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2006 Volkswagen Jetta

Practical With A Buzz

    With the domestic automakers finally paying attention to their breadwinner family sedans, it is becoming increasingly necessary for the imports to keep their offerings fresh. Our first sample of the new batch, the Jetta, is setting the pace, with the Golf and Passat following any day now.
     The Jetta’s overall appearance was pleasing, yet left some in the office feeling as though it had lost some of its European flair, instead drawing on a bit of Asian styling. However, with the Asian competitors trying to look more European, it is fast becoming a world without regional style. To be honest, what is missing is the understated elegance that Volkswagen so admirably possessed. Instead, we have a Jetta with a huge flashy chrome face. And the odd proportions don’t help matters any. The rear overhang is excessive, the greenhouse seems a bit tall, and front fender height between the top of the wheel well and the hood makes the car look chunky. The bonus payoff to the awkward greenhouse is a cabin with lots of headroom. The trunk has also grown. The hood has a rather aggressive slope due to this design, leaving the view out the front completely unobstructed. A thin strip of painted metal is about all you see from the drivers seat. It’s a bit like the view from a minivan, actually. The tall profile and large rear door windows aided rearward visibility, especially in eliminating hazardous blind spots.
     Under that sloping hood lies the new 2.5-liter I-5, and at 150 horsepower it isn’t that potent. To boot, there is only 170 lb-ft of torque to help move things along. The exhaust note was nothing to write home about because it was just plain awkward, with the additional sound from the fifth cylinder filtering in. The six-speed Tiptronic automatic fed power to the transaxle seamlessly as we have come to expect from an Audi/VW transmission. The same comments exist for this one as every other Audi/VW car we have tested featuring it: ultra smooth, if a bit lazy while left in drive. The sport and manual selections have a bit more to offer for playtime, so long as the engine can supply the power. Sadly, in this case, it could not.
     The interior was a favorite around our office. The features and amenities were of excellent craftsmanship for a family vehicle. The layout was easy on the eyes and very readable. Control placement was easy to learn. The upper instrument panel is molded from a soft touch plastic and had a rich feeling to it. Wood trim pieces were inlayed on and below the dashboard and the wood had a deep dark grain to it. The shifter provided a comfortable perch for my right hand and slid though its actions with smooth mechanical effort. While a fine tranny, it can never replace the feeling of a stick shifter in your palm, the fore-aft action of the Tiptronic just doesn’t do it for me. The red info screen placed in the instrument cluster is directly from Audi’s parts bin, but it is nice to see that type of tech filter down. The seats were wrapped in a fine Anthracite colored leather and were deeply sculpted. And for a compact car, I never felt too tight inside, in any of the seats—though I am only of moderate height and weight stature.
     Dynamically, for the family sedan that the Jetta is, it is an astute little car. The chassis is solid, with nary a whimper or groan over Michigan frost heaves and potholes. Bumps and dips in road surfaces were well insulated without being totally isolated from the driver, you still always knew what was going on down below. You could just plain feel a lot from the car. Which is why perhaps the engine didn’t sit well with me. The vibrations of five cylinders firing just never left me feeling at ease, most drivers will never notice this, however. The car did like to communicate to you what was going on at all times, and that was a good feeling. Turn-in and body motions were well controlled and crisp.
     Aside from our lack of amusement with the five-cylinder engine, the Jetta is a competent little car. As always VW has done a commendable job when it comes to overall craftsmanship. Our test sample Jetta base prices at $20,390, while our particular model rang the register at the tune of $26,740 after a package addition, which included the leather and wood trim, sound system, alloy wheels, as well as a few other power accessories. The six-speed Tiptronic transmission added $1,075. The styling substance may not be to everyone’s taste, nor should it be, but it is in no way a bad looking car. And it’s about the only VW showing sales increases these days. Be sure to check back for our coverage of the more powerful GLI variant.

The Good:
Well-built, roomy, practical.
The Bad:
Awkward profile, five-cylinder engine with low power and bad vibrations.
The Verdict:
A very practical car for the family, and most people will never notice anything disagreeable about the engine.


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