Full 2008 Volkswagen Jetta Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Volkswagen Jetta sees a few changes. Most notably, the sedan gets a bump up in power, thanks to a revised 2.5-liter standard engine good for 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Trim levels get new names: S, SE and SEL. The 2.0T engine is available only on the newly revised limited-edition Wolfsburg Edition model and the Volkswagen GLI. (Volkswagen has dropped the "Jetta" name in a move to make the GLI similar to the GTI. The GLI is reviewed separately.) A power two-way recline feature for the driver seat is now standard across all trims.
"Upscale economy car" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's a feat Volkswagen has been managing to pull off for years. The proof is in its much-loved Jetta -- a small sedan that offers a tremendous amount of polish, all for a sub-$20,000 starting price.
With unassuming stealth, the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta sneaks up and surprises shoppers by giving them more than they'd likely expect from a car in this segment. Styling cues reflect discreet European elegance; the sedan's handsome cabin comes decked with rich materials and exceptional fit and finish. Road manners are pleasantly precise, and the VW Jetta also offers a bevy of standard safety features.
In past incarnations, the Jetta's Achilles' heel was its poor reliability; this issue was largely addressed with the 2005 redesign. Unfortunately, the redesign also revamped the angular, character-filled appearance of the previous-generation Jetta, leaving this model with a tame exterior at odds with the youthful image Volkswagen so clearly wishes to cultivate for the sedan. Another shortcoming concerns fuel economy. The car's mediocre mileage will likely prove disappointing for shoppers with frugality on the mind.
The 2008 VW Jetta isn't short on appeal, but there are other economy cars that merit a look. The Mazda 3 will give you a more engaging driving experience, and the Honda Civic's wide range of engines offer greater opportunity for fuel economy. But none in this segment can touch the Jetta when it comes to sheer refinement. If this trait matters to you, put the Volkswagen Jetta at the top of your shopping list.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
2008 Volkswagen Jetta buyers get to choose among three trim levels: S, SE and SEL. The base S comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, heated side mirrors, a 60/40-split rear seat, keyless entry and an eight-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack. The SE adds 16-inch alloys, a sunroof, a 10-speaker stereo with a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, heated front seats, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a center armrest and pass-through for the folding rear seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and leatherette upholstery. The revamped Wolfsburg Edition features the more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as well as 17-inch alloy wheels and exclusive badging. Step up to the SEL and you get 17-inch alloys, a multifunction trip computer, a premium sound system and auxiliary steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
Powertrains and Performance
S, SE and SEL models come with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine good for 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Wolfsburg Edition is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Both S and SE Jettas offer a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic, while the Wolfsburg Edition boasts a standard six-speed manual. VW's slick six-speed DSG sequential-shift transmission -- which can be shifted manually or placed in auto mode -- is available as an option on the Wolfsburg Edition only. With SEL Jettas, only the six-speed automatic is offered. All Jettas are front-wheel drive.
Jettas sold in California-emissions states have reduced tailpipe emissions and receive a squeaky-clean PZEV rating. No matter the model, however, fuel economy is a bit below average for a compact car. Revised EPA ratings for both manual and automatic models stand at 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway with the 2.5-liter engine. The Wolfsburg Edition's 2.0-liter engine achieves the same numbers when paired with the manual transmission, while DSG-equipped Wolfsburgs manage a marginally better 22 mpg in the city.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants and full-length head curtain airbags are standard across the line. Stability control is optional on the Jetta S, but standard on the other two models. Seat-mounted side airbags for rear passengers are optional. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta received four out of five stars for protection of front seat occupants in head-on collisions and five stars for front- and rear-occupant protection in side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Jetta a top score of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Volkswagen Jetta's cabin is loaded with high-quality materials and put together with care. Even the base model has high-end flair, with comfortable seating and elegant trim. A tall roof line lends a sense of spaciousness to the front seats. Headroom is a little tight in the rear, but there's ample legroom for adults. Trunk capacity measures an impressive 16 cubic feet.
On the road, the 2008 Volkswagen Jetta manages to provide both comfortable ride quality and agile handling. Like its more expensive German counterparts, the sedan offers a rock-solid feel and a quiet ride. There's adequate power on tap to handle most situations; the Jetta's revised base engine is a welcome addition, as it endows the car with a bit more pep than was offered by last year's model. For maximum acceleration, however, you'll want to check out either the turbocharged Wolfsburg Edition or the identically powered Volkswagen GLI.