Once upon a time, the Beetle was Volkswagen’s best selling car in America. Today it’s the compact Jetta sedan. So when an all-new 2005 Jetta was announced, it was indeed big car news. Serious VW fans are chomping at the bit for a chance to get behind the wheel. Well, we’ve done just that, so let’s see if the Jetta’s high value, sport sedan image remains intact.
Value has been a big part of the Jetta equation for 25 years, but for the all-new 2005 Jetta, Volkswagen designers aimed at big jumps in quality and refinement as well. To that end, the 5th generation Jetta is built on a stiffer platform that is shared with the latest Golf. This gives Volkswagen’s most popular U.S. car a wheelbase of 101.5 inches, 2.6-inches longer than before, with 7-inches more overall length and 1-inch more width.
While past Jetta styling has evolved, the new car stages a revolution. The look is a major departure; more athletic, with an aggressive grille and large lower air intakes, favoring recent Audi models. This new face of Volkswagen turns to body sides with crisp character lines that add tension to the wedge shape. But some of that tautness is lost in the bland rear end, that veers too close to the generic look of its Asian rivals. The high deck lid cuts into rearward visibility too, making parallel parking a bit of a hit-or-miss situation. But it is great for luggage.
The huge 16-cubic foot trunk will swallow as much luggage as the trunks of many mid-size cars. The very well-equipped interior is also bigger, with passenger volume increasing by a hefty 4 cubic-feet. Most of that increase is in the rear seat area, which gains almost 2-inches of leg room. It’s almost as roomy here as a Passat. A 60/40 split folding seat back is standard, retaining the Jetta’s reputation for flexibility.
Up front the new Jetta offers a more luxurious environment. A tastefully modern, yet still logical and tight-seamed dash can be dressed in wood or metallic trim. Standard safety includes front side impact airbags and side curtain airbags both front and rear. Rear side-impact airbags are optional. Instruments are large, clear, but basic. Unexpected standards on the 2.5L include heat for the comfortable leatherette-covered front seats and automatic dual-zone climate controls. All models also come with a CD stereo; the 2.5L adds a 6-disc in-dash changer.
Power for the redesigned Jetta lineup starts with a new 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder. It generates 150 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, with peak torque available from 1,900 to 5,000 rpm. A carryover 1.9-liter TDI diesel four with 100-horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque and a 2.0-liter turbo four with 200 horsepower will follow soon. All front-wheel drive Jetta engines are hooked to a 5-speed manual transmission or a new 6-speed Tiptronic automatic with Sport mode. Traction control is standard.
Still our 2.5L automatic registered a sluggish 0 to 60 time of 9.1 seconds. The quarter mile ran out in 16.9 seconds at 85 miles-per-hour. Power comes on stronger at lower revs than the last Jetta, but drops off sharply past 5,000 rpm. Delivery is very smooth, however, with a distinctive 5-cylinder growl, but no shake. The 6-speed automatic has smooth shifts, with a slow engagement between second and third our test drivers’ only complaint.
Handling is by front MacPherson struts and a new multi-link independent rear. No more twist beam axle here. The 2.5L also boasts a new electro-mechanical steering system and standard electronic stability control. All these elements combine to make the Jetta light and nimble in corners. There’s a bit more body roll than expected. And when the stability control kicks in, it can be very abrupt. The electro-mechanical steering, on the other hand, is sharp, with perfect feel.
On the road, the solid, laser-welded chassis delivers a tight, almost luxury car ride. Indeed, we did sense a little unexpected float just before the shocks rein things in. The Jetta is EPA rated at 22 city/30 highway. Test mileage turned in a top level performance of 30 miles-per-gallon.
Braking is by larger 4-wheel discs with standard ABS. Stops from 60 averaged a solid 124 feet. Only a bit too much nose dive colored an otherwise excellent performance.
Jetta prices starts with the Value Edition, which boasts air conditioning, traction control, and head curtain airbags at $18,515. The 2.5L adds stability control, heated seats, and a whole lot more for $21,005. Option packages can boost that between $2,000 and $5,000 more.
The 2005 Jetta is a major readjustment for a car that has long been considered the highest value in a German sport sedan. Some will say it’s more civilized; others that it’s just softer. But for certain it delivers a high level of Germanic luxury and engineering for generic sedan prices. That, plus a performance model to follow, will give Volkswagen’s most popular American nameplate strong momentum well into another 25 years.
Engine: 2.5-Liter Inline 5-Cylinder
Torque: 170 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 85 MPH
60-0 MPH: 124 Feet
EPA Mileage: 22 MPG City 30 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 30 MPG Mixed City/highway