Volkswagen gives Americans what they want.
And little wonder that VW chose the 2005 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show to unveil its fifth-generation Jetta. The vehicle offers a lot to continually on-the-go Californians who must have a dependable car to get to work and take on road trips when they don't.
The new Jetta is bigger, more powerful and structurally superior to the fourth-generation model - and the fourth-generation model was pretty good as it was.
For 2005, there's more car inside and out. The latest Jetta stretches nearly 180 inches, 7 inches longer than its predecessor. Growth also occurred in the wheelbase (101.5 inches, up 2.6), width (69.3 inches, up 1) and even height (57.5 inches, compared with 57). It all shows.
When VW reps pulled the cloth to unveil the new Jetta at the auto show in Los Angeles in January, I thought they had the wrong car. Jetta's growth is that noticeable. The happiest result inside is room for three adults in the back seat.
Exterior styling is pleasing but somewhat vanilla. Parking a new Jetta in your driveway will not prompt neighbors to stampede across your lawn, screaming, "Where'd you get that hot ride?" (And if it does, your neighbors need to get out more.)
The 2.5-liter in-line 5 power plant is rated at 150 horsepower, with maximum torque a little-more-than-expected 170 foot-pounds. The latter number accounts for the Jetta's ability to briskly bolt from a standing start and quickly get up to cruising speed. Jetta starts to struggle on steep inclines so a trip to Lake Tahoe involves aggressively mashing your foot on the accelerator at the higher elevations. Otherwise, performance is fairly competent.
The tester came with an optional ($1,075) six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which enables the driver to shift manually through gears without dancing on a clutch. There aren't a lot of six-speed automatics out there, and the tested VW would sometimes go through some herky-jerky motions as it went up through the gears.
Maybe that was a glitch on a newly reworked model. Stay tuned.
Besides the spacious back seat, the Jetta's interior was functional and attractive - and stuffed with a long list of comfort/convenience controls that handled dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, power/heated exterior mirrors, heated windshield-washer nozzles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front seat lumbar support and power windows with a "pinch-protection" system.
I can't resist mentioning the radio buttons. The Jetta had this brilliant but simple rectangular display screen centered in the dash, perpetually showing exactly which radio stations were programmed for the six buttons just below the screen. Fabulous.
To date, the Jetta has experienced a mixed bag of safety issues.
It received "good" ratings in both front-and side-crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The agency noted that the Jetta comes standard with air bags intended to protect heads, chests and abdomens. The rating means there is a good likelihood that occupants would survive medium-speed crashes.
Then, just this month, Volkswagen said it was recalling nearly 40,000 Jetta sedans in the United States because placement of a fuel supply line clamp could potentially cause a fuel leak and start a fire. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the recall, VW officials said they knew of no fires or injuries in connection with the clamp placement.
Assuming VW gets that issue handled quickly, the new Jetta should continue as a nationally popular family sedan that won't break the bank. Without all the extras, the tested Jetta would have been a reasonable $20,390. It actually sported a price tag of $24,040 because it came with the optional six-speed automatic gearbox, a $615 destination charge and a nearly $2,000 option package that included a sunroof, 16-inch alloy wheels and a premium sound system.
Personally, I'd skip the sunroof/wheels/audio package and press for a deal as close as possible to the $20,000 plateau. If you can get such a deal, you'll be getting a lot of car for the money.
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Volkswagen Jetta at a glance
Make/model: 2005 Volkswagen Jetta.
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, front-drive, four-door sedan.
Base price: $20,390 (as tested, $24,040).
EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city; 30 mpg highway.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with clutchless manual shifting feature.
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion.
Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel discs with anti-lock.
Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut-type on front; independent multi-link on rear (coil springs and stabilizer bars front and rear).
Interior volume: 91 cubic feet.
Cargo volume: 16 cubic feet.
Fuel tank: 14.5 gallons.
Curb weight: 3,285 pounds.
Track: 60.7 inches on front; 59.7 inches on rear.
Ground clearance: 5.4 inches.
Height: 57.5 inches.
Length: 179.3 inches.
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches.
Width: 69.3 inches.
Tires: P205/55R16 all-season tires.
Final assembly point: Puebla, Mexico.