Jetta boosted the fortunes of Volkswagen during the '90s when the compact sedan struck a chord with young drivers.
Not since the heyday of the Beetle had VW been so hip, individualistic and even somewhat offbeat, competing in a segment dominated by Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas.
Although Jetta never really scored as a cool sport-compact among the performance crowd, it became a common sight on campus, often with stylish young women at the wheel.
But Jetta needed an update, which VW provided in January with a mid-2005 model makeover. The midyear changeup has been pitched before by VW, but all it does is add confusion.
All new from stem to stern, Jetta rolls into 2006 as a different sort of sedan, growing more than seven inches in length, gaining some pounds and going upscale with image and trim. The $18,000 base price for the cheapest model is higher than its rivals, but Jetta offers plenty of style and substance for the money.
The drivability is superb, with nimble handling that approaches the vaunted Germanic leader, BMW 3-Series, and powered by a new five-cylinder engine that replaces the former hard-working four.
But the new body design is disappointing. The profile is too generic, looking something like a Corolla. On the other hand, the deep front grille with its thick chrome bar seems like a showy bid for attention and with too much family resemblance with Audi, VW's wealthy cousin.
The 2006 model year is the 25th for Jetta, with those who grew up with the little sedan perhaps ready for a bigger, more-substantial version.
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PERFORMANCE: The new 2.5-liter five is responsive and refined, the extra torque helping Jetta step out in traffic. On the highway, the engine seems to run out of steam, working hard on upgrades and losing some of its spark in passing maneuvers. There's no V-6 offered in the new model, but a new 2-liter turbocharged four puts out 200 horsepower. There also is a TDI diesel with power similar to the five-cylinder gas engine, but with notable improvements in fuel mileage. The six-speed automatic, with Tiptronic manual shifting, performs nicely.
DRIVABILITY: Here's where Jetta really shines, with the kind of poise and balance that thrills driving enthusiasts. A rigid new chassis and improved suspension, including a multi-link setup in the rear, provides the sedan with the kind of seamless road-holding more often found in high-end performance cars. Back roads becoming a romp, with great response from a new electro-mechanical steering system and decisive disc brakes.
STYLING: The new Jetta looks classy and sophisticated, but it lost its perky individuality in the makeover. Other than the deep, chrome-highlighted grille structure, there's not much that sets it apart from the common run of compacts.
INTERIOR: The test car, with upgraded leather seats and trim, looked gorgeous inside. Beautiful, well-tailored interiors have become a hallmark for VW and Audi, and Jetta feels as nice inside as most top-drawer luxury cars. Just smaller. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with good space up front. Despite the longer wheelbase, the back seat is still pretty tight. The trunk is huge, though.
BOTTOM LINE: Jetta grows into a well-appointed craft that can be driven like a sports car. And it's still the cheapest way to get into a true European sedan.
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Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline five, 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 170 pound-feet of torque at 170 rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches.
Overall length: 179.3 inches.
Curb weight: 3,285 pounds.
EPA rating: 22 city, 32 highway.
Highs: Nimble handling, handsome interior, solid feel.
Lows: Engine-power fade, upscale but generic style.
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Base price: $20,390.
Price as tested: $26,740.
* Moonroof, premium sound system with XM satellite radio, leather seats, power seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and performance tires, $4,660.
* Automatic transmission, $1,075.
* Shipping, $615.
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For more on the Volkswagen Jetta, go to autos.azcentral .com.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||October 21, 2005|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||July 12, 2006|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||April 16, 2006|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||March 31, 2006|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||January 4, 2006|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||December 3, 2005|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||October 14, 2005|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||October 6, 2005|
|Sara Lacey||Mother Proof||September 23, 2005|
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