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A Lot Riding On This Compact Sedan
2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5
Road Test By

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 Road Test
Volkswagen's best-selling Jetta. Click on images for larger views.

— VOLKSWATCH ROAD TEST —
2006 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA 2.5

Highs: Stylish inside and out, high-
quality fit and finish, big trunk

Lows: Lackluster engine, awkward-
positioned cruise control

The Jetta is a big deal for Volkswagen in the USA and Canada, accounting for a whopping 40 percent of sales.

The newest version of its compact sedan was introduced on this continent before anywhere else in the world — a first for the automaker and a signal that it's, finally, serious about success here. Usually we get VWs many months, sometimes more than a year, after release in Europe.

So there's a lot riding on the new Jetta. VolksWatch finds in its road test that the car boasts tremendous improvements throughout yet lacks in one critical area.

Read on.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 Road Test
Chrome trim, jewel-like taillights and a dual exhaust dress up the Jetta.

With every generation of a vehicle, an automaker lays claim to incredible advances in quality and refinement. Typical assertions include a stronger body, narrower panel gaps, higher-grade plastics and the list goes on. With its fifth-generation Jetta, VW is no different — and this Jetta feels much better than anything before it.

For the first time we feel the Jetta has truly reached a higher standard. It feels as solid as a tank, the doors close with a gratifying "thunk," and the interior is lavish with fine details usually reserved for Mercedes and its ilk. Volkswagen hasn't hidden its luxury aspirations but it took some years to get there. Previous generations of the Jetta, although attractive and dazzling in feature content, are riddled with reliability problems and simply lacking in genuine high-end feel.

We initially thought the Jetta's exterior style to be a bit on the bland side — not very interesting with slab sides and other semblances of a Toyota Corolla. But two motorists set us straight. They went out of their ways, one at a filling station and one on a residential street, to tell us how beautiful the car looks. One even offered "congratulations" as though we got a promotion at work.

Contributing to an upscale role, the chrome trim and jewel-like taillights look apropos unlike the previous generation where these details look like afterthoughts (mostly because they are afterthoughts, added towards the model's end).

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 Road Test
The Jetta's interior is lavish with fine details usually reserved for Mercedes and its ilk.

We were eager to experience VW's replacement for the old lethargic 2.0-liter engine. The new base engine is a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, a curious choice, which Volkswagen specifically created for the North American market, a curious decision. Why so curious? Because after running the 2.5 through the paces, there appears to be no real advantage of using a five-cylinder over a highly efficient four-cylinder, which all the competition uses.

Power is merely adequate. For most buyers, the 2.5 is plenty powerful, getting the Jetta up to speed in decent order and overtaking 18-wheelers with relative ease. At 80-MPH cruising the engine spins a leisurely 2,450 RPM, with the redline coming in at 5,000 RPM, a low-revver to be sure but one that gets buzzy under pressure. For enthusiasts, the power leaves something to be desired.

Fuel economy is also merely adequate. The EPA suggests 22 MPG in the city and 30 on the highway. Our test car did better in the city at 24 MPG but only mustered a lowly 25 MPG on the highway.

So the rationale behind the 2.5 five-cylinder is lost on us.

Compare this to the Jetta's up-level engine, the exceptionally balanced 2.0T, a technological marvel with 50 more horsepower and far better fuel economy (
Road Test).

JETTA 2.5 AND THE COMPETITION
  Jetta 2.5 Honda Civic Mazda 3 Toyota Corolla
Base Price $18,530 (US),
$25,590 (CDN)
$15,110 (US),
$18,025 (CDN)
$15,150 (US),
$17,690 (CDN)
$14,585 (US),
$16,775 (CDN)
Horsepower 150 at 5,000 RPM 140 at 6,300 RPM 150 at 6,500 RPM 126 at 6,000 RPM
Curb Weight 3,230 pounds 2,628 pounds 2,685 pounds 2,530 pounds
Weight Per
Horsepower
21.5 pounds 18.8 pounds 17.9 pounds 20.1 pounds
Transmission Five-speed
manual,
six-speed automatic
Five-speed
manual,
five-speed automatic
Five-speed
manual,
four-speed automatic
Five-speed
manual,
four-speed automatic
0-to-60 MPH 9.1 seconds 7.8 seconds 7.4 seconds 8.2 seconds
EPA Mileage 22 MPG (city),
30 MPG (highway)
30 MPG (city),
38 MPG (highway)
28 MPG (city),
35 MPG (highway)
32 MPG (city),
41 MPG (highway)
Passenger
Space
91 cubic feet 90.9 cubic feet 94.3 cubic feet 90.3 cubic feet
Cargo Space 16 cubic feet 12 cubic feet 11.4 cubic feet 13.5 cubic feet
Red indicates best in test.

The table above compares the Jetta to some of its foreign competition in North America. The Jetta ties the Mazda 3 for horsepower but pales in its 0-to-60-MPH time due to a higher curb weight. Also, our case in point, the Mazda's four-cylinder achieves much better fuel economy than the VW's five-cylinder.

— VEHICLE VITALS —
2006 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA 2.5

Vehicle Type Compact,
front-wheel-drive
Price Range* $18,530 to $27,630 (US)
$25,610 to $33,035 (CDN)

Engine I5, 2.5-liter, 20-valve
Horsepower 150 at 5,000 RPM
Torque 170 pound-feet at
3,750 RPM
Curb Weight 3,230 pounds
Weight Per Horsepower 21.5 pounds
Transmissions Five-speed manual


Six-speed automatic
with manumatic shifting
0-to-60-MPH 9.1 seconds
EPA Mileage 22 MPG (city),
30 MPG (highway)
VolksWatch
Mileage
24 MPG (city),
25 MPG (highway)
*Prices are for the model trim tested and include VW's destination fee.
The Jetta offers a class-leading automatic transmission in its six-speed Tiptronic and also trumps the competition in its big 16-cubic-foot trunk.

Passenger space is competitive but the Mazda 3 has an edge.

The Jetta's weight is a key factor in how it behaves on the road (the acceleration and fuel economy numbers above). The Jetta is a significant 545 pounds heavier than the second-heaviest Mazda 3 — and a whopping 700 pounds heavier than the lightest Corolla. While the Corolla feels light and nimble, the Jetta feels more substantial and buttoned down, especially at freeway speeds, which we appreciate. A nice trade-off.

The Jetta's heft can be attributed to some of its many standard features, not found on the competition, such as fully galvanized metal, traction control, an alarm system, cruise control and 10-speaker stereo. Also, only the VW and Honda come standard with six airbags and anti-lock brakes. These features also help explain the Jetta's higher price, however, when the others are comparably equipped (the base Corolla doesn't even come with power windows and door locks) the prices are much closer.

Moreover, we find the Jetta's interior more ergonomic and comfortable to spend time in. Driving one car after another, the others' deficiencies are evident (poorly shaped rearview mirrors, unsupportive seats, confusing dash layout, hard-to-read gauges, etc.). One gripe with the Jetta is the cruise-control stalk is too close to the turn-signal stalk, which sometimes causes problems.

To sum up: The Mazda 3 is the performer, the Toyota Corolla the efficient appliance, the Honda Civic the average everything, and the Jetta the classy and competent colleague with character.

The Jetta is the most affordable German sedan on the market and a good overall package — with a better base engine, it'd be perfect!

Also see:
Jetta Photos

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