2006 Volkswagen Jetta

2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2006 Volkswagen Jetta
First Drive Review

Volkswagen has long known of the Jetta's unique appeal in the U.S. Since its inception in 1980, the Jetta has been nearly identical to the hatchback Rabbit and Golf, yet it handily outsells the Golf here. The critical difference is the trunk.

In our culture, grafting a trunk onto a hatchback is almost akin to welding a safe to the car: It will protect our stuff and give the impression that we have stuff that necessitates safekeeping even if we're just hauling rusty jumper cables and a broken ice scraper. Adding to the perception that the Jetta is a premium compact is the fact that it is the least expensive German sedan in a world where German cars are status symbols.

Now in its fifth iteration, the Jetta continues to be fundamentally a betrunked Golf, but the base model now steps up in size, power, and refinement, making it a more legitimate member of the German-sedan family. We flew down Mexico way to drive some of the first fifth-generation Jettas off the line.

The base car now proceeds with more pace, owing to a new 2.5-liter 20-valve inline five-cylinder. If you're wondering what orifice VW pulled this engine out of, look to a bull named Gallardo for the answer. That's right. The five-cylinder is essentially half the Lamborghini Gallardo's 5.0-liter V-10. Even the bore and stroke are the same. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end. If you were hoping for half of the Lambo's 493 horsepower, you'll be disappointed by the Jetta's 148 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. This five-cylinder's power figures are a useful improvement over the previous Jetta's paltry base 115-horse four-cylinder, but why is a four-valve DOHC engine making only 59.7 horsepower per liter?

The Jetta does benefit from an optional six-speed automatic, and its closely spaced ratios make the most of the available power. Peak torque is on hand at 3750 rpm, and first gear is low enough so the Jetta will step away from stoplights with a brief scramble of wheelspin if you slam the throttle. Horsepower peaks at only 5000 rpm, and the redline comes at a raucous 5900 rpm. Drive the Jetta like it's a sports car, and the engine's tiresome whirring thrum will make you think you've developed a case of tinnitus. With a claimed 0-to-60 time of 9.1 seconds for the five-cylinder automatic, this Jetta will not be winning many stoplight drag races, unless the race is with the 99-hp diesel version.