I'll be the first to admit our car reviews tend, for the most part, to be more glowing than scathing. And why not? Most cars we drive really are that good; any latent shortcomings can usually be quantified by "I don't like the way that dash is laid out," or "I don't like the plastic they used in this area," or "I think those taillights are lame." Fairly subjective stuff.
European vehicles have always carried a price premium over comparable Asian or domestic offerings, but I've long been a firm believer in the maxim "You get what you pay for." And if our reviews are glowing, you'll have to excuse us. After all, we're writing about the very best cars in the world. Take, for instance, our new long-term Jetta 2.0T.
As European vehicles go, the Jetta sits at the low end of the affordability spectrum, far cheaper than either an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. But its distinguished heritage is evident. There's nothing else in its class-the Ford Fusions, Chevy Cobalts and Toyota Corollas of the world-that will measure up. Consider the fact that the base model Jetta, the 2.5-liter Value Edition, rings in at just under $18,000 MSRP and the car is actually positioned fairly competitively.
This, however, is the Jetta you're going to want to buy, the one equipped with the 2.0-liter turbocharged motor and six-speed transmission. It costs about five grand more than the bare-bones Value Edition, but the extra money is absolutely worth it. Here's why.
First, the engine. The 2.0T powerplant cranks out a peak of 200 bhp at 5100 rpm, but more importantly, it develops peak torque of 207 lb-ft at just 1800 rpm. This makes the Jetta 2.0T pretty darn quick off the line. Rowing through the first four gears with a healthy dose of throttle will allow you to absolutely fly onto expressways with a confidence no 2.5L would afford. The first couple times you do, you'll find yourself cresting triple digits before you even realize it.
This brings up another reason I love this car: the gearbox. Volkswagen's new manual transmissions are the best they've ever offered. Operation is quite satisfying and very positive; you always know where you are and where you need to go, and the gearing is well suited to the torque-rich output from the turbocharged motor. Editor Bidrawn found the throws a bit light for his liking-and the lever is a little light, I guess, compared to a Porsche 911. But for a $24,000 Jetta it feels exceptional. I even like it better than the shifter on the new BMW 330i, a car that costs upwards of $13,000 more than a Jetta 2.0T. If you'd like, a six-speed DSG with wheel-mounted paddle shifters is available for a mere $1,075. We loved that transmission on our Audi TT, and we're sure it rocks just as hard on the Jetta 2.0T. But I'd still opt for the manual-it really is that much fun.