This fifth-generation Jetta traces its history to 1980, when the model was introduced here. Since then, Volkswagen has sold more than 2.2 million Jettas in the United States and Canada.
Less cute but more useful than the New Beetle, this new Jetta has a handsome profile that looks just slightly Japanese in general, Mazdalike specifically.
Aside from the styling, and the fact that the Jetta has, for the first time, a fully independent suspension system, the biggest news is a new engine: a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that pumps out 150 horsepower. It replaces the agricultural old 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but the test Jetta had a new six-speed automatic.
This Jetta is bigger in most every dimension, including about 7 inches in length and 5 inches in width. This translates to substantially more room inside, especially of the elbow variety. The new car is also heavier but not by as much as its larger size suggests.
On the road, the Jetta feels suitably German, though the electric-boosted power steering needs more road feel. The ride is compliant and handling crisp, but I couldn't warm up to the new five-cylinder engine. It's certainly better than the old 2.0-liter, but the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 180 horses was smoother and more fun to drive. A turbocharged engine is coming soon for the new model. Mileage for the 2.5-liter is EPA-rated at 22 miles per gallon city, 30 highway, for either the manual or automatic transmission.
Inside, Volkswagen does interiors about as well as anyone. Side air bags are standard. Instruments and controls are well-placed, seats firm and supportive. Even with the extra size, the rear seat is a tight fit for three, but two adults will be happy back there. The trunk is especially roomy for a car in this class.
The test car carried a list price of just more than $22,000. The Jetta starts at about $18,500 but can top $25,000 when loaded with options.
Volkswagen has done what it needed to do to keep the Jetta at the front of the class, and the addition of the aforementioned turbocharged, 200-horse GLI sport model and a diesel will only help. Nicely done, VW.
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Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's TV reports air Wednesdays on Central Florida News 13.