When Volkswagen decided to redesign its Jetta compact front-wheel-drive sedan for the model’s 30th anniversary season, it went away from Jetta’s tradition of being a sedan version of the Golf hatchback.
Rather, the new 2011 car stands alone and is larger and certainly more upscale looking than even the 2010 predecessor, itself a very nice, worthy four-door traditional sedan. The new Jetta is longer, lighter and even less expensive than the 2010 version, having been redrawn to suit American tastes – or at least what VW perceives as American tastes.
There are several different models available and the one driven here is the current top of the line, the SEL version with sunroof. While base models have a lethargic 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as propellant, with the SE and SEL buyers get the in-line DOHC five-cylinder mill with 170 horsepower at 5700 rpm and an excellent 177 lb-ft of torque at 4250. Redline on the car is 6000 rpm and 70 mph is a loafing 2250 rpm, with the five-speed manual equipped on this car.
As expected the manual is quite slick, with good clutch uptake and easy shiftability. The throws are a bit long, but this isn’t a sports car after all. VW equips the 2011 Jetta SEL with MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspensions with stabilizer bars at either end of the car. The power steering is a bit on the vague side, but that’s the nature of the beast. VW fits 225/45R rubber on the SEL model with 15-spoke 17-inch alloy rims.
When a buyer specifies the SEL model, the car gets all-wheel ABS brakes – base models have rear drum brakes – and electronic brakeforce distribution, stability and traction controls. There are head, side and front airbags as standard equipment on the new Jetta.
The 2011 Jetta has a start/stop button on the floor, kind of like a Saab, which I find amusing; the fob serves as a proximity device, opening the doors when the holder comes close. Its interior is nice, but the soft-touch plastics that made previous Jetta models a bit more upscale than the competition are missing in this car. Other items that VW has ditched are the adjustable central armrest and rear ventilation, even as it increased the wheelbase and length of the car to accommodate U.S. tastes.
The new Jetta is 2.9 inches longer than its predecessor at 182.2 inches; it’s 70 inches wide and 57.2 inches tall, tiding on a 104.4-inch wheelbase. Weight is 3018 pounds. With all seats in place cargo space is 15.5 cubic feet and there are both 60/40 folds and a single pass-through to increase those dimensions.
Mileage is a strong 23/33 mpg and after more than 285 miles of driving, the fuel gauge still showed half a tank available. The 14.5-galoon tank runs happily and efficiently on regular fuel. This is a great cruiser, feeling comfortable at all speeds and capable in poor weather.
The steering wheel holds audio and phone controls on the left side and cruise control is located on the turn signal stalk, as is the trip computer. Lights are operated on the dash, as always and there’s a remote for the trunk on the driver’s door.
There were no options on the car driven, which includes a sunroof and navigation system in the opening salvo of $23,065. While the navigation screen is kind of small, it’s very bright and efficient, as is the standard tilt/slide one-touch sunroof that will open as widely or narrowly as you turn the knob atop the roof. It has a lovely mesh windscreen at the front of the roof opening.