• Nov 24, 2010
Teasing The Faithful While Pleasing The Masses


2011 Volkswagen Jetta – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Jetta has always disguised its cost controls beneath a veneer of high quality materials and tidy manners. Interiors have been like Audis in training, with suspensions so supple the world's largest automakers dissect the bushings to learn their secrets. This long view emphasizes the recent disappointment with this new larger, U.S.-centric Jetta.

Early reports sounded the alarm; the new Jetta is shockingly cheap. That's a positive statement regarding the $15,995 base price, down from $17,735 for the 2010 model, and Volkswagen is touting it prominently with its "Great for the price of Good" advertising tagline. While some cry foul, sales are up. For its first month on the market, the 2011 Jetta posted 12.6 percent better numbers than the old model managed for the same month a year prior.

To achieve that sub-$16,000 number, things had to go, though good stuff remains. We wanted to give der neue Jetta a chance to wow us, so we spent a week with a Jetta 2.5 SEL to find out if it's been overwhelmed by a too-intense focus on price.

Continued reading...



Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL

One thing that remains consistently positive is the Jetta's handsome looks. For 2011, the Jetta leads the charge of Volkswagen's new corporate face. It's conservative, but not boring; crisply styled and decidedly Germanic. A three-inch stretch over previous versions is well contained by restrained styling that will age well thanks to a lack of frippery.

The extra size is aimed at pleasing the U.S. consumer, and the bodywork features strong wheel arches and tasteful brightwork. Stock wheels can be as large as 18 inches, and the 17-inch "Joda" alloys on our SEL tester added handsome contrast to the car's Candy White paint. This new sedan takes an evolutionary styling step that's still easily identifiable as a Jetta. As a bonus, it looks like it should cost more, too.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta side view2011 Volkswagen Jetta front view2011 Volkswagen Jetta rear view

Inside appears as promising as the exterior upon first glance. The dashboard is cleanly styled in the classic Volkswagen idiom, and the plastics and metal accents present well. The truth is in the touching, though, and where you'd expect some give, there is none. The Jetta finds itself in an awkward position with its combination of price and size. It's one of the most spacious cars you can purchase for $16,000, and it's better dressed than the Nissan Versa, which bests the Jetta's passenger volume by a smidge and keeps an even tighter lid on the bottom line. At its upper price threshold, the Jetta finds itself fighting against such standouts as the latest Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion – stiff competitors that offer massive value and more space for about the same money, while also providing satisfying drives. The same dilemma faces the Jetta's class competitor, the Mazda 3, which also pushes into the mid-twenties.

The interior quality, despite the hue and cry, finds parity with much of the competition. The Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Cruze clean the Jetta's clock with better interior materials, though their advantage is blunted by tighter back seats and less cargo space. The Fiesta and Cruze can also enter once-rarefied price territory for cars of their stature, underlining the fact that the Jetta is a pretty good deal. There is evidence of being built to a price, but the most expensive Jetta SEL is $24,095, and a Jetta SE with the $1,365 Convenience Package is a lot of car for $20,000.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta headlight2011 Volkswagen Jetta grille2011 Volkswagen Jetta wheel2011 Volkswagen Jetta taillight

In the back seat of the 2011 Jetta, there's significantly more legroom thanks to the wheelbase stretch. The perforated V-Tex upholstery on the firm seats does a convincing impersonation of leather, and if the lightly-bolstered standard seats aren't enough for you, sport seats are available as part of the $1,600 Sport package that adds gussied up pedals, door sill trim and a sport suspension. Ergonomics are intuitive, with three big knobs for climate control and other secondary controls, all of which are intelligently located. The layout is pleasingly simple to use and should be required study for the entire industry.

One sour note was the push-button start in our test car; a dubious "upgrade" with a long delay before reacting. The Titan Black theme that decorated our test car seemed dour and some surfaces seemed to show filth and blemishes readily, too. Going for a cabin with some lighter hues will offer some contrast and draw less attention to the mix of materials and textures while also feeling more upscale.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta interior2011 Volkswagen Jetta front seats2011 Volkswagen Jetta rear seats2011 Volkswagen Jetta door panel


Despite a significant and obvious drop in the interior quality – even the non-VW faithful will notice how cheap the door panels look – the controls don't shortchange you. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter are pleasing to manipulate, and control stalks feel the same as we've come to expect from VW, both of which are pleasing notes of consistency in a driver's environment ravaged by change. The wheel tilts and telescopes, and the seats are still widely adjustable, though less so compared to past Jettas. The 15.5-cubic-foot trunk packs Honda Accord-sized cargo capacity, too.

The Jetta's cabin isn't all ergonomic bliss, though demerits are small and liveable. Volkswagen's itty-bitty cruise control switch atop the blinker stalk is annoyingly fiddly for a feature that sees regular use, and we never did quite figure out the RNS 315 navigation and entertainment system. The navigation system's guidance, map data and display lag behind similar systems from other automakers, and tuning the radio is counter intuitive. Giving the easily-manipulated knob just below the five-inch LCD a twist uselessly scrolls through preset stations instead of manually zipping through frequencies. This disparity between expectation and reality dealt frustration on multiple occasions during our week with the Jetta.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta steering wheel2011 Volkswagen Jetta start button2011 Volkswagen Jetta gauges2011 Volkswagen Jetta navigation system

Volkswagen has long attempted to make hay from the perception that German automakers build driver's cars, but the 2011 Jetta is less so in any of the currently available U.S. trims. The 177 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque from the 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine in our SEL tester is more muscular than the ancient and unloved standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder's 115 hp, however. The five has a distinctive engine note thanks to its cylinder count, but it's isolated well. The Jetta idles smoothly, with little engine vibration making its way up the steering column. There's a noticeably fat vein of mid-range torque provided by the 2.5, though jumpy throttle response makes it difficult to take off smoothly. The steam runs out the higher you wind the tachometer; fine for the masses, disappointing for enthusiasts who want a more sultry powerplant. A GLI version is coming, and that car's 2.0 liter TSI powerplant and thoroughly revised suspension – including swapping the rear beam with an independent arrangement – will snuff out some of the enthusiast gripes.

Electric power steering is numb and strangely weighted, like there's a coupling made of rubber bands somewhere. Attempts to dial in the exact amount of lock through a curve were usually met with a need to correct mid-corner. The Jetta's suspension layout has changed, too, with a torsion beam rear axle in place of struts. The lower-profile setup allows the big trunk and back seat without harming everyday dynamics. The Jetta generally delivered what was asked of it, though there's little friskiness dialled into the latest version. The standard suspension tune borders on harsh, too, jiggling occupants excessively at times.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta engine

"Capable without rocking your socks off" defines the Jetta driving experience for now. The six-speed automatic transmission helps the Jetta return EPA fuel economy estimates of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway with the 2.5-liter engine, besting the numbers put up by the same engine hooked to a five-speed manual. The 2.5/auto 'box combo is also better on the highway than the 2.0-liter four-cylinder when teamed with the automatic, while also being a full second quicker to 60 miles per hour. Braking performance channels some of the past VW mojo, with a firm, easily modulated pedal. Rear drums are standard, another cost-cutting move, and our SEL model's four-wheel discs bit harder as stops progressed, delivering confident halts to the action.

A stiff, solid structure is the basis of the 2011 Jetta, and Volkswagen got it right with a rigid platform to bolt everything to. Electronic stability control is standard, and the airbag complement includes front, side and side-curtain bags. Safety is augmented by the Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard flashers in the event of an accident. With Carefree Maintenance, Volkswagen also rolls in three years or 36,000 miles of scheduled maintenance at no charge as part of the warranty perks, too.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta rear 3/4 view

The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is nice to look at, and does achieve the mission of delivering good value. It's one of the roomiest choices at a price point populated by a raft of B-segment choices, though moving up the trim-level ladder will put it among cut-throat competition. Drivers looking for the old Jetta formula of near-premium feel for near-economy price will find the 2011 Jetta is Volkswagen's New Coke, though others will remind you that the updated formula actually tasted better. This new Jetta is a different flavor that appears to be more tasty to shoppers, despite leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the Jetta faithful.



Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 90 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wow, that is really an old looking design!
      • 4 Years Ago
      "The Jetta's suspension layout has changed, too, with a torsion beam rear axle in place of struts. The lower-profile setup allows the big trunk and back seat without harming everyday dynamics."

      So are you saying the GLI which has the independent suspension has a smaller trunk and less backseat room??? My guess is the torsion beam suspension adds no advantage other than make it a cheap car (which I have no interest in, because of the cheap suspension and lacking horsepower).

      • 4 Years Ago
      The 2011 exterior is better than the outgoing Jetta. I hated those bulbous headlamps of the previous version, and that useless swath of chrome in the grille. But the new look is sleek and angular.

      Ultimately, this is a driving appliance and I'd rather have one of these than a Japanese econobox or American blob -- if I had to pick.
      • 4 Years Ago
      You took a look at the new, cheaper Jetta... by testing an SEL, which costs almost 6k more than the cheaper model--not that the article relates the SEL price, the price of the car tested, its options or how the SEL differs from the base model?!

      Lemme know if you need an editor.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "the most expensive Jetta SEL is $24,095, and a Jetta SE with the $1,365 Convenience Package is a lot of car for $20,000. "

        All media Jettas (at least initially) were SEL models.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Wow, this is a $24K car?

        I take back most of what I said.

        This car doesn't seem nearly good enough for $24K.

        I thought this was one of the lower end models.

        I guess I should have realized you don't get even a poor NAV on a low end model.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I see this as VW getting back to their roots - "The People's Car" rather than pseudo-luxury wannabe of the past 2 decades. I think that's great.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I use to drive the Mk IV Golf. The interior was supreme.

      The Jetta's new gauge cluster makes me want to cry. Look it at it. It's channeling 1980's office coffee maker.

      The nav display location is dangerous. Seriously. Don't even try to use peripheral vision, have a passenger describe the screen to you.
      • 4 Years Ago
      WTF VW?
        • 4 Years Ago
        The 2011 Jetta new and improved! Just as bland and boring as a Toyota inside, with similarly boring driving dynamics, but with typical VW "reliability." What's the point?

        The interior on the MK4 and 5 Jettas was lovely and they were entertaining to drive. If you were lucky enough that yours was reliable, then you had a nice car for a reasonable price. That lovely interior is gone, as are the driving dynamics. So what is left that makes it interesting?
      • 4 Years Ago
      At my local auto show, I had a chance to see the car in person. First impressions, it looked bland from all over (the after market world will have a field day with this car!) There was nothing interesting about it. Interior, as this article said, is where you notice the obvious - and visual - cost cutting. The plastics are not soft but hard on the dash, doors, trim and they look and feel cheap (all you have to do is tap on the dashboard to see!). Interior is plain and spartan, almost depressing. The seats are firm with a roomy back seat and the trunk space is large. The doors do close with a nice "thump" not tinny or hollow sounding. Not too many people were looking at it and its so plain looking to be easily over looked.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just saw this for the first time at the Autoshow this past weekend and I couldn't believe how cheap and bland they looked, I honestly thought it was a Kia at first glance.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Who cares about these people complaining on the 2011 Jetta. VW doesn't care about your comments. It is designed to sell and it sells well for its given price and available features. If you can't afford to even buy a compact family sedan like this 2011 Jetta at this price range, I wonder what you are driving now, must be some really cheap used cars.
        • 4 Years Ago
        exactly. as the review said that the Jetta sales has increased some 12% over the previous model. my overall take on this jetta is with all the cheap hard plastic interior, and vinyl seats, it still looks good and it is a toss up for me between this and the Cruze. what isn't impressive though is the the 2.5 cyl on paper. 0-60 in 8.3 seconds while the Cruzes 1.4T gets 0-60 in 8.6 and finally the Cruze has better interior quality and real leather seats and a slightly more sophisticated suspension. i like both cars equally though and am having a hard time picking between the two. need to make a decision soon.
      • 4 Years Ago
      99' Mitsubishi Galant by VW
        • 4 Years Ago
        it's like a cheap passat, so you get what you would've gotten one segment up from this 15 years ago. probably drives ok compared to most NA available cars of similar caliber though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        • 4 Years Ago
        was not at all impressed with the car, when I saw it at the local show. have not driven it but imagine the darkest, dreariest, ill-appointed compact car and you are close.

        totally not impressed. hopefully the GLI will truly be a completely different model
        • 4 Years Ago
        i just wanna make sure:

        does nobody else on the whole earth know what a 'refrigerator knob' is? the front of my refrigerator is entirely bare....
        • 4 Years Ago
        @tailor.ewe

        Those knobs INSIDE your refrigerator. That control the temperature.
        • 4 Years Ago
        was not at all impressed with the car, when I saw it at the local show. have not driven it but imagine the darkest, dreariest, ill-appointed compact car and you are close.

        totally not impressed. hopefully the GLI will truly be a completely different model
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Diego3336

        No kidding. The look of this car SCREAMS "last decade", in terms of styling.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah, and I'm so glad VW decided to equip it with those gorgeous refrigerator knobs in the center stack! It's soooo 1992 Nissan Sentra'esque.

        I'm as excited about this car as I am about my next dentist appointment!

      • 4 Years Ago
      the base model still comes with rear drums? fail.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Erik - "Drum Brakes," see also "Brake Fade." Just one more new car with a slightly greater likelihood of rear-ending me. (Oh, and then there's the weight issue -- drums are heavier than discs/calipers, and it is an issue on a vehicle that has grown since its last iteration and is motivated by an anemic, decades-old forebearer.)
        • 4 Years Ago
        What's the problem? Stopping distances are well within acceptable range. Who cares how it stops, so long as it stops.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm with you unibrow. VW has made the same rear disc setup for over a decade on Jettas, Golfs, etc. and the one on the Passats/A4s/A6s (maybe not A6 anymore) isn't much different (it may even be the exact same caliper on a different bracket), surely they know how to make it cheaply by now.

        This is just a ploy to (negatively) differentiate the lowest end model to try to drive you up into one they make more profit on.
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