders. Proportions are now more in harmony, making the Jetta look like a performance sedan rather than just another commuting hack. If time wasn't an issue, there are a few other things I would address. I find the bejeweled, 'Euro-style' taillights quite gaudy. I guess some designer figured he needed something to balance the chrome battering ram at the front of the car, which could come in handy if I ever need to breach a castle wall. The Oh Crap handle in the center console digs into my knee, and I would like to have a little more aggressive sound. Since we taught the Jetta some new manners, maybe it could handle a little more power. In fact, I'm sure of it.
In hindsight, our last Jetta review was perhaps irrelevant. A born and bred Brit, the author failed to see the Jetta's attraction, a largely European perception. The thing is, we ain't in Europe. This is the United States, a country where the Jetta has given legions of drivers their first taste of a genuine sport sedan. Just look at the sales figures. The Jetta is king and for good reason.
So far, our 2.0T has been a fabulous ride, both robust and very entertaining. It had a few shortcomings, but so does almost anything else with four wheels. I was all prepared to talk about how great the Jetta is, how a few minor tweaks would make it perfect, or simply trade it in for a GLI. Engineering editor Febbo would have none of it. Unbeknownst to the staff, he had a secret agenda: make ec fall in love with the Jetta.I had seen a black-on-black Jetta a day earlier and remember thinking how right black wheels look on black cars. I also began to wonder where our Jetta was, maybe dummy up a set on the computer for effect. Then Febbo called and said he had something to show us. He sounded nervous, excited, maybe both.
He showed up in a Jetta which was clad in brand-new shoes and sitting a tad lower. The car looked like it just came back from a health spa. "I fixed it for you," he said as I took the keys, trying not to smile.
As I entered the freeway on-ramp, the results of his work were obvious. Whereas the torque-laden turbo engine would typically cause a certain amount of pitching and squatting, there was now a steady calm, like an invisible hand was pressing the chassis down. Sliding through traffic, the Jetta felt hugely responsive and aggressive lane changes were performed with surgical precision. It was funny, because as you get to know a car you learn what it can do and how to make the most of it. I was over-driving the Jetta and I'm sure fellow drivers thought I was playing Gran Turismo on the 57 freeway. I was 'that idiot' everyone loves to curse.
Essentially, the Jetta feels like a freshly sharpened blade, one that glides rather than saws through stuff. -Les Bidrawn
I remember typing out the Long-Term Intro on our 2006 Jetta 2.0T. I said a lot of good things about the car, and I wasn't kidding, because at its core I think it's a really good car. The engine and gearbox in particular are extremely well suited to one another and very sporty in their interaction.
The main problem with the base car was the chassis' inability to put the drivetrain's latent enthusiasm to good use. The culprit was a soft and woefully under-damped suspension. We've fixed it. The ride is noticeably firmer than before, but not what you'd call harsh. More importantly, the damping rates are spot-on. This is an upgrade any sport-minded Jetta owner must consider, whether you drive a 2.5L or a 2.0T. Steering inputs feel more significant too, due to superior tires, and the brakes are more inspiring in their actuation. This Jetta now feels like a real European sport sedan-which is, after all, the way it should feel. Its tendency to squat under acceleration has been banished, the unsettled feeling in bends and during freeway-speed lane changes eradicated.
We never really asked for matte-black wheels, but I think they were a great choice. Along with the black paint, they make the car look at least 50 percent meaner. Now, about those taillights...-Karl Funke