The Volkswagen Jetta is a mid-size sedan. It was completely redesigned for the 2005 model year, the GLI was added for 2006, and the SportWagen joined the lineup for 2008.
Compared to the pre-2005 Jetta, the current generation has a longer wheelbase and wider track and is the biggest Jetta ever. It's also the heaviest, tipping the scales at 3,200 pounds. That extra mass was put to good use, however, with greatly improved structural rigidity, a larger trunk and more interior room, particularly for rear seat passengers.
When looking at the Jetta, the eye is immediately drawn to its big, chrome-framed front grille. Chrome is also used in the eyebrows atop the air inlets in the front bumper and, on the SE and SEL, for the side-window surrounds.
The next most striking design element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the hood and snout. Compared to other recent nose-forward designs, the Jetta's composite headlights and various inlets and grilles are well integrated into the raked rearward flow of its form. A striking vee, created by the slant of the headlamps and sloping hood lines, is carried strongly toward the rear by the steeply raked windshield and character lines running along the flanks.
The tail is a major departure from previous Jetta styling. Larger tail light clusters, now divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving it a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. The round tail lights and brake lights have been singled out as the new Jetta's most derivative design statement. Critics claim they give this Jetta a blander, more Japanese look than previous models.
SportWagen hatches carry a small spoiler at the top of the roof and a rear wash/wipe system that clears every part of the glass you might look through. Tail lamps wrap well into the rear side panels but no lights are in the hatch so rear visibility is not compromised loading in the dark.
In addition to their 17-inch wheels, SEL models are distinguished by body-colored valences front and rear. More distinctive is the GLI, with a blacked-out honeycomb grille underlined by a red-pinstripe smile, and foglights integrated into matching honeycomb panels in the lower fascia. Lower body trim is blacked out all around, and red brake calipers show through visually massive five-spoke alloy wheels.
Volkswagen and Audi interiors are often the benchmark for other manufacturers because their designers accomplish more with less, combining expensive-looking materials with simple, attractive styling and excellent ergonomics. The result tends to be inviting cabins that are pleasant places to spend time. This holds true in the Jetta.
Even the base model's seat contours provide a high degree of support. The seats are easy to adjust with manual controls, and the adjustable steering column and height-adjustable safety belt help drivers of all sizes get comfortable. The thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by separate, large dials for the tachometer and speedometer, well shaded from ambient light by a curved cowl. In daylight the graphics read white on black, at night changing to white on soothing swimming-pool blue with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within the tachometer and speedometer are warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left opened after refueling. A large electronic message pad sits dead center, just over the water temperature and fuel gauges. In addition to more warning and diagnostic symbols, on SEL and GLI this display includes trip computer readouts. The red graphics on the pad are quite readable in the daylight but glow too brightly at night, even at the dimmest setting.
The trip computer's data are accessed by one of three levers mounted on the steering column (or with the available multi-function steering wheel buttons). Jutting to the right, this lever also operates the wiper/washer system. To the left are the levers for the turn signals/headlamp flashers and cruise control. Though easy to use, the levers feel flimsy and are one of the few interior elements that have a cheap, plasticky look. The headlight switch sits on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.
Stereo buttons, which surround the stereo's own display screen in the center stack, are in full view, a setup we prefer over hidden controls. Unfortunately, the display's graphics are not easily discernible in daylight. At night, though, the display reverts to the trademark VW blue backlighting and is easily read. The steering wheel buttons on high-line models can be used to operate a phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system.
Just below the stereo, the manual Climatic heating and air conditioning is operated via a rotary dial on the left for temperature, one in the middle for fan speed, and a third on the right for directing the air in the cabin. The more automatic Climatronic system is no longer available.
The switch for the outside mirrors and the power window switches are on the driver's door armrest, within easy reach and sight. The windows feature anti-pinch protection and one-touch up or down. As a further convenience, they can also be opened or closed, along with the sunroof, with the master key in the driver's door lock.
The center console extends between the front seats and includes a covered storage bin, two cupholders, a power outlet and climate system vents for the rear passengers. A small ceiling console, just aft of the rearview mirror, holds a pair of reading lights, the sunroof's rotary switch, interior light switches, a sunglasses bin and ambient lighting elements that softly illuminate the dash area at night. Other nice touches include sun visors that slide on rods to extend their reach over most of the side window, and well-lighted vanity mirrors.
The GLI interior is a bit dressier than the standard cabin thanks to additional touches of bright metal on the dash and center stack. The sport seat fabric is a plaid-like material that harkens back to previous interior designs from VW, and it may not be to everyone's taste. The durable-feeling leather that's now only available