Jeff Sabatini skewers the new Jetta for the New York Times.
FIVE years ago, residential streets in the happening neighborhoods of big American cities seemed thick with Jettas. Volkswagen had just redesigned the compact sedan, its best-selling model, and a clever advertising campaign infused with indie-rock riffs connected to urban attitudes so successfully that the car became something of a cultural totem among artists, 20-something hipsters and plenty of other downtown denizens.
The Jetta that arrived here for 1999 was a brilliant industrial design. Its shape was so well sculptured, and the attention lavished on the details of its surfaces and lines so meticulous, that of course it spoke to the “creatives” of the world.
Still, the auto industry’s business plan all but mandates that any design, good or bad, be regularly updated, revised or rethought, so for 2005 the Jetta has been overhauled.
A new advertising campaign, still heavy on the music, carries a fresh tagline: “It’s all grown up. Sort of.” Which implies that all those 20-somethings, having reached the age that makes them no longer trustworthy, need cars more consistent with their new stations in life – even if they are not too happy about it.
That is an understandable premise, but whether this Jetta is the right car for the role is unclear. Undoubtedly, the ’05 version is more mature than any of the four generations that preceded it – bigger and more luxurious – but it also lacks much of what made the previous version so attractive.
While the last Jetta was a ho-hum mechanical package, the finely balanced proportions of its exterior design did set it apart. Rather than trying to convince onlookers that it was sexy or powerful, the Jetta’s styling took its cues from high-end German appliances, looking as if it had been extruded from an injection-molding machine in one perfect piece, devoid of frivolous styling flourishes inside or out.
Makeovers are not always improvements, and this one has done no favors for the Jetta. Much like the situation at BMW, where the effort to update the image of a much-loved model resulted in the baroque new 3 Series, it seems as if Volkswagen’s styling department tried to outdo itself, and the results are just as disappointing. The shape is more Japanese than European, with strong hints of the Toyota Corolla.