2006 Volkswagen Jetta Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2006 Volkswagen Jetta

Greg N. Brown
© 2006 NewCarTestDrive.com

The new Volkswagen Jetta lineup features a complete line of models for 2006. A sporty turbocharged GLI model joins the line along with a fuel-efficient TDI turbo diesel. That's in addition to the most popular models, which are powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine.

The Jetta was redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up midway through the 2005 model year.

A 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine powers the standard models and it's pleasantly robust, with a broad power curve and a raspy sound. The 2.5-liter engine gets an EPA-rated 22 miles per gallon City, 30 mpg Highway, whether equipped with the five-speed manual gearbox or the new six-speed Tiptronic automatic. Clean-running Partial Zero Emissions, or PZEV, versions of this engine, are available in some states. Fuel-efficient TDI models are available in 45 states. Featuring Volkswagen's renowned turbo diesel engine, the TDI models get an EPA-rated 36/41 City Highway with the five-speed manual gearbox, 35/42 with the slick DSG automatic. The new Jetta GLI features a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with a broad power curve boasting 0-60 in 6.7 seconds. The GLI gets an EPA rated 24/32 with its six-speed manual or 25/31 with the DSG.

Regardless of engine, we found the new Jetta responsive around town and comfortable on long trips. Volkswagens are known for handling, and the new Jetta carves through corners with precision. Indeed, the GLI reminds us why Germany is renowned for building excellent sports sedans.

The new Jetta is larger than previous models, and it features a more spacious interior stuffed with convenience and lavished with Volkswagen's legendary attention to detail. Even the least-expensive model offers an elegant, high-quality cabin. Its driver enjoys excellent visibility and ease of use with logical controls and instruments. Build quality is superb inside and out. All in all, the new Jetta is a solid car.

Model Lineup

Volkswagen Jetta Value Edition ($17,900); Value Edition automatic ($18,975); 2.5 ($20,290); 2.5 automatic ($21,365); TDI ($21,290); TDI automatic ($22,365); GLI ($23,790); GLI automatic ($24,665)

Walk Around

The Volkswagen Jetta was completely redesigned and launched as three major model lines through the 2005-2006 model years. It's larger, dimensionally as well as visually, in every direction. Compared to the previous Jetta, it has a longer wheelbase and wider track. It has also put on a little weight, tipping the scales at a little over 3,200 pounds. However, that extra mass was put to good use, as the greatly improved structural rigidity now puts the Jetta at the top of its class, and there's a larger trunk and more interior room, particularly for rear seat passengers.

The eye is drawn at once to the chrome-framed front grille. Like it or not, get used to it. This is the new face of Volkswagen. Chrome is also used in eyebrows atop the large engine air inlets in the front bumper and, on 2.5 and TDI models, for the side-window surrounds. GLI models are clearly differentiated by a black honeycomb mesh grille with a red surround strip and foglamps integrated into the front bumper.

The most striking design element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the car's snout. Compared to some other recent nose-forward designs, however, the composite headlamps and various inlets and grilles are well integrated into the Jetta's raked rearward flow. A striking vee, created by the slant of the headlamps and sloping hood lines, is carried strongly toward the rear by the steeply raked windshield and character lines running along the flanks. The rear window is carried deeply into the well-defined C-pillar, accentuating the designers' quest for a coupe-like sweep to the rear quarters. Flares at the four wheels blend into well-defined side skirts and, at the rear, into a lower valance panel accentuated by twin chrome-tipped tailpipes.

The car's tail is a significant departure from previous Jetta styling. The whole structure appears longer, but the larger taillight clusters, now divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving the car a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. Also helping to integrate the increased bulk of the trunk into the fenders is the coupe-like sweep of the C-pillar and the extensive rear window, which slants deeply into the trunkline.

The round tail lights and brake lights will likely be singled out as the new Jetta's most derivative statement, giving the car a blander, more Asian look to it than previous models.

In short, we find the new Jetta's look more pleasant than exciting.

How well this new design is accepted by the beholder is, however, an entirely different matter from the execution. And the execution is where Volkswagen excels. The body panels fit tightly and the paint finish is exquisite. If there's little excitement in the Jetta's styling, there's certainly a perceptible aura of rational engineering everywhere you look.

Interior

Volkswagen interiors are closely studied by the competition for good reason. Volkswagen designers accomplish more with less, combining expensive-looking materials with simple but attractive styling and excellent ergonomics. The result is inviting cockpits that are pleasant places to spend time behind the wheel.

The leather upholstery in a 2.5 we drove was well fitted and stitched around contours that provide a high degree of support. The Tamo ash wood trim is indeed trim and not the great expanses of lumber that are sometimes used in a lame attempt to class up an interior. To the contrary, the Jetta's wood is tastefully applied to complement the interior's sweeps and angles. Helping to relieve the eye of any monochromatic monotony are such touches as metallic trim around the shift lever, metallic instrument cluster rings; chrome door handles, glovebox lock cylinder and trunk release switch, and the button for the parking brake lever.

Finding a comfortable driving position is aided by an eight-way power adjustable seat with a power lumbar adjustment, an adjustable steering column and a height-adjustable safety belt. The driver's seat can be positioned using controls on the side of the seat cushion or by pressing of the three memory buttons (which also adjusts the outside mirrors) or by the key fob (which can be programmed for each driver).

The GLI interior is a bit dressier than the standard cabin thanks to touches of bright trim and the handsome three-spoke leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. The sport seat fabric is a plaid-like material that harkens back to previous interior designs from VW, and it may not be to everyone's taste. The durable-feeling leather is really the way to go for a full upmarket experience.

A short styling aside here: Exposed windshield wipers were a pet peeve of former VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, and so he ordered that all future VWs would have hidden wipers. To aid in this design, a cowling now sits along the base of the windshield and cuts off some of the view over the nose of the car. It's not a safety issue, but former VW owners will notice the difference right away. To Piech's credit, the hidden wipers do indeed lend a more upscale look.

Three-point safety belts with emergency locking retractors are provided for all five passengers, and each position has an adjustable headrest. The front seat belts also have pre-tensioners with load limiters for a more effective reaction, and the front headrests are active, automatically moving up and forward if the occupant's torso is pressed back in the seat, as happens in many kinds of collisions. To help reduce leg injuries, the pedals get away from the driver in the event of a front-end collision. Six airbags are ready to deploy if needed, including side curtains to help provide head protection for the four outboard passengers.

The thick-rimmed, padded three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by the two large dials of the tachometer and speedometer, well shaded from ambient light by a curved cowl. In daylight the graphics read white on black, at night changing to white on soothing swimming-pool blue with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within both the tach and speedo are a number of warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left opened after gassing up. Optional steering wheel buttons can be used to operate a phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system.

To the left of the steering wheel is the headlamp switch, which has three positions: When turned off, the daytime running lights are activated. Click the dial once to the right, and automatic headlight control is activated, which measures ambient light and turns on the headlights when needed, such as in a long tunnel or as night approaches. A third click and the headligh

Driving Impressions

Climb in the new Volkswagen Jetta 2.5, turn the key and the driver is greeted by the raspy growl of the new five-cylinder engine. It's definitely an in-your-ear sound that will find favor with those who appreciate mechanical sturm und drang, but it might be a little annoying to drivers who'd rather talk on the phone.

As soon as the Jetta pulls away from the curb, there's a noticeable feel of solidness and a clear sense of high build quality. As there should be. A large part of the investment in the Jetta went toward increasing structural integrity. The stronger structure forms not only a more solid grounding for suspension and drivetrain components, it helps reduce unwanted noise from being transmitted into the cabin.

The other element that was considered most critical in the design of this performance-oriented car was the suspension. This is, without question, the best handling front-wheel-drive car Volkswagen has ever produced yet, somewhat paradoxically, it all starts with the new multi-link setup in the tail of the car.

The physics are complicated, but, simply stated, if the rear end of the car won't properly follow the front, then handling limits are low and the driver has to work harder. Replacing the old solid-beam axle with the new four-link rear suspension (with telescopic gas-filled shock absorbers, coil springs and stabilizer bar) means reduced body roll, better contact between the wheels and the pavement, and improved ride quality. Angling the shock absorbers and combining them with oval helper springs also contribute to a wider trunk opening for easier loading.

Changes to the front suspension also made dramatic improvements to the feel of the Jetta. The MacPherson strut arrangement (with coil springs, telescopic shocks and a newly designed, integrated stabilizer bar to reduce weight) has improved geometry to increase front wheel location and reduce torque steer to unnoticeable levels, even when the throttle is maxed out in a corner. This is an amazingly balanced car, with little or no sense that the front end is doing the work of both pulling and steering the car.

Credit the new Servotronic power steering for the sharp response through the steering wheel. It not only adjusts to speed, providing more assist at low speeds and higher effort on the open road, but, through electronic control of the steering column, it automatically corrects the car's direction when such external forces as crosswinds threaten to move it off track. It's a bit disconcerting at first for the car to do something a driver expects he'll have to do but after a short time becomes very welcome in its ability to reduce driver effort.

Getting the car underway is generally effortless, even in slippery conditions due to the application of various standard traction aids. Every Jetta comes with an electronic differential lock, or EDL, that varies power to either front wheel depending on which one has more traction. It works by applying the brakes very slightly on the wheel that has lost traction, while at the same time it sends more torque to the other wheel. Also standard across the line is anti-slip regulation, or ASR, which reduces engine power to both front wheels if slip is detected.

Both EDL and ASR are part of the electronic stability program, or ESP, which is standard on all models except for Value Editions. ESP incorporates ABS to brake any of the car's four wheels individually and reduce the risk of skidding. It all starts sounding like alphabet soup, but all these systems work together to help the driver maintain control of the car. Studies in Europe have shown how effective electronic stability systems are in helping avoid accidents. They should be considered a standard item on any driver's order list.

The only commotion during take-off, then, is the raspy growl of the new five-cylinder engine, which has been tuned for instant gratification. Throttle tip-in is aggressive, especial

The all-new Volkswagen Jetta is a delectable dish of European-bred automotive technology, superior materials and tangibly good build quality. This new Jetta is both a comfortable long-range cruiser and a snappy runabout. Choosing to address the American driver's thirst for torque was one of the more pleasing ways that Volkswagen fashioned the standard 2.5-liter models for the stop-and-go derby of urban driving, but it's still how well the Jetta conquers the open road that makes the Volkswagen driving experience distinctive and enjoyable. For those who want to make quicker progress down the road, the turbocharged GLI is a slick performer right out of the box. As a platform for the furious youth who want to go fast, it might be the best since the original GTI.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Greg Brown filed this report from Southern California and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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