A car known for its youth appeal, the Jetta has taken a more mature turn with the redesigned fifth-general iteration. Gone is the Teutonic styling, once elegant in its stark, purposeful appearance, replaced by a more staid, Japanese-influenced design. That slippery sheetmetal skins a larger, roomier sedan with more power, chassis sophistication, and refinement than its predecessors, making it a fitting tribute to celebrate the nameplate's 25th anniversary in the United States. The new Jetta launched in March 2005 with a 2.5-liter/150-horse five-cylinder engine mated either to a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission in Value Edition and 2.5 models. The I-5 was later joined by an available turbodiesel, and eventually a 200-horse turbo I-4 in the sporty GLI model. Engineered as an enthusiast's car, this is the first Jetta with an independent rear suspension, providing improved ride and handling. Fun is balanced with responsibility, as the Jetta has a lengthy roster of passive safety equipment.
Where the old Jetta looked like a baby BMW, the new one looks like an overgrown Toyota Corolla dressed in papa Passat's clothes. The most distinctive feature is the new-generation Volkswagen chromed grille surround, destined to shape the front of future VW models. A tasteful beltline runs the sedan's length, with blistered wheel arches and chrome window trim conveying sophistication. Based on the latest "A" platform, shared with the all-new Golf V, the Jetta has grown 7 inches in bumper-to-bumper length, for a total of 179.3, and it rides on a 2.6-inch longer wheelbase, at 101.5 inches. True to the name, Value Edition models are fitted with wimpy-looking, 15-inch steel wheels (appealing to buyers likely to upgrade to aftermarket wheels), while 1.9 TDI and 2.5 models have 16-inch wheels and tires. The cars look more imposing, though, on the optional, dealer-installed 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The larger shell and lengthened wheelbase allow for a more voluminous interior, addressing a previous-generation weakness. Front-seat passengers enjoy 38.5 inches of headroom and 41.2 inches of legroom, while rear riders get 37.2 and 35.4, respectively. In back, that's nearly an inch more legroom than in the previous model. The EPA classifies the Jetta as a compact, with 91 cubic feet of interior room and 16 cubic feet of trunk space. The exterior and interior dimensions are near-matches for those of the Toyota Corolla, though the Jetta has notably greater trunk space. Interior fits, materials, and finishes are first rate, more redolent of a luxury model than a compact, relatively affordable car. The design is very attractive, too, with lots of chrome and available wood trim.
Standard equipment is relatively generous, with a three-spoke steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, eight-way seat adjustment, and a 10-speaker radio/CD player. Other features include power mirrors, a split folding rear seat, and a two-way adjustable steering wheel.
Climatronic automatic air conditioning is standard on the 2.5 and TDI, along with heated front seats. Four-way power lumbar support, leather seating surfaces, and ash wood trim are optional. If you're prepared to check all the options boxes, a Jetta can be made very luxurious--but the price quickly crosses that of the Jetta's decidedly more upscale platformmate, the Audi A3.