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Second-hand: 2006-2008 VW Jetta

Jetta refined but fails reliability test, So much for German quality.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

So Volkswagen plans on overtaking Toyota as the world’s largest automaker by 2018. Before it orders the balloons and confetti, VW should take notice of its dealers’ crowded service departments.

According to J.D. Power and Associates’ latest vehicle dependability study, which surveyed 46,000 original owners of three-year-old models, Volkswagen ranked near the bottom, with 260 reported problems per 100 vehicles, considerably more than the industry average of 170. It’s sobering news for an automaker that touts “German engineering” as some kind of panacea. The firm’s mantra didn’t escape the wrath of some owners.

“Had to replace an engine control module and the cruise-control electronics,” posted the owner of a 2008 Jetta with just 1,000 kilometres. “So much for German quality.”

CONFIGURATION

Assembled by Mexican robots, the fifth-generation Jetta went on sale in the U.S. before any other country in spring 2005, highlighting the importance of the American market to the model’s success.

The new-for-2006 Jetta was 170 mm longer, 30 mm wider and had a wheelbase 70 mm longer than the outgoing model – almost all of it dedicated to adding rear legroom.

One major change to the front-drive sedan was the introduction of a multilink independent rear suspension, which was almost identical in design to the one used in the Ford Focus (VW reportedly recruited the same Ford engineers).

Nowhere does the Jetta telegraph its upmarket aspirations better than in its furnishings. The new interior featured tight tolerances and low-gloss plastics. The nicely sculpted seats were mounted high and the classy cabin showed off a two-tone dashboard and eye-pleasing lighting.

Unfortunately, the enlarged Jetta had gained 130 kg. To lug that extra mass around, VW specified a five-cylinder engine for the base model – essentially one-half of a Lamborghini 5.0 L V10.

But drivers hoping for half of the Lambo’s 493 hp were out of luck. The Jetta 2.5 made a measly 148 hp and 168 lb.-ft. of torque.

For the high-zoot GLI model, engineers tapped the corporate 197 hp, 2.0 L turbocharged four with direct-fuel injection. The gasoline spray’s cooling effect on combustion permitted a relatively high compression ratio of 10.3:1. Peak torque of 207 lb.-ft. was attained at just 1800 rpm. The TDI retained its familiar 1.9 L turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, good for 100 hp.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard, while a six-speed automatic with a manual shift gate was optional. The TDI got Volkswagen’s Sequential Manual Transmission, a manual gearbox with no clutch pedal that could also emulate an automatic. A six-speed manual stick accompanied the 2.0T.

Every Jetta came with standard antilock four-wheel disc brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, front side airbags and curtain airbags.

The Jetta changed little for 2007. The TDI model became scarce as the U.S. government tightened its diesel emissions standards and VW had not yet released its urea-based NOX scrubber.

The 2008 Jetta 2.5 squeezed more power from its engine, gaining 20 horses for a total of 170 hp.

ON THE ROAD

Drivers found the Jetta’s ride to be firm and well controlled.

Handling is its strong suit, with quick, precise steering and minimal body roll.

The base 2.5 model was scarcely a ‘bahn burner, with a zero-to-96 km/h time of 9.2 seconds with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic (a second quicker with the five-speed manual).

The GLI with the 2.0 L turbo gasoline engine took just 6.8 seconds to reach highway velocity.

The old-tech TDI took 10.3 seconds, thanks to its prodigious 177 lb.-ft. of torque and optional six-speed, dual-clutch direct shift gearbox.

Where the Jetta falls, at least in base form, is its disappointing fuel consumption.

The oddball five-cylinder engine is fond of gasoline, owners griped.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Drivers praised the Jetta for its class-leading steering, braking and handling. The latest generation has upped the refinement and appointments to entry-luxury-car levels. But it’s reliability that’s always top of mind for second-hand buyers.

The most unsettling find in our scan of owners’ posts was the Jetta 2.0T’s tendency to consume oil.

“I recently realized it guzzles oil like crazy. I added over two quarts of oil before finally getting a reading on the stick,” read one complaint on the web about a common problem.

Those who pushed the issue with their dealer have had piston rings replaced under warranty.

The Jetta is hard on its brakes, say owners, with pad-and-rotor replacement coming early, and sometimes at the rear wheels before the front, a function of the car’s stability program.

Other complaints include a troublesome electrical system, errant sensors, bad transmissions and turbos, poor paint and lousy radios.

Diesel owners grumble that the fuel savings are eaten up by the TDI’s expensive service regimen.

The last word goes to a frustrated owner who posted a rejoinder to an old VW tagline: “I’m `farfromgroovin’ right now!”

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Ford Mustang, Nissan Maxima and GMC Canyon. Email toljagic@ca.inter.net

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