Road Test Reviews, Volkswagen

2006 VW Jetta 2.5 – Road Test

It’s been a number of years since I last drove a Volkswagen. I’ve always liked them but never really had the urge to put my hands in my pocket and pay for one. I always found another car to lust after with my own money. I know several people that actually own one or more, and they are very passionate about their love of the brand/car. They usually don’t settle for one – there’s usually another one to replace the last and it happens perpetually.

For the sake of journalism, I had to find out what the big deal was/is with Volkswagen. Why this cult-like mentality? Saturn owners yell from the rooftops how great and inspiring their cars are, but VW people just go quietly about their business not saying anything. I had to find out what the deal was.

Also, when on the freeway, why is it there’s always someone in Golf or Jetta buzzing along – going somewhere – that they just HAVE to get there fast. You’ve seen them – bobbing in and out of traffic, not going too fast to draw attention, but going faster than you are, and actually working their way to the front of the line of cars blocking your forward progress. Why and how do they do it?

I’ll answer the last question first, because they can. Within 10 minutes of jumping behind the wheel of the 2006 Jetta 2.5 I was doing the same thing! I was weaving and bobbing through traffic like it was a game. I was having so much fun I missed my connection to another freeway. This car is a treat to drive. It’s not blindingly fast, but when you touch the “go pedal” it’s off like a rabbit – it’s like it anticipated your move and it’s ready to go when you are.

The 2.5-litre, in-line 5 cylinder engine is rated at 150 hp, with 170-lb ft torque at 3,750 rpm and is mated to a 5 speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission is available as an option. Fuel consumption is rated identical for both transmissions. Putting the shifter into 1st gear sounded rough but didn’t feel rough – it actually felt smooth. The clutch is very light and smooth to operate with it catching very near the end of the release. Launching in first gear was often tricky, with the clutch being grabby, and 3rd to 4th gear was sometimes a little less than smooth. By revving the engine over 4,000 rpm and closer to 5,000 it helped make the gear changes smoother, although the engine sounded a little rougher. Passengers unaware of the type of driving required may think you’re being too racy or over reaching the engine. Overall the gearbox was average, just not up to Honda’s slick and smooth operation.

The close spacing of the 5 forward gears helped propel the Jetta to over-the-limit speeds easily and quickly, I was forever having to double-check my speed because the car is so much fun to drive. After my wife had a trip or two driving it, I was worried she wouldn’t give it back to me and that she’d come home with a speeding ticket!. Every time she got out of the car she had a big grin on her face, she actually preferred it to the Mazda6 we had a couple of weeks ago. Her big complaints were the gearbox/clutch combo, the fob was irritating because it didn’t always work properly, the cruise control lever kept getting in the way and the center armrest being flimsy enough that she thought she’d break it at some point. I didn’t have a problem with the cruise control lever, but everything else I agree with. Her comment … “ Driver’s Wanted? … I’ll volunteer! :O) “ She even left for work early so she could take the “long way” there!

Volkswagen model years are measured in decades, not 4-year cycles like Honda and Hyundai. This can be both a plus and a minus. In a positive way the car you buy today will still be a “new” model well into the next decade or century. On the negative side, what’s the point in getting a new version every 8 or 9 years when you can wait a couple more and the new, new one will be out? Although the last-generation Jetta was around since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, I think it was still a great looking car right up until it was replaced. When I heard the new Jetta was about to come to North America I wondered how VW could top the styling. Well I think they’ve done a great job of retaining the look of the previous Jetta and at the same time kicking it up a notch. This new design will probably be around ‘til pigs fly, but I’m sure it’ll still sell and look timeless when it’s eventually replaced.

Jetta Models/Options –
Volkswagen has made the base model a 2.5 litre in-line 5 cylinder model and the up-level version a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder turbo. I don’t remember ever seeing a manufacturer giving the base models a bigger engine than the more expensive variety. The logic however is apparent when you look at the horsepower numbers. The base in-line 5 has 150 hp, whereas the turbo gets 200 hp. Moving up to the turbo will cost another $3,300 [$3,075 CDN] for the extra 50 hp. Getting the equivalent Luxury Leather Package costs $275 more in the turbo too ($5,400 versus $5,125). A Diesel version is also offered in the Jetta.

The 2.5 starts off with 15” H rated rubber, with 16” wheels available in a package deal. The heated outside mirrors have turn signals incorporated into them – something that comes standard and is usually only found on much more expensive vehicles. Another surprise was the heated windshield washer nozzles, something that will be a huge interest to those living in colder climates.

More standard features include: automatic climate control, cruise control, Alarm/Anti-theft immobilizer, a full and comprehensive instrument cluster, the very cool folding keys with a built-in FOB (the panic button is on the side – not the usual spot other manufacturers put it so you can accidentally set off the alarm), a glove box with a light and a temperature control (and it’s big enough to get more than one glove into it), Automatic door locks (I hated the non-unlock feature, but it can be programmed at the dealership to unlock all the doors when the key is removed). The Central Locking also allows you to open/close the door and windows using the FOB (although I couldn’t get it to
work for me), 2 power outlets in the car and one in the trunk – brilliant!

Even more standard features include: Heated front seats with a terrific lumbar adjustment, 8-way manual driver seat is standard with a 12-way powered one in the package, 60/40 rear split folding seats, Blinker lane-change feature – you tap the lever once and the turn signals flash 3 times – a great feature that’s redundant in Quebec/NYC ;>), Tilt and Telescopic steering, One-touch drivers and passenger power window (up and down), ABS, EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), EBA (Electronic Brake Assist) and Traction Control,

That’s a lot of standard features – no wonder there’s only a couple of packages available to personalize your Jetta.

Once again manufacturers have different packages for the U.S. and Canada. I’ve tried to match the two as closely as possible for options and prices. Some standard items in Canada are optional in the U.S. but basically, the same cars are priced very close together when optioned in the same manner.
Value Edition (2.5 base model) starts at: $17,900
The regular 2.5 starts at: $20,290 and the Turbo starts at: $23,590

Package #1 w/XM Satellite Radio adds $1,600 and gives you:
Power Tilt & Slide Glass Sunroof w/Manual Sunshade, Cold Weather Package, Heated Front Seats, Heated Windshield Washer Nozzles & XM Satellite Radio.

Package #2 w/XM Satellite Radio costs $3,485 and includes: Package #1 w/XM Satellite Radio plus Climatronic Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Highline Instrument Display w/Trip Computer & 12-Way Power Adjustable Driver’s Seat

A 6-Speed Automatic w/Tiptronic is an additional $1,075.
The first package (Luxury Package) offers 16” wheels, moonroof and chrome exterior window trims. That’s $2,075. The other is the Premium Leather Package. Added to the Luxury Package, you get leather seats, steering wheel and a handbrake lever. A rear center armrest with passthrough, multifunction steering wheel, HomeLink, 12-way drivers seat, rear sunshade, trip computer with compass and a “Premium” stereo with an in-dash 6 CD changer. That’ll set you back $5,125.

Available options on all Jetta’s are Xenon headlights at $750, ESP (Electronic Stability Program) $450 and Side Curtain airbags $250. If you want Side Curtain airbags and Rear Side Air Bags that’ll cost you $450.

The Jetta also comes with a 4-year roadside assistance program, 4-year new vehicle warranty, a 5-year power train warranty, and a 12-year corrosion warranty. Obviously, VW stand behind their vehicles in this day and age. I like the 4-year roadside assistance and 4-year warranty – too many times you get a 4-year lease and the warranty and roadside assistance only last 3!
One thing I like to have a look at when I get a vehicle for a road test is the owner’s manual. A lot of the time I find items that are not always obvious are mentioned in the manual, as well as instructions on how to work things as in the case of the locking/unlocking feature where you can open and close the windows and moonroof with the fob – or another thing, like changing the clock from military time to regular 12-hour time. Unfortunately, someone saw fit to remove the English manual and leave the French one there instead. I have neither the desire nor the interest in ever learning French, so I threw the manual into the trunk – it was taking up valuable space in the glove box. It’s very unfortunate because I do like to peruse the manual and find little tit-bits you don’t find in the press releases or brochures

The seat/steering set up in the Jetta is superb. It’s very easy to get comfortable and everything you need is within arms reach. The premium stereo system is very good. I really liked the way the pre-set buttons had the station’s call number and ID name incorporated in the display. I found a couple of stations that also broadcast the name of the song and the artist. At night the dashboard lights all light up in a combination of red and blue. The first time I switched the lights on at night and everything lit up at once both my wife and I went ”Ooooh” at the same time – small things amuse small minds I guess. All the buttons were back-lit. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a car where every button that should have been back-lit was back-lit! Kudos to VW for finally getting it right – everyone else take note.

The moonroof operation was a little different too. Instead of the usual button, VW have put a dial on the ceiling. You rotate the dial to whichever setting you want and forget about it. If you want it fully open, rotate it and forget it. If it’s in the vent option and you want the roof fully open just dial in the fully open notch and it takes care of it for you – no need to close it and then open it all the way – very handy.

Rear seat accommodation is generous and comfortable for 2, but not 3 people. Entry and exit is effortless. Once back there, 2 passengers have generous leg, knee, shoulder and hip room as long as the center armrest isn’t being used. It’s a very large armrest that also includes the only cupholders for rear passengers. A locking pass-through is also included in the armrest for long items like skis or such.

The front passenger seat is also very comfortable. It has plenty of adjustments to get comfortable and also a lumbar support – something most manufactures continually overlook – why is the front passengers comfort less important than the drivers? Trunk space is very good. There’s more room in there than several much larger cars I’ve looked at.

Noise levels are very good. Travelling at much higher-than-posted speed limits it was quiet and hushed. It also handled very well; it felt extremely well-built and solid. It gave you a complete sense of safety and the confidence to take corners at speeds you wouldn’t normally try. I loved the suspension/steering combination, truly first-class. Jumping into my 2-year-old SUV after a week with the Jetta and I felt like I was driving a model T.

The Jetta 2.5 is a terrific car and you must put it on your road test list if you’re in the market for a 4-door car. I think the biggest challenge for me would be whether to spring for the leather and all the goodies that make up the Premium Leather Package. With so much included in the base price, is it worth paying out the additional $5,000+ for that? Only you know the answer to that question – I don’t know if I would. Going with the Luxury Package for me would be a must-pass. More than $2,000 for chrome trim around the doors, a moonroof and bigger wheels is a bit steep from my viewpoint. I would maybe go for it at $1,500. By eliminating the Premium Leather Package you also eliminate the folding armrest in the back that takes up so much room when it’s in use.

Volkswagen have put together a superb car in the Jetta, however when comparing it to other cars in its segment I feel the price is on the high side. It seems to span the little space between small and medium sized cars in size, but climbs right into the larger sized cars when it comes to the almighty dollar. It’s in a unique area and I’m not sure how many people would see the benefits it offers if they base the Jetta on price alone, which let’s face it – it’s a big issue to most of us – those monthly payments. It’s competition is the Honda Civic, but it’s priced at the Acura end of the scale. For just a couple thousand dollars more you’re into BMW, Audi and Volvo territory. That’s a tough place to be.

Pricing for the Jetta 2.5:
As tested: approx. $23,775 [$30,100 CDN]
Base price starts at: $17,900 [$24,975 CDN], with the 2.0 Turbo starting at $23,590 [$27,700 CDN]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Inline 5 is rated at 22 mpg City [10.8 L/100 kms] and 32 mpg Highway [7.2 L/100 kms]
I averaged just over 27 mpg [8.7 L/100 kms] combined driving – outstanding considering the type of driving the Jetta encourages

0 – 60 mph times from VW are: 5-speed Manual – N/A (I’d guess in the low 7’s), Automatic – 9.1 seconds,
The turbo versions are: 6.7 & 6.9 seconds

Superb fuel economy
Plenty of zip and loads of fun to drive
Loaded with safety features
The feeling of a good solidly built car
Did I mention Fun-To-Drive?

It’s a 4-seater, not a 5
Gearbox wasn’t silky-smooth
Price could make or break the number of purchases

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Yes and No. It’s a fantastic car and at $25,000 a very good price considering the content and safety items that come standard. At $30,000+ I’m not so sure. If it was fully loaded at $25,000 CDN [$20,000 U.S.], I think VW would be selling them with no discounts and people would pay list price for it.

Back Seat Driver Test: 7 out of 10
Comfortable with lots of space for toes, legs and shoulder room as long as there’s no more than 2 people back there. There’s a hump in the floor (odd considering it’s front wheel drive) that seriously restricts foot space for the middle occupant. The armrest with cup holders is huge – so big in fact that it eats into back room space for passengers and makes it very difficult to buckle the seatbelt. Other than in the armrest there’s no cup holder’s back there. The storage/center armrest from the front infringes too far into the rear making it impossible for someone to sit on the middle hump with nowhere to put your feet.

Immediate Competition:
Audi A3 and A4, Honda Civic and Accord, Ford Focus and Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Magentis, Mazda 3 & 6, MINI, Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Corolla & Camry, Acura CSX, Chevy Malibu, Mercedes B200, Nissan Altima, Pontiac Pursuit & G6, Subaru Impreza & Legacy.

By The Numbers…
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof etc)

9 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
6 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
8 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy

134 Total / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

Also Published at: PaddockTalk