The Volkswagen Jetta has been redesigned for 2011, and it's a beautiful job. It's 3 inches longer and considerably more shapely, with a classier grille and new elegant lines that make it look expensive, especially with the beautiful optional 17-inch alloy wheels.
But the base price is a mere $15,995 MSRP for the 2011 Jetta S, using a single-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 115 horsepower, with 5-speed manual transmission standard and 6-speed automatic optional. Excepting the engine, it has all of the engineering and most of the amenities of the other models.
However that engine is somewhat archaic, so a better value is the 2011 Jetta SE for $18,195, which brings the five-cylinder 2.5-liter engine making 170 horsepower and 177 pounds of torque, while getting the same 26 mpg.
The 2011 Jetta TDI, $22,995, uses the latest turbodiesel direct-injected engine, making 140 horsepower with a useful 236 pounds of torque, while getting about 30 city/42 highway mpg.
In order to get the price down, Volkswagen has reverted to some less expensive engineering, such as a rear torsion beam suspension and drum brakes in S and SE models, but a multi-link suspension and rear discs aren't missed. Other cost-cutting, including with interior materials, has been careful and intelligent, and few buyers will notice. The quality is still high, the ride still good, and lovely new styling with more interior room more than makes up for it.
The interior is clean, stylish and comfortable, while being smart, accommodating, and functional. The trim is tasteful, and the standard cloth seats fit well, while the optional V-Tex leatherette upholstery passes easily for real leather. The gauges are pretty, the convenience with such things as cupholders and storage spaces is high. Headroom and rear legroom are outstanding, nearly as much as a BMW 7 Series. Handsome instruments with clean white-on-black numbering are pleasing.
The overall build quality is impressive; the Jetta is quiet at speed and feels solid, like it's 100,000 miles away from its first rattle.
The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, and with 170 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque, it provides good power for the needs of the car. It accelerates from zero to 60 in 8.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic, and powers the Jetta to a top speed of 127 mph, so there's plenty in reserve. It's EPA rated at a Combined 26 miles per gallon, and we got between 23 and 28 mpg during our two-day test drive of nearly 500 miles in two SEL models, one equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission having both sport and manual modes, and another with the standard 5-speed manual with sport suspension. We much prefer the automatic, because the transmission is so good, and not the sport suspension, because the standard suspension has just the right amount of firmness; when we drove it in a sporty manner it was firm enough. The overall weight has been reduced by 110 pounds in the transformation, so the handling is still good.
Jetta is planning a GLI sport model for late in 2010, so if it's a sporty Jetta you want, we suggest you wait for the GLI with the 2.0-liter turbo engine, accelerating from zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds using the magical DSG twin-clutch transmission.
The sport mode for the optional 6-speed automatic transmission is sharp and effective. We used it in city driving, where it responded crisply to the San Francisco hills; and in slow-and-go freeway traffic, where it kept the transmission in 3rd gear rather than upshifting/downshifting all the time. Manual mode can be used for those super-sporty driving times, when you must do the shifting yourself, with the lever; paddle shifters are neither available nor necessary. In those situations, the transmission is programmed well, responsive and obedient.
Completely redesigned, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is 3 inches longer than the previous-generation models, with a wider track.
The 2011 Jetta is considerably more shapely than before with curves that are subtle and sweet. The shape stands out in white, and appears most elegant in that color, prettier than the black and silver SELs that we tested. There are body-colored door handles and there's little chrome trim, going against today's grain, sticking to the traditional notion that clean is beautiful. It is, and it shines on the new Jetta. Even the new grille is anti-chrome, with black horizontal bars that look good in basic black, as well as a tray-shaped front spoiler under the front bumper that suggests the splitter on a racing car. It's an upscale improvement over the previous Jetta's bigger mouth.
Nowhere is the new Jetta overstyled or oversculpted; VW has it over BMW in that area. The lines are expanded and more graceful, while still being totally Jetta. They are crisp and precise, with strong wheelwells, smooth roofline and attractive C pillar. The new nose and shoulders, viewed from the side of the car looking forward, give the front end an attractive Infiniti-like roundness.
At the rear, there's a neat aerodynamic lip at the trailing edge of the remote-opening trunk, and powerful taillights.
Inside, we found little to fault. Volkswagen has de-contented the interior to reduce costs. The content that was dropped won't be greatly missed, replaced by materials still of high quality. True it's less plush than before, in order to drop the price and compete with Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but it's clean and stylish and comfortable, while being intelligent, accommodating, and functional. The V-Tex leatherette upholstery in the Jetta SEL we drove sure looked like leather to us. Even the plastic trim looks like real brushed aluminum; and there's not too much of it.
Mostly, what you get with the Jetta interior comes with the overall build quality: It's quiet and feels solid, like it's a good 100,000 miles away from its first rattle. We tested the all-new 2011 Scion tC the same week as the Jetta, and it felt comparatively cheap inside.
Volkswagen has nailed all the small creature comforts that matter. Comfortable driver armrests, convenient cupholders, good door pockets and grab handles: check, check, check, check. Handsome instruments with clean white-on-black numbering: check and fist pump, over and over again when you own the car.
Noticeably, between the center seats there's an emergency brake handle, two cupholders, and a console with armrest. It's not easy to fit all those things between bucket seats in a small car, and it took detailed work by VW engineers to succeed, not by accident. The interior reflects that kind of thought. Other things, like small stylish three-finger door handles, that work.
There's good headroom front and rear, and lots of rear seat legroom, first-in-class 38.1 inches; compare that to the 38.4 inches in a BMW 7 Series. The wheelbase is stretched 2 inches, but engineers found 2.7 more inches of legroom; with no sacrifices, it's win, win, win: ride, safety, room. And somehow the overall weight is down 110 pounds.
Visibility all around is good, through the windshield even with a steeper A-pillar, and through the wider rear window.
Our only quibbles with a Jetta SEL were with the 5-inch touch-screen navigation system. The nameless icons had us stumped, at first; and the voice command doesn't name the upcoming street on which to turn, instead saying things like turn right at the second street ahead, which leaves wide room for confusion especially as the distance varies. Twice we used navigation to get us out of downtown San Francisco onto the Golden Gate Bridge north from our hotel, and it gave us two different routes, neither the quickest or most direct.
But back to more small plusses. We liked the ability to tune the radio with a knob. The driver information display is located neatly between the tachometer and speedometer, and is easy to scan: clock, fuel mileage, range, odo, thermometer. Big glovebox. Clean climate controls. Optional rear seat pass-through with two cupholders in the armrest that folds down, to access a 15.5-cubic-foot trunk with remote release.
There were no Jetta S models available to drive at the press launch, so we can't comment on the 2.0-liter engine, other than to say it's been around in the Jetta for a long time, since 1993 to be exact, and it accelerates from zero to 60 in 10 seconds with manual gearbox, 11 seconds with 6-speed automatic.
For another $2200 you not only get the good 2.5-liter engine, but other things like cruise control and especially the V-Tex leatherette like real leather, and since there's a big boost in performance with no loss in economy, it's a good deal to go for the Jetta SE. With the 6-speed automatic for $1100 and $760 freight, you're at $20,000 and you've got a roomy, elegant, and beautifully engineered compact car that gets 28 mpg.
The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, and it provided good power for the needs of the car. It accelerates from zero to 60 in 8.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic, and powers the Jetta to a top speed of 127 mph, where it's quiet according to Volkswagen, and we'll have to take their word for it.
We drove a silver Jetta SEL with the 6-speed automatic transmission having both sport and manual modes, and a black SEL with the 5-speed manual with sport suspension. We think the automatic is clearly a better choice because it's an excellent transmission. For one thing, the Sport mode while still in Drive is sharp and effective. We used it in city driving, where it responded crisply to the San Francisco hills; and in slow-and-go freeway traffic, up-and-down 15 to 30 mph, where it kept the transmission in 3rd gear rather than upshifting/downshifting all the time. In other words, Sport mode actually made a positive difference you could feel, even or maybe especially in non-sport conditions.
Manual mode can be used for those super-sporty driving times, when you must do the shifting yourself, with the lever; paddle shifters are neither available nor necessary. In those situations, it's responsive and obedient.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is slow, with long throws, and the clutch pedal felt airy with overly light pressure, and the engine doesn't have enough torque to accelerate sharply without downshifting, especially in the tall overdrive 5th gear; however with the 6-speed automatic in Sport mode, it downshifts responsively when needed. In addition, the sport-tuned suspension was firmer than the car required. The standard suspension has just the right amount of firmness, and when we drove it in a sporty manner it was firm enough.
A Jetta GLI sport model for late in 2010, so if it's a sporty Jetta you want, we suggest you wait for the GLI with the 2.0-liter turbo engine (200 hp), accelerating from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds with the magical DSG twin-clutch transmission.
A Jetta TDI will also be available with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel direct injection (TDI) Clean Diesel (140 hp) featuring common rail injection with 236 lb-ft of torque. The engine runs as quietly as a gasoline engine, but yields the torque of a sports car achieving 0-60 mph in 8.7 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated to achieve 42 mpg on the highway, according to Volkswagen of America.
The rear suspension has been changed in the 2011 Jetta, backtracked from the previous multi-link to a torsion beam. But again, even if the technology has gone rearward, we didn't notice. Volkswagen is trying to make the Jetta affordable, and felt the multi-link could be sacrificed. The more expensive multi-link design is considered better for handling.
There's little if any functional loss with drum brakes rather than discs in the rear in the S and SE models. They work just as well on the lightweight Jetta. Our SEL had the disc brakes, and felt good, as we used them hard over the winding roads of highway 101 north of San Francisco.
We never got less than 23 mpg, and we got 28.5 mpg on our final combined run of about 140 miles, including a mad dash to the airport.
The all-new Volkswagen Jetta is a winner on all performance and design fronts. It's been restyled and wears its new 3 inches with elegance. The 5-cylinder 2.5-liter engine is proven and gets 28 mpg, using an optional versatile 6-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual modes. The interior is stylish, clean and comfortable with V-Tex leatherette standard on all but the base S model. The trunk is large and rear seat legroom first in the compact class. For $20,000 you get an excellent automobile.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Volkswagen Jetta in San Francisco.