From The Hip
+ Well sorted and well rounded
- Except for the automatic transmission

The re-introduction of the Jetta to the automotive mainstream has been largely hit and miss. VW's seeming decision to position the Jetta as a Toyota alternative has been met mostly with indifference. Fat, drunk and stupid may not be the best way to go through life, but past variants of the Jetta had quirky personalities matched only by some of their owners. One didn't confuse a Jetta with anything else on the road-certainly not anything from Asia.

Well, trash that view now. I recently drove a decently equipped Campanella White icebox J-car for a week, which translates into a road trip. Los Angeles to the dock of the bay, a run to Incline to see what snow looks like, then back down Highway 395 to complete the loop. The positives are what have played to the strengths of VW and their upscale bros from Ingolstadt. A purposeful, nogimmicks interior, good handling, firm and comfortable seats, plus an efficient and willing powerplant that pairs good output with good economy. In addition, this particular Jetta had the optional premium sound system, which, for the cost, is excellent in all ranges. Trunk space is large and useable and the rear seat can fold flat quickly for extra space when needed. The most irritating aspect was the Tiptronic gearbox, which spent most its time in the D mode, due to what seemed like a mismatch for the fivecylinder, 2.5-liter Euro-block. VW has always had issues with its automatic gearboxes. The zero-to-60 numbers aren't all that different from the do-ityourself stick, but it really seems to strain in getting there. Maybe it's the old tuner ghost saying "shift me." And that view of car culture? I walked out to the parking lot after dinner in North Beach to a white Kia sedan instead of the Jetta. -Kerry Morse

2008 VW Jetta 2.5 SE

Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.5-liter inline five, dohc, 20-valve
Six-speed automatic
Peak Power: 170 hp @ 5700 rpm
Peak Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm 0-60 mph: 8.5 sec.
Top Speed: 127 mph
Fuel Economy: 21/29
Price as tested: $21,674

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