Who's a typical Jetta driver? Hunt says they're demanding of themselves and their cars and that they are interested in engines, suspensions and torque. He said that while there's a big market out there for "appliance" motoring, the type of car you get in, drive and never think about, "We don't build cars for these people, we build them for those who look for the long way home."
Thanks to an all new independent rear suspension, if that route home has some twists and turns, those at the wheel of the new Jetta will be making the trip in less time and probably more often, just for the fun of it.
The suspension isn't the only thing that has changed . . . far from it, actually. The standard engine is a new 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder - the base engine in the previous Jetta was a four-cylinder - specifically developed for the North American market (the Jetta is also being sold overseas). Producing 150 horsepower, it emits a distinctive growl under full throttle. It's not as impressive for its power as it is for its smoothness, however.
A six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual control is the sole means of shifting, at least until the summer when a five-speed manual becomes available.
A significant array of new safety features includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, active head restraints and front, side-impact, side-curtain and rear side air bags. Traction and stability control (to keep the Jetta tracking straight) are on the menu, too.
Although primarily a premium compact, the new Jetta is aimed at a wide spectrum of competitors ranging from the Mazda3 to the Acura TSX and Volvo S40. To cover such a range, the Jetta will eventually come in a variety of driveline and trim configurations.
VW says the new Jetta is significantly larger than its predecessor: a whopping 7 inches longer, 1 inch wider and rides on a 3-inch-longer wheelbase. Both front and rear tracks (the distance between the wheels) are wider by more than an inch. Interior volume is only about 4.6 percent greater, with most of that increase coming from a taller roofline. There is slightly more legroom in the rear, but the back remains a little tight for full-size folks. The trunk, however, is even bigger than it was before.
According to Volkswagen, the chassis is much more rigid, which typically means a smoother, quieter and more controlled ride.
Since the new Jetta has been dangled in front of our noses for some time, many North Americans already had an idea of what the car was going to look like. The styling is somewhat generic, but there is no mistaking it for anything other than a VW from the front, where a giant nameplate is centered above a big chrome bar that separates the upper and lower portions of the grille. The look is classy with an interior that follows suit: a CD player and most power amenities arrive as standard equipment. Options include dual-zone climate control, heated seats with leatherette surfaces, rain-sensing wipers, power driver's seat, stability control and upgraded audio systems.
The new Jetta will be built in Mexico with the help of an $800 million plant makeover that includes a foundry to make the various engine parts.
It's a fitting salute to the Jetta's 25 years and signals the faith that VW has in its small sedan with a big heart.
Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications