When Volkswagen introduced its 2.5 liter 5 cylinder power plant as the base engine for the Jetta in 2005, it was a step up from the previous 4 cylinder engine, but it was still widely critiqued for offering less than stellar performance. For 2008, Volkswagen has re-tuned the engine, with 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque now available, up from 150 hp and 170 lb-ft. Although these might seem like modest gains, they provide big dividends when you punch the throttle. While not quite sports car quick, acceleration is brisk off the line, with the 6 speed automatic transmission working through the gears in quick succession. Once you get moving, all it takes is a downshift or two and there is plenty of power to make a quick pass or merge into traffic.
Although the improved performance of the engine/transmission was much appreciated, especially during spirited driving, there is still a lack of drive train refinement, especially compared with some of the products coming from Japan. The 5 cylinder engine gets thrashy when you start to approach the redline, and the transmission seemed a bit abrupt when shifting – especially at slower speeds.
Once you get out on the open road, the fact that the Jetta’s suspension was tuned on the autobahn will become very apparent. At slower speeds, the shocks almost feel too stiff and unforgiving, but at freeway speeds the suspension is nicely composed and controlled. Steering is also very solid and gives enough input so that the driver feels connected to the road, but not so much to make it jarring. Unlike some other compact sedans, which have a gotten a lot taller in height, the Jetta rides nice and low to the ground, which imparts an athletic, sporty feel.
Should you enter some twisty sections of road, don’t worry, because the Jetta is easily up to the challenge. Body roll is minimal and overall grip is quite good, being limited primarily by the all season Michelin tires and the somewhat heavy overall weight. And even if you start to loose traction, the car remains quite neutral at the limit and is easy to bring back in line.