Educated and engineered in Germany, manufactured all over the world. This is as global as parts-bin assembly can get – Germanness is secondary.
Cars from Germany have the image of being state-of-the-art, the industry benchmark and performance oriented, namely, BMW in high quality, Mercedes-Benz in luxury and Porsche in performance. They are also the dipsticks of your wealthiness.
Germany is also home to the greatest inventors and engineers in the automotive field. Car enthusiasts worship them as gods: Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel, Nikolaus August Otto, and Felix Heinrich Wankel. They had originated the diesel, 4-stroke otto cycle and wankel rotary engines, respectively. If the Germans can’t do it, probably no one else can. Historically, new gadgets on a BMW 7-series or Mercedes-Benz S-class would often become the industrial norm few years after they became available to the market.
Volkswagen in contrast is an aspirant of German engineering in an affordable way to support what its name is translated into German – the people’s car. Being the third largest automobile manufacturer, the VW Group has a very diverse product lineup to capture more market segments. To keep the cost down, batch engineering and gathering existing components from VW’s vast parts-bin is the key. While playing with the consumer’s mentality – by spending little more, you got a German car. In the case of the Jetta 2.5S, this Germanness comes in bits-and-pieces.
Volkswagen Jetta was first introduced to the North America market in 1979 as a subcompact by attaching a trunk to the Golf. As with the Golf, the Jetta was one of the pioneers offering front engine front wheel drive configuration. The Giorgetto Giugiaro design and Wolfsburg built Jetta enjoyed enormous success globally – particularly in countries favor traditional sedans.
European automakers tend to introduce new models less frequent than Asian makers. The 2010 Jetta is only the fifth iteration in its 30 years of model run. This 5th generation [chassis code: PQ35] is based on VW Group’s A5 platform, also known as the Mark V in the VW world. It debuted in early 2005 as a 2005 model. With the marketing of the Mark V focused in the land that craves for bigger-the-better, and emerging markets, the Mark V is noticeably larger than its predecessor. Mark V has grown 6.7” in length and stretched out the wheelbase by 2.8”, resulting in a 2.6” gain in rear legroom. Growth in width and height were kept more conservatively at 1.2” and 0.8”, respectively. Coefficient of drag is 0.31. Got some junk for the trunk? The Mark V has generous 16 cubic feet of trunk volume, one of the biggest in the compact segment. In total, it gained a porky 300Ibs; curb weight is now 3285Ibs.
Compare to the 2005MY, the 2010 Jetta has increased 20hp and 7Ib-ft of torque along with an updated instrument cluster. The 2010MY sedan comes in four trim levels: S(base), SE, SEL and TDI. The trims other than the TDI are equipped with standard 2.5L engine and a choice of 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The most distinction comes from the TDI’s 2.0L 4-cylinder direct injected turbo diesel engine that pumps out 140hp and 236Ib-ft of torque, achieving 30/43 city and freeway EPA MPG rating. The TDI can be equipped with 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG. Station wagon is also available.
The tester in Black Uni paint is the 2.5S model with 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. It has MSRP at $19,405 and is assembled in Puebla, Mexico along side with the New Beatle and Golf.
Exterior – the Corolla lookalike
Approaching the car from its quarter panel, I had difficulty distinguishing the Jetta from a Corolla nearby. One must have 20/20 vision to pick out which is what from a distance. The rear styling, side profile and headlights are almost mirror to the Corolla. You could simply place the Toyota Corolla emblems onto the Jetta and call it the next generation Corolla. The appearance of the dual exhaust tips and chrome VW front end design cue are the only European similitude.
To ease the itchiness from our head-scratching on this resemblance, our research indicates the Corolla was introduced to the masses two years after the Mark V. The suspicious impersonator is apparent. Maybe we should ask why the Corolla looks like a Jetta instead. I thought the VW Group designer has jumped ship to Kia not Toyota.
The mentioning of Corolla should readily suggest the Jetta’s exterior styling is as conservative as a sedan can get. It’s simply a basic three compartment sedan design. Style and sedan can’t probably coexist in one sentence – take a look at the most criticized Porsche Panamera.
Interior – does it have any other commonality with Corolla?
Closing the solid door as you are situated into the cockpit, you will realize the driver seat is made from grippy cloth fabric with nice stitching. The seats are supportive, body hugging and offer great adjustability – the first signs of Germanness. The height adjustment on the seat can be adjusted as high as you feel like you are driving a minivan or as low as a race car. Only recline adjustments are powered for both driver and passenger in the S model. With the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, finding proper driving position is a breeze. Interior is very nicely put together. Workmanship is excellent.
Placing the foldable key into the ignition, sending signals through the Controller Area Network (CAN) buses that are capable of transmitting 500 kilobytes of data per second throughout the car, the handsome gauge cluster comes alive. The large LCD screen between the analog tachometer and speedometer is very legible regardless lighting condition and high quality appearance – must be taken out from an Audi. The screen splits into three sections, the top hosts the clock and displays gear position, the middle is ambient temperature, bottom is trip and odometer. The problem here in the 2.5S is that it only displays very limited information. Fancy looking but lack of function is the definition of “riceboy”.
Some of the switchgears in the cockpit aren’t intuitive to use – head-scratching for the most part, if you are accustomed to the cars from the Pacific side of the globe. No wonder the owner’s manual is written in such a way as if the Jetta is your very first car. The wiper stalk being on when lifted up is completely in reverse to the Asian cars. The intermittent adjustment instead of a twist switch is a left-and-right toggle switch on top of the lever.
Cruise control is also a toggle switch built into the turn signal lever; cost saving for the steering wheel mounted unit? However, when grown accustom to the culture shock, we found the beauty of operating the toggle switches with finger tips while hands remain at the 9 and 3 o’clock position on the wheel. Another constant reminder that German engineering is at play is from the blinker control stalk with lane change feature (one tap on lever creates a 3-blink sequence). All the switchgears maneuver with quality feel.
What other fancy gadgets we got here? On the center console, the neon blue screen of the AM/FM/CD player caught our eyes. The color is sticking out like a sore thumb in an orange lighting theme interior. Like its appearance, the operation scheme is a joke. The not-so-often used functions: tremble, bass, balance, fader adjustments are controlled by 4 large buttons on the face. But the basic function of changing sound track is as clear as mud. The standard 8-speaker sound system offers only standard sound. Bass is weak. Mid range sounds hollow. High note is lack of dynamic. Some 4-speaker system can sound better. Absolutely cost cutting! Enticing for upgrade to touch screen unit in the SE or above trim? Options costing an-arm-and-a-leg is another sign of Germanness.
Another annoyance is the passenger side airbag ON/OFF light being located high in the center console. What’s the point of consistently reminding us the airbag is on or off? Is it really that critical? It is not something the driver has much control on. During night time driving, it could cause screen burn-in effect similar to a TV display at the cornea of your right eye.
Regardless, the mentioning of Corolla has ended.
Undercarriage – The PQ35 Platform
The undercarriage is often an abyss to the ordinaries. Peeking in this deep hole reveals components on the Jetta that are shared with other models. Those components such as the beefy front subframe are well made and engineered. Also, the exhaust is made from high quality steel and shows great welding workmanship. The structure receives extensive use of high strength steel and laser welding to increase dynamic and torsional rigidity.
The unibody platform is supported by 4-wheel independent suspensions that consist of MacPherson struts in the front and four-link in the rear with stabilizer bars fore and aft which totally deviate from the torsion bar setup in the past. The struts and shock absorbers are supplied by Sachs. This suspension layout has been the industrial norm in the recent years. The control arms connected to the beefy subframe are state-of-the-art feature in the compact car segment, where the subframe is benefitted from the Audi marque; the PQ35 platform underpins a large number of Audi/VW products: Audi A3, TT, Q3, VW Golf variance, Eos, Tiguan and Touran.
On the ground, the contact patch comes from a set of 205/55R16 Hankook Optimo H725A grand touring all-season low rolling-resistance tires mounted on steel rims in this 2.5S trim. Steering is provided by electro-mechanical rack and pinion power steering with three turns lock-to-lock and has a ratio of 16.4:1. The overall package is as ordinary as Berliner pastry in Germany.
Hubcap – Barbarian Motor Works
Steel rims and hubcaps are so barbaric in these days. Steel rims are heavier, weaker and can’t vent the brakes as efficient as alloy. Hubcaps are aesthetically displeasing, fly off easily and they are only perfect for those who can’t parallel park without curbing the rims. Alloy should be standard on any car over $15,000. Using steel rims is a way for manufacturers to save money – who knows where else they skim the money on and also suggest the buyer has no preference on what they got.
Engine – the five banger
Under the hood is the 2.5L inline five-cylinder 20-valve DOHC aluminum head cast iron block engine (engine code: CBUA) produces 170 hp @ 5,700 rpm and 177 Ib-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm. It features 82.5 x 92.8 mm bore and stroke undersquare layout with 9.5:1 compression and variable intake timing. A one piece cast iron 5-into-1 exhaust manifold with ceramic catalytic converter is bolted to the cylinder head. This head is found on one bank of the Lamborghini Gallardo’s V-10 engine. This engine has EPA Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) rating without losing any output compared to non-PZEV engines available in the non-PZEV states.
What is impressive is how the I-5 is shoehorned transversely in a compact. The package in the Jetta is engineered specifically for front wheel drive platform. The undersquare arrangement, cylinder-to-cylinder spacing is kept minimal and the cam timing gears are relocated to the transmission side to reduce overall power plant length. Perhaps the transmission is also shorter. The downside though is that the passenger-side drive-axle is much longer than the driver-side.
There are only a handful of cars equip with inline-5 cylinder engines. Most of them are European, more commonly found in Audi/VW and Volvo. Every so often, I-5 can be found in the Acura 2.5TL and Vigor, General Motor’s compact truck incest – Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Isuzu I-350, and Hummer H3. The most recent performance representative is a turbocharged I-5 sourced from Volvo in a Europe spec 2010 Ford Focus RS pumping out 305hp & 325Ib-ft of torque.
The I-5 engine is the compromise between an I-4 and I-6 engine for the aspects of packaging, performance and refinement. I-5 engines are shorter than I-6 which can fit in a smaller engine bay, in return, making transversely mounting in a compact car feasible. In performance aspect, an I-5 has less friction losses and is lighter than an I-6. The latter also favors front wheel drive layout. Noise, vibration and harshness are an improvement to bigger I-4 engines that have large second order vibration. I-5 has uneven third order vibration, however, thanks to power stroke overlap, I-5 can be relatively smooth at mid-range engine speed. The engine’s character hints the Jetta’s low 5,800rpm redline and harsh high rpm sound.
Performance advantage over I-4 engine lies on the fundamental principle of 4-stroke engine. I-5 has power stroke every 144 degrees of crank rotation versus I-4’s 180 degrees. Since power stroke lasts 180 degrees, there is a power overlap of 36 degrees which translates to power stroke is always in effect. I-4 has no power overlap to speak of.
Transmission – “Tiptronic” or “tiptronic”?
The engine is transversely mounted, driving the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic and Sport modes. Tiptronic is used to be a trademark owned by Porsche. With VW merged with Porsche, Tiptronic is now VW’s owned, otherwise licensee must use lower case “t”. The fundamental function of Tiptronic could have been state-of-the-art in the past but it has now become a common commodity in 90% of new cars with automatic transmission. There are currently no other compacts equipped with 6-speed AT in this segment that we know of.
Stopping Power – the ATE brakes
Germany is famous for its you-are-your-limit autobahn. General logic suggests that if a car can go fast, it better stops fast and confidently. Confidence comes from solid and easy to modulate pedal like an extension of your limb. But the stop pedal on the Jetta could make you stop at a different dealer next door.
Stopping mechanism comes from 11.3” x 1” vented front and 10.3” x 0.47” solid rear discs. It also equips with Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Engine Braking Assist (EBA) and Electronic Stability Program (ESP). Brake calipers are supplied by ATE.