Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm Liking the VW Jetta ... Except The Front Grille

Volkswagen is having its problems these days with slumping sales in some markets and draconian cost-cutting measures being implemented at the factory but such difficulties have not prevented the birth of the best Jetta ever.

I say the best ever despite the fact I don’t especially care for the Audi-inspired front end styling and a paucity of rear-seat passenger room. Completely redesigned for 2006, the new Jetta is a superb entry level German sports sedan.

The first key to the new Jetta’s charm is its ability to straighten out curvy roads and leap down straights with joyful abandon. Thanks to a delightful 200 horsepower 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder and six-speed DSG transmission, 0-60 mph romps are routinely accomplished in 6.65 seconds.

VW’s turbo four has long been one of the most enjoyable powerplants on the market and, despite the bigger Jetta’s increased curb weight (now up to 3,200 pounds), the engine provides excellent power across a wide powerband. EPA says to expect 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

The second key to the Jetta’s charms is the way it handles. The rear suspension is extensively revised, as is the front, and it shows in the alacrity with which it turns in and tracks through a corner taken with enthusiasm. In the city, the Jetta feels smaller than it is. It’s just plain fun to drive, even in heavy traffic.

The interior layout is typical VW, which is to say a nice combination of real wood, chrome and soft plastics with well-placed comprehensive instrumentation and switching.

My only complaint about the interior is the driver’s seat took a little time to get adjusted properly and the rear seating area forces passengers to endure too little knee and elbow room. On the other hand, at 16 cubic feet, the trunk is cavernous for a compact sports sedan, so you lose something in one area and gain in another.

Now, as far as the exterior styling is concerned, the large-mouth bass look of the front grille just doesn’t do it for me. Otherwise, the front end has an aggressive, forward-reaching look to it but I keep coming back to that oversized grille.

From the side and rear-three quarter views, the Jetta has a more substantial, almost hefty feel to its appearance. VW marketers hope that heftiness will be perceived in the marketplace as evidence of a more upscale Jetta.