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#154 of 203 2005 New Jetta 2.5
May 14, 2005 (2:16 pm)
First things first... Note to VW: WHY WHY WHY did you confuse everyone by giving the all-new Jetta the same model year as the old Jetta? Oh sure, this is the new Jetta, so that makes everything hunky-dory, doesn't it? When people buy one, what are they going to tell their friends? "Hey, I just bought a new New Jetta!" Doesn't that sound a little ridiculous? This is something that an automaker like Kia would do (and did). Do you want to get a reputation as a follower of Kia?
OK, now that I have that out of my system, on to the review. I drove a New Jetta 2.5 with no options. I actually wanted to drive the Value Edition, but they only had one and it was on the show floor. The test car was Platinum Gray with a gray interior. About as nondescript and boring a combination as you can get on a car, but quite tasteful on this not-so-little-anymore sedan. Automobile Magazine et. al. have noted that the New Jetta bears a strong resemblance to a Corolla. I agree. But the New Jetta looks more substantial than a Corolla, and it has that swath of chrome up front that makes me think either VW just bought a chromium mine or has developed sudden pangs of nostalgia for those halcyon days of big chrome-fendered cars. Personally I don't like all the chrome, but it didn't stand out much on the gray test car.
The first impression I got upon approaching the New Jetta (after thinking about a late 50s Buick) was, "This is a big car", for a compact sedan. Much bigger than the Old Jetta, which looks diminutive in comparison. VW has put that space to good use in the rear seat, where there's room to spare when the driver's seat is adjusted to my 5'-9.5" frame, and in the 16-cubit-foot trunk--now big enough to hold golf bags horizontally, the brochure exclaims triumphantly. At over 3300 pounds, the New Jetta is also quite heavy for a compact. That may contribute to its rather low 23/30 EPA ratings, but no doubt it also contributes to the solidity of the car and its excellent crash test ratings.
The next thing I noticed, upon climbing into the car, is that the reviewers who have raved about the quality of the interior were spot-on. It is one handsome cabin, arguably the best in its class. The seat fabric on the VE is nothing to brag about, but its knubby texture grips well and it feels durable. The test car had leatherette (i.e. really nice vinyl) seating surfaces. I'd much rather have the cloth seats, even though the test car had seat heaters. The plastics are first-rate, and even the hard surfaces look like they might be soft-touch--until you touch them. The fat 3-spoke plastic steering wheel is about as good as plastic wheels get, and it tilts and telescopes.
VW claims that the driver's seat and front passenger seat have 8-way adjustments. I'm not quite sure where they come up with eight; I counted five: fore/aft, angle (power on the tester, knob on the VE), lumbar (I cranked it and didn't notice any change), headrest, and height up/down. Even if I count fore, aft, up, and down separately that's only 7. At least both front seats have the adjustments. The driver's seat was comfortable except I wished for the ability to raise and lower the front and back of the seat bottom independently. This is a common problem with single-lever seat height adjusters. Since Hyundai, Kia, and Suzuki/Daewoo have figured out how to put a seat like that into cars that sell for $10,000, I'm not sure why VW et. al. can't do it. At least there was a big deadpedal.
Controls and displays are numerous and high-quality. They include separate temperature and oil pressure gauges and a multi-function display in front of the driver with an outside temperature gauge and trip computer (not on the VE). All the controls had a quality feel, although the stalks on the steering wheel felt a little flimsier than in some Asian cars, and I would have liked the cruise controls on the wheel instead of on a little stalk on the left (especially since I'm right-handed). The test car had dual-zone automatic climate control, which I didn't play with, and a 10-speaker 6-CD/MP3 system which had good sound, but I had it off most of the time to listen to the music from the car.
Before I got in the car, a salesman watched as my sales rep started the car. "Let's see how she does," he smiled. "The clutch has a quick take-up." She did just fine bringing the car around. However, I immediately noticed the quick take-up and actually killed the engine at the first stop sign. First time I'd done that in many years. Otherwise, the clutch was easy and the short-throw 5-speed shifter precise, if a little notchy. But then, the car was brand-new.
The Jetta (enough of that "New" stuff!) has 150 horses and 170 foot-pounds of torque. In a 3300-pound car, 150 hp doesn't make it very quick. It has plenty of power for normal driving, but lesser cars will dust it. However, I appreciated the plentiful torque. I could easily start from almost a dead stop in 2nd with no grumbling from the engine. The engine was smooth and quiet at cruise, with a not-unpleasant growl spooling up. Fifth is fairly tall, 2750 rpms at 70 mph. In fact, the cabin is hushed most of the time, with the only intrusions being a little wind noise on the highway and a rather unpleasant thrumming sound when going over even small tar strips. On a couple of roads with close-spaced tar strips, the noise was tiresome--especially since an Elantra that costs half as much sails over them without a wimper. But there was no quivering from the car over bumps, and no rattles or squeaks.
I appreciated the taut suspension on curves. I took the Jetta around some wet cloverleafs and hairpin turns at much higher-than-recommended speeds, and there was no body lean, no tire squealing, no drama at all. The test car had stability control standard (n/a on the VE), along with ABS and traction control. Braking was smooth and easy to modulate; I didn't test the ABS. The handling, along with the interior, are probably the Jetta's biggest strong points. Safety is also a selling point, with standard side bags and curtains, active front head restraints, DRLs, and as noted, ESC, ABS, and traction control on the test car.
#155 of 203 2005 New Jetta 2.5 - Wrap Up
May 14, 2005 (2:19 pm)
All in all, the Jetta is an impressive car. Compared to other compact sedans, the car has ample if not class-leading power, superb handling, a smooth powertrain, a roomy back seat and trunk (a very nicely finished trunk I might add, with a full-sized spare even on the VE), a classy interior, and excellent safety gear. However, equipped as tested, the Jetta is just over $21,000. Alloys and moonroof will set you back nearly $2000 more, and a loaded car with leather, wood trim, power seats and a few other niceties will run almost $25k. That is encroaching, even surpassing, the realm of loaded V6 mid-sized sedans and even near-luxury offerings like the Acura TSX. And many of these competitors offer features not available in the Jetta, such as nav systems and V6 powerplants.
For me, the choices boil down like this: if you want something compact but sporty, and want to spend minimal bucks, the Mazda3s is probably a better choice. Quicker, more economical, as good if not better handling and shifting compared to the Jetta. If you want the most car for your money, you're probably better off in an Accord EX, or maybe the new Sonata LX if you're more adventurous. But if you want a compact with excellent handling, safety, and interior ambience plus a German nameplate, for close to $20k, the Jetta is the only game in town. If it were me, I'd go for the Value Edition with the cloth interior for around $18k and maybe use some of the extra bucks to buy some nice alloy rims.
#156 of 203 Correction
May 15, 2005 (9:29 am)
EPA ratings of the New Jetta are 22/30, not 23/30. Curb weight w/manual transmission is 3230, automatic 3285.
#157 of 203 5-passenger Subaru B9 Tribeca mini test drive
May 23, 2005 (2:50 pm)
I drove an entry-level 5-passenger Tribeca today, just long enough to get a feel for it, perhaps 3 – 4 miles or so, mostly on city streets—and in the rain. It stickered at $31,320.00, and FitzMall's Internet price was $29,917.00.
I liked it a lot. It handles much more like a good sports sedan than a tall crossover SUV. In fact, I bet a lot of Outbacks will be cross-shopped with the Tribeca. The vehicle had most of what I would require: moonroof, cloth seats (I prefer cloth to leather), 5-passenger (7-passenger is nice, but I don't need that), 250 HP 3.0 H-6, 5-speed Sportshift auto, and Subie's top-of-the-line VDC AWD—this is all in the base model!
The reason I think it will be cross-shopped with Outbacks, at least in this configuration, is that it offers a lot for about the same money, and it is much roomier than the Outback, both in front and rear seating; or at least I think it is.
Much has been said about the relatively small 3.0 engine. This is the same engine found in the 600 pound lighter H-6 Outbacks, and yes, to a degree it struggles. Let me rephrase that: The tranny seems to downshift a the mere hint of giving it gas, and that can be annoying. So, yes, I would love to see this vehicle with a larger 3.5 engine with more low-end torque, so it wouldn't have to downshift so much. I suspect a larger and lazier 3.5 engine would give as good if not better gas mileage than the hardworking 3.0 engine it is now saddled with. I will say it felt spunky, if not quick, but I can't help but wonder how it will be when carrying a full load...
Other nits? A few, and all minor:
• In sportshift mode, the upshifts seemed slow.
• Also, the gear indicator (in sportshift mode) at the bottom of the tack is sometimes hard to see depending on the position of the steering wheel. I would move that indicator higher up on the tach face, so that it's easier to see.
• On the 5-passenger model there is a covered storage compartment in place of the 3rd-row seat. That's good, however it's divided into 4 relatively small subsections. Why? You can't fit anything large in it. Dumb design and/or thinking!
• The rear seat reclines (good), but the center fold-down armrest opens to only one position (bad). That means if you recline the backrest, the armrest (depending on how much you recline it) could be at an awkward angle—and since it has two cupholders, there could be a problem spilling drinks.
• Tow rating is so-so, at 3500 (with optional tow package). I would have preferred a 5,000 tow rating, but I think a more torque-friendly engine is needed in order to do that.
On the plus side:
• Well, the room I mentioned.
• Bang-for-the-buck I think is very good.
• It's very quiet and refined.
• It's probably one of the more fun to drive crossovers out there. Subaru benchmarked the BMW X5 for handling, and I think they scored well here.
What would I like to see (other than what I mentioned)?
• I would LOVE to see Subaru mate this engine to the 6-speed manual found on the Legacy 3.0R Spec B that is sold overseas! That tranny is perfectly suited to the somewhat peaky powerband of the 3.0 engine. That would be a real sweet combo. Bring it on Subaru!!!
• If they do offer a manual version, the foot-operated parking brake would have to go, and replace it with a proper hand brake.
• I would like to see a more off-road oriented version offered too.
Both juice and I have just been invited to a Tribeca Ride-and-Drive next Tuesday (ironically while I was out driving this one!), so I'm sure we will both have much more to say after that. So that's it for now.
#158 of 203 2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS vs. 2005 Honda Accord EX
May 26, 2005 (5:53 pm)
Lay-deeeeeez and Gentlemen! Welcome to this Battle Royale for Supremacy of the Family Sedans of the World! In the near corner, standing 188 and 9/10 inches and weighing 3,266 pounds, the Challenger, from the Republic of Korea--the 2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS! And in the far corner, the reigning Champ-eeee-on of the Family Sedans, standing 189 and 1/2 inches, weighing 3,203 pounds, from Marysville, Ohio--the Honda Accord EX! ARE YOU READY TO RUMMMMMMBLE???
Round 1: MSRP
Sonata GLS I4 with automatic transmission and Premium Package: $21,345
Accord EX I4 with automatic transmission: $23,515
The winner of Round 1: The Hyundai Sonata!
Round 2: Feature Content
Unique to Sonata: Electronic Stability Control, 8-way power driver's seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, MP3 player, SHIFTRONIC, speed-sensing wipers, traction control, heated outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, fog lamps, smog-sensing air quality system, active front head restraints, automatic on/off headlights, trip computer
Unique to Accord: 5-speed automatic transmission, double wishbone rear suspension, remote power window control, folding outside mirrors, telescoping steering column, progressive self-illuminating gauges, 6 CD in-dash changer
The winner of Round 2: The challenger, the Hyundai Sonata!
Round 3: Interior Room
Sonata: 105.4 cubic feet passenger space, 16.3 cubic feet trunk space
Accord: 97.7 cubic feet passenger space, 14.0 cubic feet truck space
The winner of Round 3: The upstart Hyundai Sonata!
Howard, this is indeed a surprising development! The youngster from Korea has come out swinging, besting the Champion in each of the first three rounds. Can the Champion recover from this early setback? Let's find out...
Round 4: Engine
Sonata: 2.4L I4 DOHC, 16 valves, CVVT, 162 hp, 164 pound-feet torque
Accord: 2.4L I4 DOHC, 16 valves, CVVT, 160 hp, 161 pound-feet torque
The winner of Round 4, by a nose: the Hyundai Sonata!!
Round 5: Fuel economy
Sonata: EPA 24 city, 33 highway
Accord: EPA 24 city, 34 highway
The winner of Round 5, by a nose: The Honda Accord!
The Accord claws its way back into the fight! There are still 10 rounds left--which car will prevail??
Round 6: Exterior
Howard, this one looks really close. The Sonata came to this contest in fighting trim, with no traces of excess weight. Some say the Sonata copied the training regimen of the Champion, but that is speculation at this point. Other reliable sources say that the Challenger got more help in this area from the Germans than from the Japanese. The Champion does show the results of his years in the ring, with a face that, well, has seen better days. The Sonata's face is clean and unmarked. Its panel gaps are even and tight. There is just a trace of orange peel on the Sonata's white pearl paint. The Accord is similar, but its silver paint looks smoother than the Sonata's. The Accord scores points with folding side mirrors, which are absent on the Sonata--a big gaffe by the Challenger. One thing we will say about the Champion--he is wearing classier shoes than the Challenger, and the chrome jewelry on the Champion is befitting his status.
The winner of Round 7: Too close to call.
Round 8: Interior
You could say the Sonata threw in the towel in this round, folks, with the terrycloth-like surface in its light gray interior. But the material is comfortable and grippy. Some might prefer the smoother cloth of the GL model. The Accord is dressed in black mouse fur, with colored flecks--which reminds this reporter of the black cloth in the previous-generation base Sonata. The Sonata is roomier than the Accord but feels much roomier because of its light-colored interior vs. the cave-like black confines of the Accord. The Sonata's driver benefits from the optional 8-way power seat. However, this reporter wished that the front of the seat cushion could go higher. Otherwise, the seating position was quite comfortable, even though the steering column tilts but does not telescope as in the Accord. The main flaw is that the accelerator felt too close. The Accord's drivers seat has a single-arc power height adjuster and manual adjustments for fore-aft and rake. Therefore, the seat could not be positioned quite as comfortably as the Sonata's, but it was not uncomfortable. The telescoping steering wheel on the Honda helps make up for fewer seat adjustments compared to the Accord. Both seats have a manual lumbar support adjustment. The passenger seat on both cars has only basic adjustments. The rear seat of the Sonata is a friendly place for two adults or three youngsters to spend time, with copious leg room and generous toe space under the seats. There's also plenty of headroom thanks to a cut-out in the headliner, and the seat cushion and seatback offer good support. The Accord's rear seat is not bad either, with good legroom, but toe space is tight and headroom is not as generous as in the Sonata. Fit and finish is excellent in both cars, with nicely-textured plastics. Both camps cut costs by limiting the use of soft-touch plastic to surfaces you are likely to grab. The brushed metal trim in the Accord looks richer than the plastic trim in the Sonata (the tan interiors on both cars get unconvincing wood trim). Drivers of both cars benefit from a thickly-padded, adjustable armrest with dual storage compartments. The Sonata's steering wheel and shifter are laced up in leather, the Accord's make do with plastic. The Sonata's interior was free of rattles and squeaks, while the Accord suffered from one rattle coming from the passenger side. Controls and gauges were generally good on both cars, with the Sonata's being marred by two cheap-looking plastic knobs on the radio and the Accord's by an overly-complex design for the HVAC and radio controls.
The winner of Round 8: The Challenger--Hyundai Sonata!
Round 9: Ride
The Sonata glides smoothly over all but the biggest bumps. It has lost all traces of the floatiness of the previous Sonata. Large bumps such as railroad crossings elicit sharp but controlled kicks. The Accord's ride is noticeably firmer, and passengers can feel even small road imperfections. However, the ride is never harsh.
The winner of Round 9: it's the Hyundai Sonata again!!
Howard, I can see growing concern in the Champion's corner. If the Champ is going to mount a comeback in this contest, it had better be soon!
#159 of 203 Sonata vs. Accord - Part 2
May 26, 2005 (5:55 pm)
Round 10: Handling
The Challenger's handling is pleasant, and it negotiates sharp corners and cloverleafs at super-legal speeds without complaint or drama. The car feels surefooted and safe. There is a hint of body lean on tight corners conducted at high speeds, to remind you that this is a family sedan, not a sports sedan. In contrast, the Accord's handling is as close to a sports sedan as a family sedan can get; its body stays flat even in sharp turns, and its nicely-weighted steering is a joy to use.
The winner of Round 10: The Champion--the Honda Accord!!!
A big win for the Champion! Now let's see if he can continue to take the fight to his upstart opponent...
Round 11: Performance
The power of these fighters is roughly the same. However, the Accord's DOHC 4-cylinder engine seems a little more eager and also smoother than the Sonata's. Both cars have plenty of power when floored. The automatic transmissions (4-speed on the Sonata, 5 on the Accord) shift smoothly in general. There was a half-second pause on a couple of full-throttle downshifts on the Sonata. The Sonata does have the flexibility of a SHIFTRONIC manumatic shifter, which drops back to first gear when stopping. The Sonata and Accord have equal EPA fuel economy ratings, and the Accord has a small advantage on the highway (34 vs. 33 mpg).
The winner for Round 11: The Honda Accord!!
Round 12: NVH
The Sonata's cabin is very quiet, with only a growl from the engine when accelerating hard and some wind noise around the mirrors at highway speed (albeit on a windy day) intruding. The Accord's engine is a little quieter when pressed, but there is constant tire noise from the 16" Michelins. Otherwise, the Accord's interior is hushed.
The winner of Round 12: The Challenger wins again--the Hyundai Sonata!
Round 13: Safety
The Sonata came ready to tangle in this round. Its standard safety equipment is the best of any car in its class: ABS with EBD, traction control, Electronic Stability Control, six airbags including side curtains, and active front head restraints. The Accord, however, fights back with a full complement of airbags and curtains and standard ABS. It also has a solid record in previous fights, with great results in the NHTSA and IIHS bouts.
The winner of Round 13: The Hyundai Sonata!!
We're getting down to the finish, Howard. Can the Champion come back against this surprising young contender from Korea?? Just two rounds left!
Round 14: Reliability and Resale Value
The Sonata is a new design and has no reliability or resale record. The last-generation Sonata made a reputation in its last few years of good reliability, but its resale value was low compared to the best in the family car class. The Accord has a solid record for long-term reliability plus excellent resale value.
The winner of Round 14: No contest--the Honda Accord!
Round 15: Warranty
The Accord came into this final round gunning for a knockout. But wait... what is this? The Sonata delivers a solid blow to the body: a 5-year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty including roadside protection. The Accord counters with its 3-year, 36,000 mile guarantee but it's not nearly enough, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, and here is another slam by the Challenger--a ten-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty! The Champion is staggered!! Can he recover??? Wait--there's the bell! This fight is over, ladies and gentlemen--who will emerge the winner??
#160 of 203 And the winner is...
May 26, 2005 (5:57 pm)
Lay-deeeez and gentlemen! The final score of this fight for Family Car Champion of the World is:
2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS: 9
2005 Honda Accord EX: 5
The winner, and NEW Family Car Cham-peeee-on of the World: the 2006 Hyundai Sonata!!
That's it, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The brash challenger from Korea has pulled off a huge upset victory here tonight. Down in the ring, the former Champion is already talking about a rematch as early as this fall, when he claims he will be back, better than ever, and ready to re-take the title. But who knows, perhaps the other challengers such as the Camry from Kentucky, the Altima from Tennessee, or the Mazda6 from Michigan will demand a shot against the new Champion. Can the new Sonata fend off these determined challengers? It's very hard to stay on top in this business.
#161 of 203 Re: Sonata vs. Accord - Part 2 [backy]
May 26, 2005 (6:42 pm)
Correction in Round 11--it should have said the Sonata and Accord have equal city EPA ratings (24).
Also, I got the rounds messed up in composing this dissertation, so there were in fact only 14 rounds and the final score was 9 to 4 with 1 draw.
#163 of 203 Tribeca Preview Drive
May 27, 2005 (5:52 am)
I won't call this a full review because a quick drive isn't enough to truly evaluate it, but I'll share my first driving impressions, which were very positive overall.
The tranny that Bob complained about was my favorite feature, even in Drive it really knew what gear to choose, and held the right gear in a turn so you could accelerate out of it. Floor the throttle and you get a lower gear ASAP, quicker than with Sportshift it seemed, oddly enough.
That smart tranny kept the engine in its sweet spot, so it felt plenty quick to me. If you need more power budget for speeding tickets, because you will get them. Acceleration makes my Miata and Forester seem slow, easily under 8 seconds to 60 here.
It's the opposite of the Highlander and Pilot. Those cars seem torquey until you push them, then they kinda run out of steam (is it their weight?). The Tribeca is quiet and smooth, and then you hit the throttle and the engine comes alive and has plenty of steam. The H6 likes high rpms and the tranny does a good job keeping it there when needed.
Tinted windows - darker than I recall, I really liked them. This was a big surprise because I didn't think they'd be this dark. Big thumbs up.
Steering felt a little light to me, though feedback was good. Not as light as Honda/Toyota, but I would prefer about 20% less power steering boost.
Ride was very impressive, in fact that and the quietness impressed me the most. I went over a speed bump at about 35mph and it absorbed it so that you hardly felt it. And let's face it, getting over speed bumps is more important that whatever off road ability it might have. Good job given the 18" rims and 55 series tires.
They really did a good job with the seals and you heard tire noise rather than wind noise so the shape is very functional. At low rpms you can't even hear the engine, so check the tach before reaching for the starter.
Doors were heavy, but I'm used to lighter frameless doors. It closes with a thunk but it requires more effort than I'm used to. Of course this pays off in quietness, so there's your trade off.
When I parked it I had to back it up into a tight spot on their lot, and had no problem using the big mirrors. I thought the rear view mirror was small, perhaps the auto dimming one is bigger? I do think my wife would not want to back up into a tight spot like that so the rear view camera would be a welcome addition.
To summarize -
* smart tranny
* smooth engine at high revs
* impressive ride/handling balance
* tint offers good privacy
* steering could be more weighted
* doors seem heavy
* could use bigger interior rear view mirror and/or camera
* spare is a donut
Bottom line is it drives much better than the Highlander and leagues ahead of the Pilot, which will seem like a truck to you if you've just stepped out of the Tribeca. Pilot has more room, so if you have 3-4 kids you might have to choose a Pilot (or minivan).
But you will want to drive a Tribeca.