2005 Volkswagen Jetta Review
All-new, with superb cabin, excellent handling.
The Volkswagen Jetta body is completely redesigned. It's larger, dimensionally as well as visually, in every direction. Compared to the previous Jetta, it has a longer wheelbase and wider track. It has also put on a little weight, tipping the scales at a little over 3,200 pounds. However, that extra mass was put to good use, as the greatly improved structural rigidity now puts the Jetta at the top of its class, and there's a larger trunk and more interior room, particularly for rear seat passengers.
The eye is drawn at once to the chrome-framed front grille. Like it or not, get used to it, because this is the new face of Volkswagen. Chrome is also used in eyebrows atop the large engine air inlets in the front bumper and, on 2.5 and TDI models, for the side-window surrounds.
Though the most striking element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the car's snout, compared to some other recent nose-forward designs, the composite headlamps and various inlets and grilles are well integrated into the Jetta's raked rearward flow. A striking vee, created by the slant of the headlamps and sloping hood lines, is carried strongly toward the rear by the steeply raked windshield and character lines running along the flanks. The rear window is carried deeply into the well-defined C-pillar, accentuating the designers' quest for a coupe-like sweep to the rear quarters. Flares at the four wheels blend into well-defined side skirts and, at the rear, into a lower valance panel accentuated by twin chrome-tipped tailpipes.
The car's tail is a significant departure from previous Jetta styling. The whole structure appears longer, but the larger taillight clusters, now divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving the car a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. Also helping to integrate the increased bulk of the trunk into the fenders is the coupe-like sweep of the C-pillar and the extensive rear window, which slants deeply into the trunkline.
The round rear driving and brake lights will likely be singled out as the new styling's most derivative statement, giving the car a blander, more Asian look to it than previous Jettas. The car's overall look is more pleasant than exciting.
How well this new design is accepted by the beholder is, however, an entirely different matter from the execution. And the execution is where Volkswagen excels. The body panels fit tightly and the paint finish is exquisite. If there's little excitement in the Jetta's styling, there's certainly a perceptible aura of rational engineering everywhere you look.
Volkwagen interiors are closely studied by the competition for good reason. VW's designers accomplish more with less, combining expensive-looking materials with simple but attractive styling and excellent ergonomics for very inviting cockpits.
Our test car, a 2.5L with six-speed automatic, was as full of stuff as could be stuffed in a new Jetta. The leather upholstery is well fitted and stitched around contours that provide a high degree of support. The Tamo ash wood trim is indeed trim and not the great expanses of lumber in a lame attempt to class up the interior. To the contrary, it's tastefully applied to complement the interior's sweeps and angles. Helping to relieve the eye of any monochromatic monotony are such touches as metallic trim around the shift lever, metallic instrument cluster rings; chrome door handles, glovebox lock cylinder and trunk release switch, and the button for the parking brake lever.
Between the eight-way power seat, power lumbar adjustment, adjustable steering column and height-adjustable safety belt, all but the rarest of human body types will find a comfortable driving position. The fully electric front driver's seat is positioned with the controls on the side of the seat cushion or it can adjusted automatically, via a three-level memory switch (which also adjusts the outside mirrors) or by the key fob, which can be specifically programmed for each driver (this adjusts only the seat).
A short styling aside here: Exposed windshield wipers were a pet peeve of former VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, and so he ordered that all future VWs would have hidden wipers. To aid in this design, a cowling now sits along the base of the windshield and cuts off some of the view over the nose of the car. It's not a safety issue, but former VW owners will notice the difference right away. To Piech's credit, the hidden wipers do indeed lend a more upscale look.
Each of the five possible passengers is held in place by a three-point safety belt, and each position has an adjustable headrest and emergency locking retractors for the belts. The front seat belts also have pre-tensioners with load limiters for a more effective reaction to need, and the front headrests are active, automatically moving up and forward if the occupant's torso is pressed back in the seat, as happens in many kinds of collisions. To help reduce leg injuries, the pedals get away from the driver in the event of a front-end collision. And there are six airbags throughout the cabin ready to deploy if needed, including side curtains to help protect the outboard passengers.
The thick-rimmed, padded three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by the two large dials of the tachometer and speedometer, well shaded from ambient light by a curved cowl. In daylight the graphics read white on black, at night changing to white on VW's signature, soothing swimming-pool blue with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within both the tach and speedo are a number of warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left opened after gassing up.
Part of option Package 2 are steering wheel-imbedded buttons that can operate a phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system. The large center pad holds the air bag and sounds the horn when pressed.
To the left of the wheel is the headlamp switch, which has three positions: When turned off, the daytime running lights are activated. Click the dial once to the right, and automatic headlight control is activated, which measures ambient light and turns on the headlights when needed, such as in a long tunnel or as night approaches. A third click and the headlights are turned on. When they become available, front foglamps will also be worked with this switch.
A large electronic message pad sits dead center, just over the water temperature and fuel gauges. In addition to more warning and diagnostic symbols, its display includes read-outs of the functions tracked by the trip computer (not available on Value Editions): trip time, trip length, average trip speed, average trip fuel economy, current fuel consumption, miles to empty, compass and radio station. The red graphics on the pad are quite readable in the daylight, but, even at the pad's dimmest setting, glow too brightly at night for this writer's old eyes.
The trip computer's data are accessed by one of three levers mounted on the steering column. Jutting to the right, it also operates the wiper/washer system; to the left are the levers for the turn signals/headlamp flashers and cruise control. Though easy to use, the levers feel a bit flimsy and are one of the few interior elements that have a cheap, plasticky look.
A major revamp of the sound system and climate controls began by moving them higher up in the center console for better viewing and operation. The adjustment buttons for the stereo, which surround the display screen, are in full view, a setup many of us prefer over hidden controls. Unfortunately, the display's graphics are not easily discernible in daylight. At night, though, the display reverts to the trademark VW blue backlighting and is then easily read.
The rotary dials and switches of the climate system also provide easy access to the full range of heating and cooling options. Value Editions get standard A/C called Climatic, which automatically maintains a chosen temperature throughout the cabin. It features a rotary dial on the left for temperature, one in the middle for fan speed, and a third on the right for directing the air in the cabin. Just above are the buttons for the windshield defroster, recirculating air and ECON (A/C compressor off) modes. Seat heating is not available with the Value Edition.
Climatronic is standard on 2.5L and TDIs and offers separate temperature adjustments for the left and right side of the cockpit. With Climatronic, the left dial adjusts temperatures on the driver's side and also contains the front and rear defroster switches. The center dial incorporates the on/off button as well as a manual fan speed controller; and the right dial has switches for automatic operation (stored if pressed for more than two seconds) or ECON function. The buttons just above the dials handle air direction and recirculation. They're flanked by rotary seat heater switches, which in turn are bracketed by digital interior temperature readouts.
Four large air vents are nicely integrated into the top of the dash panel. In cars with Climatronic, those who don't like direct breezes can enjoy the indirect ventilation provided by a large center air outlet that sits top-center on the dash. Climatronic also provides, via switchable nozzles, cool air for the amply sized glovebox and both cool and warm air for the storage bin beneath the center armrest, which adjusts for height and also slides forward or backward.
The central console extends between the front seats and includes a covered storage bin in front of the ESP switch, the shift lever, parking brake lever, two cupholders, a power outlet, and climate system vents for the rear passengers.
The toggle switch for the outside mirrors (plus heating) and the power window switches are on the driver's door armrest, within easy reach and sight. The windows feature anti-pinch protection and one-touch up or down. As a further convenience, they can also be opened or closed, along with the sunroof, with the master key in the driver's door lock.
Further down in the door are the release switches for the trunk and fuel filler door, plus a lock that prevents the trunk from being opened without the master key. The power door locks are operated by a switch in each door, and they're illuminated to reveal their status at a glance. In fact, every button and switch is pleasingly backlit.
A small ceiling console, just aft of the inside rearview mirror, holds a pair of reading lights, the sunroof's rotary switch, interior light switches, a sunglasses bin and ambient lighting elements that softly illuminate the dash area at night. Other nice touches include sunvisors with lighted vanity mirrors that slide on rods to extend their reach over most of the side window, and a self-dimming inside mirror that can be switched on or off but which automatically goes on when reverse is chosen. The driver's side visor also includes the buttons for the HomeLink system, which can be programmed to handle the chores of up to three remote control devices.
The rear of the cabin is significantly more spacious than before, the seats nicely contoured and raked for comfort. A six-foot-tall driver still leaves room behind for a similarly sized passenger, and there's enough headroom to accommodate someone much taller. However, there's no way an adult will fit comfortably in the center rear seat if there are also adults to each side.
A 60/40 split folding rear seat is standard across the line, but 2.5L models and TDIs also get a center, fold-down console that contains two pop-out cupholders and a storage bin, and a lockable pass-through door to allow the hauling of such long items as skis. An optional sunshade effectively covers the whole window and is a worthwhile addition for cars in hot climates.
As in previous Jettas, the trunk seems larger than is possible in a compact sedan (16 cubic feet). When the trunk lid is opened, it rises to a completely vertical position, out of the way of any loading or unloading. Completely carpeted, it also has a storage cubby wall; four tie hooks; and, like all new cars, a glow-in-the-dark release handle in case anyone gets trapped inside.
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