For Volkswagen of America, it doesn't get more brot-und-butter than the Jetta. Forced into the shadow of the best-selling Golf, VW Germany's refrain was "Sell more Golfs!" To which VoA would steadfastly reply, "Americans don't want hatchbacks!"
This went on for over two decades until the corporate mothership finally recognized that its compact sedan was what the people wanted Stateside. So for 2011, the Jetta has been restyled, reformed and reinvigorated with a new purpose: to take on the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, not to mention the Mazda3.
How? This story begins and ends with price. A 2011 Jetta in "S" trim will set you back just $15,995. Compare that to the 2010 model, which starts at $17,735, and the Civic and Corolla which clock in at $15,655 and $15,450, respectively. The "German premium" has finally been addressed. But at what cost? We trekked to San Francisco to find out.
Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 AOL
For the first time ever, the same sheetmetal and assorted accoutrement found on the Euro-market Jetta are fitted in the States. Say auf wiedersehen to the massive grille and accompanying chrome, and instead, enjoy a more aggressive take on the Golf's fascia, complete with a bisecting bumper and slit headlamps. The lower air dam and recessed fog lamps are more subdued, but the protruding lip spoiler comes across as slightly overwrought and a bit awkward.
A choice of 15- 16- or 17-inch wheels – depending on spec – fill the barely blistered fenders and include one busy, multi-spoke option and another ten-spoke set reminiscent of the hoops fitted to our long-term TDI Street Cup.
Viewed in profile, there's not much to catch your eye aside from two subtle creases that run the length of the sides, but the rakish rear gives off the air of a Volkswagen Phaeton at three-quarters scale and the taillights are very Audi-esque – no surprise considering this is a Walter de'Silva joint, the man whose pen headed Audi design from 2002–2007. The SEL badges on our tester look cramped on the trunk, but the inverted heated side mirrors are both attractive and aggressive, complete with integrated turn signals.
The Jetta's overall demeanor comes across as a blend of European subtlety and some American arrogance, and there's an overarching sense of penny-pinching that extends from the exterior all the way to the inside.
To hit its sub-$16,000 price point, some concessions had to be made, and that's most obvious when you crack open the door. The multifunction steering wheel can still be had with a leather wrap (SE with the Convenience), but the spoke materials have cheapened. To make matters worse, the same Playskool-grade plastic coats nearly every surface you touch, from the dash to the doors and covering the center console, instrument panel surround and various trim bits. The climate controls have been reworked and not for the better, exchanging the heavy solidity of the previous model for knobs and buttons that feel two grades below what's currently on offer. And the console-mounted push-button start is laughably contrived, coming off as an afterthought both in placement and execution.
But again, this is a $16,000 sedan. And it's not all bad.
The elongated wheelbase (104.4 inches) and additional length (182.2 inches end-to-end, or 2.9 inches longer than the 2010 model) pays dividends for both front- and back-seat occupants. Specifically, those confined to the rear quarters enjoy an additional 2.7 inches of leg room at 38.1 inches. VW likes to boast that the standard-wheelbase BMW 7 Series offers up 38.4 inches of lower-limb space, but while the numbers jive, the feeling in back is decidedly less plush (blame that primarily on the BMW's six or so inches of additional shoulder room).
Unsurprisingly, there were no base models on hand, so we saddled up in an SEL-spec (with sunroof) tester, complete with 16-inch Sedona wheels, a six-speaker stereo, iPod integration, Sirius, Bluetooth and VW's new five-inch "RNS 315" touchscreen navigation system. Keep your hands off the dash and on the wheel, and the experience is remarkably more pleasant, but at $23,395, it better be.
Although VW officials didn't douse us with specs during our morning briefing, we managed to corner an engineer in the afternoon to get a better idea of what's going on underneath the sheetmetal. To begin with, this is an all-new platform, and the suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam in the rear, with the available Sport pack substituting in stiffer springs, retuned dampers and larger anti-roll bars. Interestingly, when it arrives, the GLI will swap the beam out back for a multilink arrangement. The decision not to equip all 2011 Jettas with the GLI's more sophisticated rear end caught us off guard until our new friend reiterated the old chestnut that German customers are more interested in handling while American buyers care more about conveniences (read: cupholders) – particularly in this segment. Obviously, we beg to differ, but the limited take-rate estimate for the Sport pack will likely vindicate the beancounters' decision. Once again, it's all about the Benjamins – or a lack thereof.
For 2011, the engine lineup has grown by one, with a choice of a 2.0-liter inline-four outputting 115 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 revs (initial fuel economy estimates come in at 24/34 mpg city/hwy). The 140-hp 2.0-liter TDI will remain (due in December) and Volkswagen has confirmed that a GLI version is on its way next year with a 2.0-liter TFSI four putting out 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, and delivering a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds with a six-speed manual and 6.8 when fitted with the automaker's dual clutch DSG transmission.
Our tester was fitted with the familiar 2.5 MPI five-cylinder, churning out 170 hp at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, and delivering an estimated 24 mpg it the city and 33 mpg on the highway. Mated to a six-speed manual, the 0-60 time clocks in at 8.2 seconds, but considering the projected take-rate for the stick, we sampled the six-speed automatic version, which delivers a run to 60 in 8.5 seconds and is more attuned to what the U.S. market wants. And what they want is an appliance.
In this regard, the Jetta succeeds.
As enthusiasts, it's easy to dismiss the 2011 Jetta as a cynical attempt by VW to dumb down its product in order to capture market share in the U.S. But scratch beneath the surface and it's obvious that VW is trying to blend its core values with a more accessible price. This becomes face-smackingly evident the moment you get underway.
The average consumer couldn't care less about steering feel, and the Jetta's on-center sensation delivers with a light touch and an overall lack of feedback. Compared to the electronically controlled tiller on our TDI, the hydraulic rack's steering effort is Corolla-light from lock-to-lock, with only a slight tightening when pushing through the bends.
Driving a Sport model back-to-back with a standard SEL, the revised suspension components are barely perceptible around town, on the freeway and even through the backroads. Pushed hard enough, the Jetta rolls over on its sidewalls, but the handling is decidedly sportier than its entry-level competitors from Japan – save the Mazda3. The faux leather seats on the SEL are worlds better than a similarly equipped Corolla, and optioning up for the Sport delivers more side bolstering and slightly softer cushioning. They're good, but not quite as comfortable as some of Honda's thrones.
Brake feel is reminiscent of the last-generation model – spongy up top with a more progressive pedal feel further down the travel – and power from the 2.5-liter five-pot is more than adequate for most applications, particularity given the car's commendable 110-pound weight reduction over its predecessor. Our lone gripe with the engine/tranny combo came in the form of a unnerving lurch when applying minimal pressure to the throttle from a standstill. We're not sure if this was a calibration issue or something related to the hill-start assist feature, but VW assures us that the hiccup will be exorcised before sales begin later this year.
Although the banner headline for the 2011 Jetta is its $15,995 price of entry, as with all vehicles hailing from Germany, that price rises precipitously as the option boxes are ticked. The SE comes in at $18,195, and with the Convenience package, the tally rises to just below $20k. Add the sunroof and you're up to $20,795. Start going for broke with an SEL ($21,395) and you're on a collision course to $24,195, not including the $1,100 automatic option.
Compared to its rivals, that's easily in-line with the market, but two overarching questions remain: How will the new Jetta's reliability fare after more than five years of ownership (something that's standard in this segment)? And can public perception of a German car's affordability and durability be shifted enough to allow Volkswagen to score the market share it so desperately craves?
With VW gunning hard for the mantle of world's largest automaker by 2018, this new Jetta is a massive cornerstone in its plans for global domination. The pricing is about right and the experience its exactly what American consumers expect. And perhaps even more significant, if you line up the Corolla, Civic and Jetta, the German still offers a more premium first impression despite the new cost cutting. But will that all be enough, and will marque loyalists accept this shift in focus? We should have a good indication by this time next year.
Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 AOL
New Car Test Drive
All-new version brings fresh styling and superb execution.
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.
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta S ($15,995) comes with the 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Standard Jetta features include cloth upholstery, four-speaker audio, heated mirrors, halogen headlamps, 60/40 split folding rear seat.
A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on all models, a 6-speed automatic is optional ($1100). All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturers Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include the destination charge and may change at any time without notice.
Jetta SE ($18,195) upgrades to the 170-hp 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Jetta SE trim also adds V-Tex leatherette upholstery, cruise control, 16-inch wheels, interior storage and lighting, pass-through to the trunk. The Jetta SE with Convenience package ($19,545) upgrades to leather trim, heated seats, six-speaker audio with MDI media device interface with iPod, Sirius and Bluetooth, steering-wheel controls, alloy wheels.
Jetta SEL ($21,395) adds navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, chrome trim, fog lamps, keyless entry, and lumbar adjustment for driver.
Jetta SEL Sport ($22,995) features a firmer suspension, sport seats, aluminum pedals, and sunroof.
Jetta TDI ($22,995) uses the turbocharged diesel engine. The TDI Navigation ($24,195) adds navigation, keyless access, foglamps, chrome trim and rear disc brakes.
Safety features on all Jetta models includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Stability Control, and the mandated tire monitor.
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.
Volkswagen Jetta S ($15,995); Jetta SE ( ($18,195); SEL ($21,395); TDI ($22,995).
Options As Tested
Volkswagen Jetta SEL ($21,395).
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