When Volkswagen introduced the Mk V Jetta, most people treated it like a relative's ugly baby. Nobody seemed to really like it, though most weren't willing to come out and say it in so few words. Opinions stemmed mainly from its revised styling, but if you actually had the chance to get in the car and drive it you instantly realized Volkswagen created the most solid and comfortable entry-level sedan on the market with the Jetta's fifth generation-and arguably, the most competent Jetta platform yet.

When we finally got our hands on a Mk V press car, we invited a handful of local Volkswagen tuners to come out to the office, kick the tires, take a look under the hood and tell us what they thought. One of the members of our panel was Dave Anderson from ABD Racing, based in Riverside, Calif. We didn't know it at the time, but ABD had already put in orders for its own Mk V. Anderson and company went with the only model currently available, the five-cylinder 2.5L. Since it's the base platform and as such not particularly sporty from the factory, especially compared with the forthcoming GLI, you'd agree it can benefit from a little aftermarket tweaking from both performance and cosmetic standpoints.

To begin, ABD engineers developed their own LAN intake for the 2.5-liter five. This is a true cold-air system pulling air from behind the left front headlamp. The intake was paired with GIAC chip tuning for optimum performance, and on the engine's hot side, a Techtonics Tuning cat-back exhaust. This freed up a total of 11 hp at the wheels for a total of 143 whp where the tires meet the road. This number, and ABD's baseline run of 132 whp in a totally stock car, speaks well for the 2.5L's power output. The stock rating of 150 bhp may, as it turns out, be a bit of an underestimation, never a bad thing in our view.

Despite what you may think about the car itself, the Jetta V features significant technical upgrades in its underpinnings over the Mk IV. It features a fully independent rear suspension rather than a torsion axle for improved handling potential. ABD played this feature to its advantage, dialing out the factory sponginess with a full compliment of Eibach hardware: lowering springs, sport-valved shocks and front and rear anti-roll bars. While they were knocking around under the hood, ABD techs measured for an upper stress bar to bolt between the forward strut towers.

Next, the rolling stock received a significant upgrade in the form of Axis 19-inch alloys and BFGoodrich g-Force KDWs. These massive wheels cage brake assemblies that have been improved with cross-drilled ABD Racing rotors, braided stainless ABD lines and Mintex sport pads. Additionally, the factory calipers were painted red for a bit of flair.

While the upgrades present on the car are fairly standard (intake, exhaust, a lower, stiffer suspension and upgraded tires), they allow for a marked improvement over the bone-stock Jetta V configuration. Once all the products were completed and put in place, ABD took the modified Jetta along with a totally stock example to Buttonwillow Raceway, Calif., for back-to-back shakedown sessions. The ABD-modified Jetta V bested the stock car by more than 11 seconds around Configuration 13, running a 2:11 elapsed time compared to 2:23. With further engine tuning and an even more aggressive suspension setup, the discrepancies between the stock and modified elapsed times could become exponential.

Performance aside, most of the initial negative reaction to the new Jetta came from criticism of its redrawn aesthetics. After all, no one was driving the car when it was parked on the carpet at the L.A. Auto Show, so all people could really bitch about was its appearance. ABD remedied the problem with brand-new kit pieces from Germany, along with some well-placed cosmetic pieces of their own. The body panels benefited from a front bumper cover, grille and side skirts sourced from Caractre, along with a Votex rear valance. The Caractre panels lend a decidedly aggressive appearance to the Mk V chassis without taking away from the design as a whole. Call me crazy, but I see a little bit of Porsche Turbo up front, and the bumper cover and grille insert completely eliminate the shiny, trapezoidal O.E. nose element (which tends to be a bit overpowering for some tastes).

ABD-specific pieces include stainless B-pillar trim, a nicely laid carbon-fiber engine cover beneath the hood, and a few custom tricks unique to this car. The portions of the contentious round taillamps that bleed over onto the trunk lid have been shaved, and the remainder of the assemblies were smoked heavily to give the car's rear a stealthy, elitist European look. The front bumper indicators were shaved as well, and the headlamp buckets were opened up and color matched silver to the rest of the car.

An array of ABD interior bits fashioned from stainless steel were also placed within the cockpit: sport pedals, dead pedal and sill plates, along with custom embroidered ABD Racing logo floormats. Silver carbon-fiber interior accents from Benevento were placed at strategic points along the dash and door panels to wrap the interior package up.According to ABD, those involved "put the hustle on" to finish this project in short order, as it was important for the car be finished in time for the summer show season, which it was. From start to finish, it only took three months. Notably, ABD Racing's Jetta V played a starring role in Waterfest 2005, where it drew a considerable amount of attention-including some from certain Volkswagen of America executives who made a surprise appearance at the show. What ABD was able to accomplish with this car should be heartening to Jetta enthusiasts and Volkswagen fans across the board. It goes to show this truly is the best Jetta yet, and by the time you read this ABD Racing and the rest of the VW tuning world should be cycling up to meet the challenge of improving the car's GLI iteration.

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