2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI long-term vehicle

Our long-term 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI started its year-long journey with us last month and spent the most amount of days in June under my care, so while I've already passed on its keys to a number of other editors, it's my job to tell you how it fared in its first weeks.

As we mentioned when introducing our long-term Jetta TDI, this 2011 model is vastly different than the 2010 model we had last year. The most noticeable difference is that, unlike the 2010 Jetta and many model years before that, the 2011 doesn't give a very good first impression. The exterior design is anonymous, the interior feels cheap, and every noise the car makes, of which there are lots, is anything but confidence inspiring.

The new Jetta, particularly when powered by diesel like our long-termer, impresses in ways that take more time to bubble up to the surface. You're not going to know right away that it can easily clip along at a Prius-smacking 50+ miles per gallon on the highway, like it did for me on the numerous trips from Cleveland, OH to AOL's offices in Dulles, VA. On my first trip to Dulles with the Jetta TDI, I was so shocked by the trip computer displaying an average of 53.2 mpg that I stopped near the end to fill up and manually calculate the fuel economy. The trip computer turned out to be conservative; I really averaged 53.31 mpg.

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Another thing about the new Jetta that you won't get right away is just how big it is. On one occasion I was ferrying around myself and my wife and both my parents, who were in the back seat. Thanks to the little 2.0-liter turbodiesel's 236 lb-ft of torque, the 550 pounds of people hardly affected the car's performance. But my parents, who normally have no problem excoriating the back seats of cars into which I stuff them, remarked without prompting how much leg room they had to play footsie (TMI, Dad! TMI!). Pop the trunk and you'll likewise be staring at more empty space than you know what to do with.

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI back seat

The new Jetta's nav system gives perhaps the car's worst first impression, with its smallish screen, poorly designed menu interface and general look of something that's advertised in Best Buy's weekly circular. But again, after spending many hours with it on my long trips to Dulles, the system grew on me. Actually, what grew on me were its navigation maps, which are very high resolution and move across the screen with a high frame rate. Pretty much every other part of the system has annoyed me or is difficult to use, but the nav maps are trick. Check them out in the Short Cut video below.



Finally, Volkswagen has been getting knocks from people like us and any auto enthusiast who's familiar with the Jetta that came before this one. Yes, the new car as a whole feels cheaper, but that's because it is, with a heavily reduced MSRP as your reward for giving up a soft-touch dash. I pointed out the absence of plushy things in the interior to my wife, a woman who is not a car enthusiast but is a savvy shopper. She said something we enthusiasts need to hear every now and again: "Who cares if the dash is soft?" I didn't have an answer, other than that expensive cars have soft dashboards. And there's the rub: The Jetta just isn't an expensive car anymore.