The new, redesigned 2011 Volkswagen Jetta caused a stir when a new budget model was introduced with a $16k base price. That price undercuts smaller cars that compete in a class under the Jetta, so it is certainly noteworthy. However, once you find out what you get for that price, it suddenly seems hardly worth it.
The new base Jetta comes with a familiar 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that has seen duty in similar form for the last 20 years in various Volkswagen models, from Jettas to Passats to Golfs to even making its way into the GTI. This antiquated eight-valve engine produces a tragic 115 horsepower. In addition to pitiful power numbers, this engine has been saddled with the task of mobilizing 3100 pounds of German steel.
The result? Getting to 60 mph takes a painstaking 13.2 seconds. In the year 2011, that is simply unacceptable. Even the most mundane drivers would likely notice the lack of power, whether trying to merge onto a highway or pass a vehicle in the left lane. To put that number into perspective, every single minivan sold in the U.S. market would flat-out embarrass the new Jetta in a straight line, with the slowest of such vehicles, the Mazda5, still clocking a 0-60 mph time a full three seconds faster than the Jetta. Even the leader of the lame brigade, the Toyota Prius, would humiliate a base engine Jetta. Needless to say, the base Jetta S is easily the slowest car in its segment.
Volkswagen apologists are quick to point out that acceleration isn’t everything. And they are right. However, this engine goes beyond the limits of acceptable propulsion in a modern automotive society, all so Volkswagen can advertise the Jetta at an admittedly attractive price. Still, anyone would be better served by investing the extra money for a Jetta with a legitimate powerplant. The three other engine offerings--a 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel, and a 2.0-liter direct-injected turbo four-cylinder, are far superior, and well worth the extra money.
One area you might expect this engine to excel is gas mileage. And while the mileage is respectable, it is still unimpressive when compared with the competition. At 32 mpg highway and 22 mpg city, the Jetta S trails more powerful competitors like the Hyunda Elantra (29/40 mpg), Toyota Corolla (26/35 mpg), and Kia Optima (25/35 mpg).
The new Jetta is a handsome car that uses high-quality materials and offers a plethora of safety and comfort features in an attractive package. Just make sure you take advantage of one of the three engine upgrades when you go to buy yours.